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Nelson v. Crystal Lake Park District

August 27, 2003

LEONA NELSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CRYSTAL LAKE PARK DISTRICT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County. No. 01-LA-300 Honorable Michael J. Sullivan, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bowman

UNPUBLISHED

Plaintiff, Leona Nelson, appeals the trial court's dismissal of her amended complaint against defendant, the Crystal Lake Park District. She argues that she stated a valid claim under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. §1983 (2000)). We reverse and remand.

I. FACTS

In her amended complaint, plaintiff alleged, inter alia, as follows. During the relevant period, she was an elected park commissioner for defendant, a municipal corporation. Her term was to expire on May 1, 2001. As an elected commissioner, she was "entitled to act in that capacity. Specifically, *** the *** Park [District] Code provides that Commissioners shall serve until their successors are elected and qualified. 70 ILCS 1205/2-12 [(West 2000)]."

Plaintiff alleged that on April 5, 2001, defendant's commissioners convened a meeting and voted to censure her for "the purported release of executive session material and the purported making of comments toward a Park District employee." The censure was a one-meeting suspension and was imposed "under the color of the statutes of the State of Illinois."

In effect at the time was a policy manual that defendant had previously adopted. Included in the manual was a sanctions policy that states as follows:

" 'If the conduct of a commissioner is deemed by a fellow commissioner to be inappropriate, the board [of commissioners] may discuss this behavior in Executive Session with the commissioner. If such actions do not cease, sanctions may be placed upon the commissioner, by a 2/3 vote, if he/she is found to be violating this section of policy. Sanctions may be in the form of meeting suspensions or monetary penalties.' "

Plaintiff alleged that, before suspending her, defendant "was required to discuss the asserted inappropriate conduct with Plaintiff in executive session." However, defendant "did not discuss the asserted inappropriate conduct with Plaintiff in executive session and instead voted to summarily suspend Plaintiff."

Plaintiff further alleged that defendant publicized the purported grounds for the suspension, which included the "wrongful *** assertion" that she had "sexually harassed a male employee of Defendant." She had lived in the community for more than 50 years and was caused to suffer "great embarrassment and humiliation in the community."

Plaintiff concluded that defendant had deprived her of "her statutory right to serve in her capacity as a duly elected public official," and she sought damages in excess of $50,000.

Defendant moved to dismiss the amended complaint. Although it purported to rely on section 2--619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/2--619 (West 2000)), defendant argued that the complaint "fails to state a valid claim for relief against the Park District under Section 1983." Specifically, defendant asserted that plaintiff "has not alleged and cannot allege facts which establish that [defendant's] action on April 5, 2001 unlawfully deprived her of a property or liberty interest, which are essential elements for stating a cause of action."

The trial court agreed with defendant, ruling that plaintiff's allegations were "insufficient as a matter of law to state a cause of action under *** Section 1983." The court dismissed the ...


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