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Okun v. Illinois State Toll Highway Authority

April 12, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George M. Marovich


Plaintiff Scott Okun ("Okun") filed a two-count complaint against defendants. In Count I, Okun asserts that defendants Illinois State Toll Highway Authority ("ISTHA"), Joelle McGinnis ("McGinnis"), Brian McPartlin ("McPartlin"), Tracy Smith ("Smith") and Anthony M. Martin, Sr. ("Martin") deprived Okun of due process of law in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Count II, Okun asserts that McGinnis defamed him. Defendants move to dismiss Okun's complaint. For the reasons outlined below, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion.

I. Background

The Court takes as true the allegations in plaintiff's complaint.

Defendant Illinois State Toll Highway Authority ("ISTHA") is an agency of the State of Illinois. ISTHA is responsible for running the toll highways in Illinois. It employs defendants McPartlin, the Chief of Administration; Smith, the Inspector General; and Martin, the Deputy Inspector General. It also employs defendant McGinnis, though her title is not clear from the complaint. Plaintiff Okun also worked for ISTHA from March 2003 to about February 2006, when Okun was suspended without pay for several months and ultimately forced to resign.

On February 2, 2006, ISTHA suspended Okun without pay. Smith recommended the suspension, Martin concurred, and McPartlin informed Okun of the suspension. The reason for Okun's suspension was that he allegedly violated the state's procurement code in connection with a contract extension to a company called IGOR and a $50,000 sub-contract awarded to Carquiville Printing ("Carquiville"), where Okun's cousin worked.

ISTHA's first contract with ISTHA was awarded in 2003. When Okun first started working for ISTHA, he was the Program Manager for Marketing. Among other things, he was asked to obtain quotes for the printing of an I-PASS poster to be installed in toll booths. One of the three quotes Okun obtained was from Carquiville Printing, where his cousin worked. Okun informed the purchasing department and his supervisor that his cousin worked at Carquiville Printing. His supervisor and a person from the purchasing department approved the process, and Carquiville was awarded the job. It is unclear from the complaint who decided to choose Carquiville as the printer for the poster.

Soon thereafter, Okun was assigned to work on a program to make I-PASS available at Jewel stores. The ISTHA Board awarded IGOR a contract to package and distribute to Jewel stores certain I-PASS-related products and materials.

Years later, ISTHA was considering whether to extend IGOR's contract. At about the same time, ISTHA realized it needed to contact all I-PASS users regarding program changes. Someone (it is not clear from the complaint who) concluded that the cheapest way to reach the I- PASS users would be to send them postcards. Because ISTHA was dealing with IGOR's contract at the same time, someone (again, the complaint leaves unclear who) decided that it might make sense to outsource the postcard printing through IGOR. Okun obtained a quote from Carquiville for the postcards, and that bid was least expensive by about $14,000. Ultimately, Karen Burke ("Burke"), the Chief of Operations, approved the decision to have IGOR and Carquiville work together on the postcards. It is unclear from the complaint who recommended that decision to Burke.

As mentioned above, ISTHA suspended Okun without pay in February 2006 for his role in the Carquiville postcard subcontract. After the suspension, ISTHA spoke to the media about Okun's suspension. Specifically, McGinnis told reporters from the Chicago Tribune, among other media outlets, that Okun was suspended for "circumventing" procurement procedures. Okun alleges that the implication of McGinnis's statements was that he "engineered the illegal award of a printing contract to a company that employed his cousin."

A few months after his February 2006 suspension, Okun was forced to resign.

II. Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

The Court may dismiss a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. McCullah v. Gadert, 344 F.3d 655, 657 (7th Cir. 2003). On a motion to dismiss, the "issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims."

Cole v. U.S. Capital, Inc., 389 F.3d 719, 724 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). ...

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