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Foster v. Blagojevich


April 4, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Judge


Presently before us is Defendant Rod Blagojevich's and Robert Walker Jr.'s motion to stay discovery in a political patronage action until final disposition of their motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff Brian Foster contends that he cannot adequately respond to the motion for summary judgment without discovery on "the duties and responsibilities of the position at issue, [Assistant Warden], the reliability of Illinois Department of Central Management Services position description documents and the manipulation to those position descriptions by government officials."*fn1 (Supplement to Resp. to Mot. to Stay Discovery at 2.)

In his complaint, Foster alleges that he was fired solely because of his political beliefs, in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Governor Blagojevich and Walker counter that Foster's dismissal was proper because the inherent duties of the Assistant Warden position include discretionary, policymaking authority. The Supreme Court recognizes that "party affiliation may be an acceptable requirement for some types of government employment." Brant v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 517, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 1294 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 367, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 2687 (1976) ("Limiting patronage dismissals to policymaking positions"). For example, political affiliation is appropriate where "the position held by the individual authorizes, either directly or indirectly, meaningful input into government decision making on issues where there is room for principled disagreement on goals or their implementation." Tomczak v. City of Chicago, 765 F.2d 633, 641 (7th Cir. 1985) (quotation omitted). The Seventh Circuit condones the use of official position descriptions as determinative of the "policymaking" nature of the job, assuming the descriptions are reliable and authentic. Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357, 361 (7th Cir. 2005).

In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants proffer the official position description for Foster's Assistant Warden job. (Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2.) According to defendants, the official position description has not materially changed in more than two decades, long before Governor Blagojevich took office in Illinois, thus evincing its reliability and the absence of manipulation from Blagojevich's administration. Defendants principally rely on the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Riley, wherein the court found that political affiliation was an appropriate requirement for Assistant Wardens based on the official position descriptions - which are substantially similar to the position description at issue. The court found the descriptions reliable because they had not been materially altered during defendant Governor Blagojevich's tenure, they were publicly available for inspection and challenges, and the descriptions were created and updated pursuant to a well-defined statutory scheme. Id. at 361-63. Therefore, to defeat defendants' motion for summary judgment Foster must distinguish Riley by challenging the reliability and authenticity of the official position description of Assistant Warden in this case. See id. at 361-62.

However, the plethora of discovery Foster seeks would neither advance his position, nor be relevant and necessary to decide the narrow issue presented in the motion for summary judgment. Foster confuses fact discovery with legal argument by requesting discovery on interpretation of state law and federal judicial precedent. (Supp. to Resp. to Mot. to Stay ¶¶ 23-29.) It is unclear what plaintiff hopes to discover to demonstrate that defendants misinterpreted the statutory scheme involving position descriptions in Illinois. Foster's responses to the motion to stay are replete with legal arguments that go to the merits of defendants' motion for summary judgment rather than coherent explanations of how discovery would result in relevant evidence to bolster his position.*fn2


For the reasons described above we grant defendants' motion to stay discovery and order plaintiff to respond to defendants' motion for summary judgment by April 24, 2006. Defendants may file a reply by May 5. A status hearing is scheduled for June 6. It is so ordered.

MARVIN E. ASPEN United States District Judge

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