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Barker v. Village of Cahokia

August 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David RHerndon United States District Judge


HERNDON, District Judge


In October, 1996, Plaintiff Debra Barker was employed as Deputy Village Clerk for the Village of Cahokia (Doc. 2, ¶ 6). She was also a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 520-B ("the Union") (Id. at ¶ 7). On August 30, 2005, through the Union, Plaintiff filed a grievance alleging improper reassignment of her duties to personnel outside the bargaining unit (Id. at ¶ 8). On September 14, 2005, Plaintiff met with her Union representative and Mayor Frank Bergman to discuss her grievance (Id. at ¶ 9). At this meeting, Plaintiff alleges that Mayor Bergman offered to "go on from here" if Plaintiff would agree to drop her grievance (Id.).Plaintiff refused (Id. at ¶ 10). That same day, Plaintiff alleges that Mayor Frank Bergman terminated Plaintiff's employment as Deputy Clerk (Id. at 11).

On October 4, 2005, Village Board Trustees JoAnn Malone, Gloria McCoy, and Dennis Phillips (the "Board" or "Trustees") confirmed Plaintiff's termination on appeal (Id. at ¶ 12). The remaining three Trustees voted to overturn the termination. (Id.).In order to break the tie, Mayor Frank Bergman cast his vote, affirming Plaintiff's termination. (Id.).Plaintiff alleges she was not given prior written notice of the charges against her or given an opportunity to defend herself, before she was terminated. (Id. at ¶ 13). On October 30, 2006, Plaintiff filed the instant suit against Mayor Bergman, the Village Trustees, Chief of Police Rick Watson and the Village of Cahokia,alleging claims for deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and malicious prosecution (Doc. 2).

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9), to which Plaintiff has opposed (Doc. 123) and Defendants have replied (Doc. 14). Defendants' Motion, filed pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(6), asserts that the doctrine of absolute immunity serves to bar Plaintiff's claims. Defendants further assert that Plaintiff cannot state a claim for deprivation of her constitutional rights for speaking out as a Union member, as such speech is not considered to be of "public concern." Additionally, Defendants believe a dismissal of Plaintiff's claims for deprivation of liberty interest and malicious prosecution is warranted for failure to state a cause of action. As discussed herein, the Court deems the Motion should be granted in part.


A. Legal Standard

Previously, when ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the district court assumes as true all facts well-pled plus the reasonable inferences therefrom and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Fries v. Helsper, 146 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Wiemerslage Through Wiemerslage v. Maine Township High School Dist. 207, 29 F.3d 1149, 1151 (7th Cir. 1994)). The question is whether, under those assumptions, the plaintiff would have a right to legal relief. Id. This standard was articulated as such:

[U]nder "simplified notice pleading," . . . the allegations of the complaint should be liberally construed, and the "complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief."

Lewis v. Local Union No. 100 of Laborers' Int'l Union, 750 F.2d 1368, 1373 (7th Cir. 1984)(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 46-47 (1957)).

The Seventh Circuit recently reiterated the liberal standard governing notice pleading:

Rule 8 was adopted in 1938, and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed. 2d 80 (1957), stressed that it does not require fact pleading. It is disappointing to see a federal district judge dismiss a complaint for failure to adhere to a fact-pleading model that federal practice abrogated almost 70 years ago. As citations in the preceding paragraphs show, however, this is among many similar dispositions that the Supreme Court and this court have encountered recently and been obliged to reverse.

Vincent v. City Colleges of Chicago, 485 F.3d 919, 924 (7th Cir. 2007)(footnote omitted); see also Duda v. Bd. of Educ. of Franklin Park Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1057 (7th Cir. 1998); Kaplan v. ...

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