United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
August 12, 2005.
BELINDA STOREY, Plaintiff,
ILLINOIS STATE POLICE, CAPT. PHIL SYLVESTER, in his individual and official capacities, and LT. THOMAS STEHLEY, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on defendant Lt. Thomas
Stehley's partial motion to dismiss count IV (Doc. 14) and
accompanying memorandum of law (Doc. 15), to which plaintiff
responded. (Doc. 20). For the following reasons the motion will
be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Belinda
Storey works for the Illinois State Police. She's currently
stationed at Zone 7 (presumably part of District Thirteen), and
has worked with the ISP since 1993. The complaint is fuzzy on the
details of her position, but one would assume she's a
commissioned law enforcement officer, given the allegation that
defendant Capt. Phil Sylvester "denied [her] a promotion to the
position of [a]cting [m]aster [s]ergeant." (One must be a commissioned officer to hold the rank of master sergeant.) Capt.
Sylvester, a higher-up in Storey's chain of command, allegedly
would like a more intimate relationship with Storey; to that end
he's (allegedly) not only asked her out on dates with him and
gone over to her house, unannounced, but he's also shown jealousy
"when he believed she was involved with other men." The liking
apparently isn't mutual. However the details of that relationship
may be, this motion to dismiss concerns another defendant in this
case, Lt. Thomas Stehley. On this score, the complaint oddly
suggests that Capt. Sylvester was Lt. Stehley's "subordinate."
The allegation seems odd, of course, because captains generally
supervise lieutenants, not the other way around. In any event,
Lt. Stehley posits two reasons why "partial" dismissal should be
granted at this point: one, because count IV charges him in his
official capacity and seeks money damages, it's barred to that
extent by sovereign immunity because an official capacity suit
against a state officer is really a suit against the state; two,
there's no allegation of personal involvement in this count and
it therefore seeks to hold him strictly liable in his capacity as
Capt. Sylvester's supervisor, i.e., respondeat superior.
As an initial matter, the Court notes that this motion to
dismiss seems largely unnecessary in that it really doesn't
accomplish anything. Notably, not even Lt. Stehley suggests that
the complaint itself should be dismissed (or even an entire
count, for that matter), and every issue raised in this motion
could've just as easily been handled during trial through jury
instructions, or, even if everyone happened to be asleep at the
wheel during trial, through a motion for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict. A motion to dismiss at this stage only clogs up the record. That
said, point one is absolutely true, for Storey cannot recover
damages from the State under a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 theory, the
theory alleged in this count. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332
(1979), held that Congress didn't intend to abrogate sovereign
immunity by enacting § 1983; Will v. Michigan Dept. of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989), underscores the point by holding
that states aren't "persons" within the meaning of § 1983,
subject of course to the exception set forth in Ex Parte Young,
209 U.S. 123 (1908), which essentially holds that "a State
official in his or her official capacity, when sued for
injunctive relief, would be a person under § 1983 because
official capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated
as actions against the State." Will, 491 U.S. at 71, n. 10.
Point two doesn't fare quite as well. It's true that personal
involvement must be established to hold a state official
personally liable under § 1983 and therefore vicarious liability
under a respondeat superior theory will not do. Storey doesn't
dispute that. Lt. Stehley's problem, however, is his reading of
the complaint, which is both incomplete and inaccurate. Consider
paragraph 60, which he cites in support of his position. It
provides: "Defendant Thomas Stehley knew or should have known
of his subordinate's conduct toward Plaintiff, but failed to take
prompt, effective remedial action to correct said conduct and was
deliberately indifferent to the Constitutional violations
committed by Captain Sylvester." (Emphasis mine.) Extracting the
phrase "knew or should have known" from that paragraph, Lt.
Stehley says the allegations are insufficient. Were that the
extent of the allegations, even Storey would probably agree with
Lt. Stehley's position. But it's not; the complaint alleges that Lt. Stehley
"knew" of the conduct, for one thing, and, most significantly, he
was "deliberately indifferent" to it. The latter phrase is a term
of art that Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), went to
great lengths to distinguish from mere negligence (and
necessarily strict, a la vicarious, liability); it equated
deliberate indifference with subjective recklessness. If that
weren't enough, paragraph 61 of the complaint further accuses Lt.
Stehley of violating Storey's rights "by issuing unwarranted
discipline" to her. That's additional personal involvement.
For the foregoing reasons defendant Lt. Thomas Stehley's
partial motion to dismiss count IV (Doc. 14) is GRANTED IN PART
and DENIED IN PART. To the extent Storey seeks damages under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 from Lt. Stehley in his official capacity (i.e.,
from the State of Illinois), the motion is granted. It is
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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