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KIDDY-BROWN v. BLAGOJEVICH

June 14, 2004.

SANDRA KIDDY-BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, ROGER WALKER, JR., JULIE CURRY, and DEBBIE DENNING, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID COAR, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On April 28, 2004, Defendants Rod Blagojevich ("Blagojevich"), Roger Walker, Jr. ("Walker"), Julie Curry ("Curry") and Debbie Denning ("Denning"), collectively ("Defendants" or "State Official Defendants") filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), based upon Plaintiff Sandra Kiddy-Brown's ("Plaintiff" or "Kiddy-Brown") First Amended Complaint ("Amended Complaint"). At a May 6, 2004 appearance before the Court by the parties, the Court denied the State Official Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. Subsequently, the State Official Defendants moved for a stay of discovery pending appeal of the denial of the motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, the State Official Defendants' motion for a stay of discovery pending appeal is denied. I. Factual Background

Kiddy-Brown was employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") for over nineteen years, until her termination in December 2003. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10). While employed by the IDOC, Kiddy-Brown occupied positions of Clerk, Residence Counselor, Center Supervisor, Coordinator and Assistant Warden. Id. In August 2001, Kiddy-Brown was promoted to the position of Warden at the Decatur Correctional Center. Id. All of Kiddy-Brown's promotions occurred during Republican administrations. Id. As Warden, Plaintiff acted under the specific direction of Assistant Deputy Director Diane Hurrelbrink ("Hurrelbrink"). Id. Hurrelbrink acted under the direction of Denning, who was Deputy Director of the IDOC. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11).

  Kiddy-Brown was informed by her superiors of the duties and responsibilities that she had to execute as Warden. Plaintiff: (1) planned and directed operations, programs and activities; (2) monitored the facility to ensure effective operation; (3) evaluated programs and security; (4) interacted with the public regarding inmate care and custody; (5) directed, supervised, guided and trained staff; and (6) conducted routine inspection tours. (Am Compl. ¶ 14).

  Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains three counts against the State Official Defendants.*fn1 Count I alleges that Kiddy-Brown was removed from her Warden position at the Decatur Correctional Center because of her political affiliation with the previous Republican administration and her lack of Democratic political sponsorship. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23). Kiddy-Brown alleges that the State Official Defendants were aware of her political affiliations with the Republican party, the State Officials discussed this matter, and that Plaintiff was informed that she was being terminated because of her affiliation with the Republican party, and lack of Democratic sponsorship. (Am. Compl. ¶ 24-27).

  Count II of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that her First Amendment rights were violated when she was terminated from her position as Warden, in retaliation for her criticism of the State Official Defendants administration of the IDOC. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 53-58). These criticisms include: (1) violations by State employees when filling employment positions within the IDOC; (2) the need to fill IDOC positions with qualified personnel; (3) the interference of labor in the process of filling IDOC employment positions; (4) the unwillingness of the State Official Defendants to staff IDOC facilities at appropriate levels; and (5) the safety and reorganization of IDOC facilities. Id. Kiddy-Brown alleges that the State Official Defendants were aware of her activities in furtherance of public policy, and that she was terminated by the State Officials as a result of her activities. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 70-71).

  Finally, in Count III of her Amended Complaint, Kiddy-Brown alleges that her due process rights were violated after the State Official Defendants removed her from her Warden position, as she alleges that the Defendants had no reasonable cause and failed to provide Plaintiff with an opportunity to be heard. (Am. Compl. ¶ 82). Further, Plaintiff alleges that she had a property interest in continued employment, based on various promises made by Governor Blagojevich. (Am. Compl ¶ 80). Plaintiff contends that Governor Blagojevich promised her, and others employed by the State of Illinois, that he was not looking to fire certain state employees solely because they were hired during Republican administrations. (Am. Compl. ¶ 78). II. Legal Standard for Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

  When ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), a district court accepts the allegations pleaded in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Gastineau v. Fleet Mortgage Corp., 137 F.3d 490, 493 (7th Cir. 1998). "A motion under Rule 12(c) is reviewed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under [Fed.R. Civ. P.] 12(b): the motion is not granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no facts sufficient to support his claim for relief." Flenner v. Sheahan, 107 F.3d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Frey v. Bank One, 91 F.3d 45, 46 (7th Cir. 1996)).

  III. Analysis of Plaintiff's Claims

  A. Count I

  The State Official Defendants contend that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Count I of Kiddy-Brown's Amended Complaint, because political affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the Warden position that Plaintiff held. Generally, in regards to the hiring, firing, recalling, transferring or promotion of low-level, non-confidential, non-policymaking government employees, government officials may not consider the political affiliation of the employee in question. See Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 372 (1976); See also Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62, 74(1990). However, if political affiliation is an "appropriate requirement" for a government employment position, government officials may make employment decisions based on the employee's political affiliation. Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 518 (1980). Government officials may make employment decisions based upon political affiliation whenever "party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved." Branti, 445 U.S. at 518.

  In the Seventh Circuit, courts must determine "whether the position [that is] held by the individual authorizes, either directly or indirectly, meaningful input into government decisions on issues where there is no room for principled disagreement on goals or their implementation." Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164, 1170 (7th Cir. 1981). However, the Seventh Circuit has rejected the notion that labels or job titles are relevant to the inquiry as to whether these "patronage dismissals" are permissible. Flenner v. Sheahan, 107 F.3d 459, 464 (7th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted). Further, the Seventh Circuit has cautioned that generalizations should not be made as to the duties or responsibilities of a particular position. Meeks v. Grimes, 779 F.2d 417, 420 (7th Cir. 1985).

  As the State Official Defendants note in their brief in support of their motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Seventh Circuit has yet to determine whether political affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position of Warden. However, Defendants contend, based upon other Seventh Circuit decisions where the plaintiffs were required to execute job duties that were similar to Kiddy-Brown's job responsibilities as a Warden, the Court should find that as a matter of law, political affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the Warden position. See e.g., Thompson v. Illinois Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 757-58 (7th Cir. 2002) (affirming the decision granting the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation's motion to dismiss the Chief Administrative Law Judge's complaint alleging that he was improperly demoted and transferred for political reasons, when the official position description for the Administrative Law Judge included, "directing subordinate staff, formulating procedures for the hearing programs, advising peer review committees, developing hearing program goals, and directing and implementing a program budget."). Although the official description position for Warden includes similar language, this Court declines to rule, as a matter of law, that political affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position of Warden. As noted, the Seventh Circuit has cautioned against making generalizations about job descriptions or responsibilities. Meeks, 779 F.2d at 420. Consequently, the fact that the Seventh Circuit held that a government employee with a similar job description as Plaintiff's was not shielded from patronage dismissal does not lead ...


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