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McReynolds v. Martin

August 10, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge


The plaintiff, Kevin McReynolds ("McReynolds") has filed this action against Orville "Punch" Martin ("Martin") in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as Marrowbone Township Highway Commissioner ("Highway Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. McReynolds alleges the defendant retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. McReynolds seeks reinstatement of his job with full seniority retroactive to the date of the discharge; compensatory damages for back pay and benefits as well as for mental and emotional distress; interest on compensatory damages; costs and attorney's fees; and punitive damages.

The defendant has filed a motion to dismiss [#6]. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.


McReynolds was employed by the Marrowbone Township Highway District ("Highway District") from 1994 until 2005. During that time, his employment consisted of manual labor tasks such as "maintaining and repairing roads, equipment, and buildings." McReynolds' job did not require him to make any policy determinations for the Highway District.

In April 2005, McReynolds ran against Martin in the municipal election for Highway Commissioner.*fn2 After losing the election, McReynolds congratulated Martin and voiced his desire to continue working in the Highway District under Martin's leadership. Martin declined the offer and terminated McReynolds. Later, Martin hired another person to fill McReynolds' former position.

McReynolds alleges he performed his duties for the Highway District professionally. He claims he was fired because he exercised his First Amendment right to run for elected office. Martin is alleged to have terminated McReynolds "with malice and intent to injure [McReynolds] and with utter disregard for his rights under the Constitution of the United States."


In a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion, "[the court] look[s] to the complaint; accept[s] all material allegations made in the complaint as true, and . . . draw[s] all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the plaintiff's favor." Kolman, 31 F.3d at 431 (citing Scott v. O'Grady, 975 F.2d 366, 368 (7th Cir. 1992)). A motion to dismiss should be granted only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

I. First Amendment Retaliation

McReynolds alleges that he was terminated because he ran against Martin for Highway Commissioner. The right to associate freely is of paramount importance in First Amendment jurisprudence. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 356-57 (1976). McReynolds had the right to run for political office and voice his vision for the direction of the Highway District.*fn3

To establish a prima facie First Amendment retaliation claim the plaintiff must show: (1) the First Amendment activity was constitutionally protected, and (2) it was a "substantial or motivating factor" in the retaliation. Carreon v. Ill. Dep't of Human Servs., 395 F.3d 786, 791 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gustafson v. Jones, 290 F.3d 895, 906 (7th Cir. 2002)); see also Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 285-286 (1977).

Politically motivated terminations are permissible when employees wield policymaking authority or when they access confidential information.*fn4 Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357, 359 (7th Cir. 2005). To determine whether a particular job falls under either exception, it is important, though not dispositive, to look at the job description. Riley, 425 F.3d at 365. It is also important to have a suitable factual record in order to make an informed determination as to whether a particular job falls under either exception. See Kolman, 31 F.3d at 433 (holding that a lack of factual information precluded Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal). "In sum, the ultimate inquiry . . . is whether the hiring authority can demonstrate that [political] affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved." Branti, 445 U.S. at 518.

A position falls within the policymaking exception if "first, there is room for principled disagreement in the decisions reached by the employee and his superiors, and, second, he has meaningful direct or indirect input into the decisionmaking process." Tomczak v. City of Chicago, 765 F.2d 633, 641 (7th Cir. 1985) (citing Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164, 1170 (7th Cir. 1981)). Looking to the complaint, ...

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