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Edwards v. City of Steeleville

April 28, 2006

ALFRED MATTHEW EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF STEELEVILLE, ILLINOIS, MICHAEL ARMSTRONG, IMOGENE FIENE, DENNIS FULKROD, ANDREW GERLACH, DAVID HARPER, ROBERT REISS, AND CINDY SICKMEYER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

A. Factual and Procedural History

On February 22, 2005, Plaintiff Alfred Matthew Edwards filed with this Court a nine-count Complaint against several defendants: The City of Steeleville, Michael Armstrong, The Steeleville City Council, Imogene Fiene, Dennis Fulkrod, Andrew Gerlach, David Harper, Robert Reiss, and Cindy Sickmeyer (hereinafter "Defendants") (Doc. 1). In Edwards' nine separate Counts -- each directed at one of the nine named defendants -- Edwards asserts that he was deprived of "freedoms, liberties, and rights" pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, when he was terminated from his position of employment as a full-time police officer for the City of Steeleville.

On March 7, 2006, this Court dismissed with prejudice Edwards' Count III and the "Steeleville City Council" (Doc. 20). Now before this Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Edwards' eight remaining counts (Doc. 13). The key facts relevant to resolution of the motion before the Court are not in dispute. Accordingly, a detailed recitation of those facts is unnecessary.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, interrogatory answers, admissions, and affidavits leave no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of establishing both the absence of fact issues and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Santaella v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court reviews the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and makes all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Ulichny v. Merton Community School Dist., 249 F.3d 686, 699 (7th Cir. 2001); Miranda v. Wisconsin Power & Light Company, 91 F.3d 1011, 1014 (7th Cir. 1996).

C. Analysis

In the eight remaining counts of his complaint, Edwards claims that he was denied his constitutional right to procedural due process when the Defendants terminated his employment as a police officer for the City of Steeleville. In analyzing any due process claim, this Court must answer two questions: "(1) whether the defendants deprived the plaintiff[] of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest; and (2), if so, whether that deprivation occurred without due process of law." Williams v. Seniff, 342 F.3d 774, 786-87 (7th Cir. 2003).

Whether Edwards Possessed a Property Interest in His Former Employment

In order to succeed on his due process claims, Edwards must first show that he possessed a constitutionally-protected property interest in his job as a full-time police officer for the City of Steeleville. See Border v. City of Crystal Lake, 75 F.3d 270, 273 (7th Cir. 1996); Wolf v. City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989). Property interests "are not created by the Constitution ... rather, they are created by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law -- rules or understandings that secure certain benefits, and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits." Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972). Such protections may arise via statute, regulations, municipal ordinance, or via an express or implied contract. Domiano v. Village of River Grove, 904 F.2d 1142, 1147 (7th Cir. 1990). A property interest might also arise from a "common law" of employment established through rules or "mutually explicit" understandings between an employer and an employee. Hermes v. Hein, 742 F.2d 350, 355 (7th Cir. 1984).

Because Edwards was employed in Illinois, this Court first must look to Illinois law in determining whether he had a property interest in his position as a police officer. Border, 75 F.3d at 273. Illinois is an employment-at-will state. Harris v. Eckersall, 771 N.E.2d 1072, 1074-75 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 2002). As a result of this presumption, in Illinois, "absent a specific contract to the contrary, employment contracts are terminable at will ... an at-will employee can be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason, [and] an at-will employee has no property interest in continued employment." Id. at 1075. "[A]bsent legislative, administrative, or contractual provisions to the contrary, a public employee in Illinois holds his office at the pleasure of the appointing power, which may remove him at any time." Id.

Despite Illinois' presumption of "at-will" employment, Edwards asserts that his employment was not "at will," and that he had a property interest in his continuing employment as a police officer for the City of Steeleville. For support, Edwards cites to a number of sources from which, he maintains, a property interest in his former position can be identified.

First, Edwards asserts that a provision in the Steeleville Police Department Policy and Procedure Manual ("Procedure Manual")(Doc. 15, Ex. 8) contains evidence that Edwards' employment was not "at will." Specifically, Edwards points out that the Procedure Manual states that a suspension must be "for cause," ...


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