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COBBS v. SHEAHAN

April 14, 2004.

GAYLER COBBS, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL F. SHEAHAN, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MORAN, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Gayler Cobbs brought this action against the defendants alleging that they unlawfully retaliated against her by demoting her because she refused to donate money to defendant Michael Sheahan's reelection campaign and also because she is a black female. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff has been employed by the sheriff's department of Cook County since 1985. On July 11, 2001, she was allegedly demoted from her position as the assistant director of the boot camp program to the position of sergeant in the Department of Corrections. Defendant Sheahan serves in the elected position of Sheriff of Cook County and defendants Patrick Durkin, Thomas Dourdy and James Ryan are employees of the sheriff's department. Citizens for Michael Sheahan is a private political campaign committee established pursuant to Illinois law on behalf of Sheahan. Plaintiff claims that defendants, together with other individuals, conspired to improperly collect donations for Sheahan's reflection efforts. She alleges that employees of the department were forced to contribute to the campaign and that those who refused were disciplined or demoted. Specifically, plaintiff points to a series of conversations in early 2001, when defendants Durkin and Dourdy allegedly handed her tickets to a fundraiser on behalf of Sheahan and asked her to sell them. When she refused, Dourdy allegedly questioned her loyalty and told her that the refusal would not look good on her record. She was demoted shortly after these events. Plaintiff also claims that another employee, Denis Micnerski, protested defendants' request for donations and was eventually demoted, even though he gave $500 to the campaign.

  Alternatively, plaintiff claims that defendants had no proper reasons to demote her and that their action was motivated entirely by her race and her gender.

  DISCUSSION

  In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the court must assume the truth of all well-pleaded allegations, making all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Sidney S. Arst Co. v. Pipefitters Welfare Educ. Fund, 25 F.3d 417, 420 (7th Cir. 1994). The court should dismiss a claim only if it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). While the complaint does not need to provide the correct legal theory to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, it must allege all of the elements necessary to recover. Ellsworth v. City of Racine, 774 F.2d 182, 184 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1047 (1986).

  Plaintiff's complaint consists of five counts. In count I, she alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). In count 11, she alleges violations of her First Amendment right pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In count III, she claims violations of her equal protection rights under section 1983, based on her gender. In count IV, she alleges violations of these rights based on her race. In count V, she alleges violations of her right to contract under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

 Count I — RICO

  To state a claim under section 1962(c), plaintiff must allege conduct of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. Goren v. New Vision Intern., Inc., 156 F.3d 721, 727 (7th Cir. 1998). It is not enough for plaintiff to simply allege these elements in boilerplate language; the complaint must contain sufficient facts supporting each element. Id.

  To satisfy the conduct element, plaintiff must allege facts showing that each defendant played a role in the operation or management of the enterprise. Reyes v. Ernst & Young, 507 U.S. 170, 179 (1993). As we read plaintiff's complaint, she alleges that each defendant played an active role in the solicitation of funds and helped to develop the plan. She therefore satisfies the first element of her RICO claim.

  She also alleges the existence of an "association in fact" enterprise. RICO requires that such an enterprise be more than just a group of individuals who decide to commit racketeering; it must have "goals separate from the predicate acts themselves." United States v. Masters, 924 F.2d 1362, 1367 (7th Cir. 1991); Stachon v. United Consumers Club, Inc., 229 F.3d 673, 675 (7th Cir. 2000) (while it may be informal, there must be some type of organizational structure).

  In Stachon, the plaintiffs allege that the United Consumers Club (UCC) and five of its officers and/or directors conspired to fraudulently represent to potential members that the UCC had access to first quality merchandise at special prices, 229 F.3d at 674. The plaintiffs claim that they relied on these misrepresentations when joining the UCC. Id. In affirming the dismissal of plaintiffs' RICO claim, the Seventh Circuit determined that plaintiffs failed to allege that the acts were the work of an organization separate from the UCC. Id. at 676. At most, the complaint established that there was a pattern of misrepresentation by a group of defendants. Id.

  While the overall structure of the organization as alleged by plaintiff is similar to that in Stachon, she alleges that an association existed that had goals separate from the sheriff's office itself. If proven, an enterprise was created when the sheriff's department and Sheahan's re-election efforts essentially merged. Plaintiff claims that these two groups formed an association in fact when it, through the ...


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