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Walsh v. Heilman

April 19, 2006

MICHAEL WALSH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID HEILMAN, AND VILLAGE OF OAK LAWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Plaintiff Michael Walsh was terminated by defendant David Heilman, president of the Village of Oak Lawn, as an administrative hearing officer. Walsh has filed a four-count complaint against defendants Heilman and the Village of Oak Lawn asserting a § 1983 claim under the First Amendment as well as three state law based claims. The state law based claims include the alleged violation of the Local Government Employees Political Rights Act of the State of Illinois (Count II), breach of contract (Count III), and tortious interference with contract (Count IV). Defendants Heilman and the Village of Oak Lawn move to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Because the current motion is one under Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6), the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations as true. According to Walsh, on or about December 1999, the village adopted ordinance no. 99-22-74, which implemented a system of administrative adjudication for non-vehicular code violations.*fn1 The ordinance created the position of hearing officer with "the power to preside over all administrative hearings in a quasi-judicial capacity." Comp. at ¶9. The ordinance also provides that hearing officers shall be selected and appointed by Oak Lawn's village manager. Walsh alleges that in 2000, he was employed by the village as an administrative hearing officer, whose duties "consisted of hearing testimony and accepting evidence relevant to the determination of Village Code violations. Plaintiff's duties were judicial and ministerial in nature." Id. at 14.

According to Walsh, while a hearing officer, he campaigned for village mayoral candidate Jane Powers and worked as the campaign coordinator for incumbent trustee William Keane, a political ally of Powers. In April 2005, Powers was defeated by defendant Heilman and Keane was defeated by trustee Thomas Phelan, a political ally of Heilman. Walsh alleges that soon after the election, Heilman called Walsh and told him that he would no longer serve as an administrative hearing officer. According to the complaint, Heilman told Walsh that "he needed to get his own people in, which included the position of administrative hearing officer." Id. at 19.

II. ANALYSIS

Walsh alleges that Heilman and the village violated his constitutional rights to free speech and free association in violation of § 1983 when Heilman terminated Walsh as an administrative hearing officer based solely on his support of Heilman's adversary for village mayor/manager. Heilman and the village assert that because no constitutional violation could be made as a matter of law, dismissal is appropriate. Specifically, the defendants contend that Walsh was not entitled to First Amendment protection by virtue of his policymaking position as an administrative hearing officer. Walsh contends that his was not a policymaking position for which political affiliation is a necessary requirement.

"The First Amendment forbids government officials to discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power, unless party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved." Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62, 64-65 (1990). In this vein, the Seventh Circuit has recently noted that "in the name of freedom of speech [ ] a public official cannot be fired on the basis of his political affiliation unless the nature of his job makes political loyalty a valid qualification; this could be either because the job involves the making of policy and thus the exercise of political judgment or the provision of political advice to the elected superior, or because it is a job (such as speechwriting) that gives the holder access to his political superiors' confidential, politically sensitive thoughts." Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357, 359 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

"The test for whether a position involves policymaking is 'whether the position authorizes, either directly or indirectly, meaningful input into government decisionmaking on issues where there is room for principled disagreement on goals or their implementation.'" Kiddy-Brown v. Blagojevich, 408 F.3d 346, 355 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has also articulated the test as follows:

So the right question is whether there may be genuine debate about how best to carry out the duties of the office in question, and a corresponding need for an employee committed to the objectives of the reigning faction. Shondel v. McDermott, 775 F.2d 859, 864 (7th Cir. 1985); Lindahl v. Bartolomei, 618 F.Supp. 981, 987-88 (N.D. Ind. 1985). When the officeholder wields the final authority of the government, the answer to that question almost always will be yes.

Kurowski v. Kajewski, 848 F.2d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 1988) (emphasis added).

A. Existence of Constitutional Right

The Seventh Circuit recently confirmed that "the job description, if reliable, is the correct basis for the court's determining whether political affiliation is a legitimate requirement of the job." Riley, 425 F.3d at 364. However, the Riley court further noted that:

Neither those cases [cited earlier in the opinion] nor our decision today stand for the proposition that every Elrod/Branti case can be resolved just by reading the job description. The description might leave the reader unclear whether the job confers any policymaking or confidential discretion, and then additional evidence would be necessary. Some job descriptions, perhaps, will have been altered by the elected officials not to reflect actual changes in the duties of a position but rather to enable them to fill jobs that do not involve such duties with their political favorites.

Id. at 365.

Accordingly, the court looks to the official job description as provided by Walsh in the attachment to the response to the motion to dismiss.*fn2 As noted above, Walsh alleges that Oak Lawn's ordinance No. 99-22-74, which was adopted on December 15, 1999, implemented a system of administrative adjudication for non-vehicular (as well as vehicular, according to the response to the motion to dismiss) code violations. The text of the relevant Oak Lawn codes is as follows:

11-12-2: ADMINISTRATIVE COMPOSITION: [non-vehicular]

The system of administrative adjudication of nonvehicular regulations violations shall be composed of a Code Hearing Unit which shall be comprised of a hearing officer, and may include any one or more of the following: an administrator, computer operator/system coordinator and hearing room personnel (deputy), with the power, authority and limitations hereinafter set forth:

A. Powers Of The Hearing Officer: The hearing officer shall have all of the powers granted to hearing officers under State law, set forth at 65 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/1-2.1-4, the provisions of which are ...


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