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Trevathan v. Walker

November 27, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' motion to dismiss this case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 4). Plaintiff Mark Trevathan ("Trevathan") has responded to the motion (Doc. 6), and the defendants have replied to that response (Doc. 10).

I. Standard for Dismissal

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 908 (7th Cir. 2005); Holman v. Indiana, 211 F.3d 399, 402 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court should not grant a motion to dismiss unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove his claim under any set of facts consistent with the complaint. Brown, 398 F.3d at 908-09; Holman, 211 F.3d at 405. "[I]f it is possible to hypothesize a set of facts, consistent with the complaint, that would entitle the plaintiff to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is inappropriate." Brown, 398 F.3d at 909 (internal quotations omitted); see Kolupa v. Roselle Park Dist., 438 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir. 2006).

Although liberal federal notice pleading standards ensure that even vague, non-detailed complaints can survive a motion to dismiss, they will not prevent dismissal of complaints that plead too much. A case can be dismissed because a complaint pleads facts establishing that the defendant is entitled to prevail. Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 519 (7th Cir. 1998); Soo Line R.R. Co. v. St. Louis S.W. Ry. Co., 125 F.3d 481, 483 (7th Cir. 1997). For example, "[t]he statute of limitations issue may be resolved definitively on the face of the complaint when the plaintiff pleads too much and admits definitively that the applicable limitations period has expired." Barry Aviation Inc. v. Land O'Lakes Mun. Airport Comm'n, 377 F.3d 682, 688 (7th Cir. 2004). The defendants believe Trevathan has pled himself out of court in this case.

II. Facts

The Complaint in this case alleges essentially the following. From September 2000 to December 2003, Trevathan was employed by Health Professionals Ltd. ("Health Professionals"), an organization that contracted with the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") to provide health care workers at certain IDOC facilities. During that time, Trevathan was assigned to work at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard") as a nurse. Although Health Professionals was technically his employer, IDOC employees supervised him on a daily basis.

In December 2003, IDOC terminated its contract with Health Professionals, but automatically employed Health Professionals's former employees directly as IDOC employees. Thus, Trevathan remained in his position as a nurse, and his job duties and supervision remained unchanged. Nevertheless, he was categorized as a "probationary" employee because he had just begun his employment directly with IDOC.

Shortly after IDOC assumed direct employment of Trevathan, an inmate was found dead, or near death, from hypothermia in his cell. Questions were raised about Trevathan's attempt to give the inmate medicine several hours earlier, and on December 31, 2003, defendant Eugene McAdory ("McAdory"), the warden of Menard, suspended Trevathan pending an investigation of the events surrounding the inmate's death.

McAdory came to believe -- wrongly -- that Trevathan had falsified information relating to the inmate's death or had otherwise been negligent with respect to the inmate. As a result, on February 20, 2004, McAdory ordered Trevathan to be terminated without giving him notice of the allegations of his wrongdoing, an opportunity to review the evidence against him, or an opportunity to be heard to tell his side of the story. The same day, IDOC Director Roger E. Walker, Jr., ("Walker") approved Trevathan's termination, and Trevathan's employment with IDOC ended.

On February 21, 2006, the day after Presidents' Day holiday, Trevathan filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that McAdory (Count I) and Walker (Count II) violated his procedural due process rights by terminating him without sufficient notice and an opportunity to be heard. It is clear from the Complaint that Trevathan believes he was deprived of a property right -- his employment with IDOC; it is not as clear that he believes he was also deprived of a liberty right -- his reputation.

McAdory and Walker now ask the Court to dismiss this case on three grounds: (1) Trevathan filed the case beyond the statute of limitations, (2) Trevathan had no property interest in his probationary employment and (3) qualified immunity because the property right, if it existed, was not clearly established at the time.

III. Analysis

A. Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations on Trevathan's claims did not run before he filed this lawsuit on February 21, 2006. All parties agree that federal civil rights claims arising in Illinois, like Trevathan, are subject to the state two-year personal injury limitation period under 735 ILCS 5/13-202. Manley v. City of Chicago, 236 F.3d 392, 395 (7th Cir. 2001) (§§ 1983 and 1985); see Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 267-68 (1985) (generally, apply statute of limitations of most analogous state law to ยง 1983 and ...

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