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Ferguson v. Walker

November 10, 2005

JERRY A. FERGUSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PETE WALKER, THOMAS SALISKI, WALLACE MILBURN, ALLEN THOMAS, DALLIS HUDDLESTON, JAMES PALUMBO, CAROL CHENOWETH, AND THE VILLAGE OF LUDLOW, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, ILLINOIS DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#29) filed by Defendants, Pete Walker, Thomas Saliski, Wallace Milburn, Allen Thomas, Dallis Huddleston, James Palumbo, Carol Chenoweth, and the Village of Ludlow. Following this court's careful consideration of the arguments of the parties and the documents provided by Defendants, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#29) is GRANTED.

FACTS

In June 1997, Plaintiff was hired as a part-time police officer by the Village of Ludlow. At that time, there were no full-time police officers employed by the Village. In August 1997, Plaintiff was given a raise to $8.50 per hour and was promoted to the position of Chief of Police. The Village also hired a part-time police officer, Mark Galindo, at $7.50 per hour. In September 1997, Plaintiff was given another raise to $10.00 per hour. Plaintiff and Galindo each worked about 20 hours per week.

In June 1998, the Village received a grant through the Office of Community Policing Services (COPS) Uniform Hiring Program (UHP). The grant award date was March 1, 1998, and the end date was February 28, 2001. The grant awarded the Village funds to contribute to the costs of salary and benefits for one full-time police officer and two part-time police officers with the federal share decreasing year to year and the Village's share increasing year to year.

In July 1998, after the grant was in effect, Plaintiff's Chief of Police position became a full-time position. The position was COPS funded and his wage was $16.20 per hour. The Village also had two part-time police officers who were paid $11.50 per hour. Plaintiff worked the day shift Monday through Friday. In March 1999, Plaintiff's pay was raised to $17.01 per hour and the wage for the two COPS funded part-time positions was raised to $12.08 per hour. Jason Thorn was hired as a full-time police officer on April 5, 1999, at a wage of $8.00 per hour.

On February 28, 2001, the COPS UHP grant ended. Thereafter, Plaintiff was paid by the Village. Plaintiff also received full benefits which were paid for by the Village. In September 2001, the Village was awarded a COPS in Schools grant for funding the salary and benefits of a School Resource Officer (SRO). Jason Thorn was transferred to the SRO position. The Village was responsible for a share of the cost of this officer and the Village's share increased each year. On October 1, 2001, the Village hired another full-time police officer, Greg Willard, at an hourly rate of $9.00 per hour.

On January 13, 2002, Plaintiff enlisted in the United States Coast Guard Reserves. On January 27, 2003, Plaintiff was called to active duty. While on active duty, Plaintiff received military benefits including health, dental, and life insurance. These benefits included family coverage.

In April 2003, Defendant Pete Walker was elected Mayor of the Village. He took office in May 2003. At that time, the remaining individual Defendants were members of the Board of Trustees of the Village. As of May 2003, Plaintiff was paid $19.31 per hour for his position as Chief of Police. Jason Thorn was paid $15.75 per hour and Greg Willard was paid $11.00 per hour. Plaintiff, Thorn, and Willard were all full-time employees and all received benefits from the Village. Walker served on the Village Board of Trustees prior to his election to the position of Mayor. During his tenure on the Board, Walker was aware of the Village's dwindling revenues and the need to reduce the Village's budget. He was concerned about how the Village could spend as much money as it did on police while generating a limited amount of revenue. After entering office, Walker discussed with the Village Board the Village's budget constraints and the police department.

Plaintiff testified that, prior to Walker's election as Mayor, Walker told him "[b]asically that if he was elected mayor, that I wouldn't have a job." Plaintiff testified that he told Walker "that the police department, you know, showed proof, you know, of the need in town, and [Walker] said that he didn't think it was necessary for a police department to be there." Plaintiff testified that he believed Walker had a "personal vendetta" against him. He stated that, sometime between 1997 and 1999, he arrested Walker's brother for a curfew violation and Walker's brother was sent back to prison.

On June 30, 2003, Plaintiff returned from active duty and was restored to his former position as Chief of Police. He received that same pay and benefits that he received prior to entering active duty. On August 6, 2003, an independent audit of the Village's financial statements for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003, was completed and an Auditor's Report was issued. The Auditor's Report showed that, for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003, the Village had total revenues of $162,932.00 (which included the COPS grant for the SRO officer) and total expenditures of $186,527.00, resulting in a deficit of $22,595.00. During that fiscal year, the Village expended $127,142.00 for its police department. The COPS grant for the School Resource Officer contributed $52,629.00 to Jason Thorn's salary and benefits; however, the Village expended $74,513.00 of its own funds to pay for its police department. Subsequently, Greg Willard resigned from the police department, effective August 11, 2003, to take a position in Joliet.

On September 22, 2003, Plaintiff began a course in Advanced Law Enforcement Management at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Quantico, Virginia. Walker testified that, prior to the time Plaintiff left for Quantico, he may have told Plaintiff that the Village was going broke and "[w]e are going to have to do something, realign the police department on the hours when he got back." Plaintiff testified that Walker told him "to expect changes" when he returned. By October 2003, Jason Thorn was applying for other employment. To cut the budget, Walker decided to ask Plaintiff to accept a pay cut, or, alternatively, ask if he would accept the SRO position.

On October 30, 2003, Walker called Plaintiff in Quantico to discuss the situation. According to Plaintiff, Walker told him the Village was eliminating the Chief of Police position and that Walker was willing to offer him the SRO position. Plaintiff testified that he advised Walker that would not work, because prior authorization from the school was necessary. Plaintiff testified that he asked Walker why the Village was doing this and Walker said it was budgetary reasons. According to Walker, he told Plaintiff that the Village had budgetary problems and the first thing out of Plaintiff's mouth was that "he wasn't taking a pay cut." Walker testified that he offered Plaintiff the SRO position. He testified that Plaintiff was qualified for this position according to the information Walker had received from "the people with the federal money." Walker testified that, because Plaintiff would not accept the SRO position or a pay cut, he told Plaintiff he would not have a position when he returned from Quantico on December 5, 2003. Walker testified that he informed Plaintiff that the Village would keep him on all of his benefits until December 5, 2003. Plaintiff received vacation pay for the time he spent in Quantico.

The evidence shows that Walker made the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment. As Mayor, Walker could discharge Plaintiff without Board approval, but two-thirds of the Board could overrule his decision. On November 3, 2003, at a Village Board meeting, Walker announced that he discharged Plaintiff. Prior to the meeting, Walker had discussed the termination of Plaintiff's employment with four Board members, one on one, and had determined that the four ...


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