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United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 12, 2005.

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


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 otherwise denied.



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