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Wooden v. Barone

August 29, 2007

CINDY J. WOODEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL S. BARONE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss brought by defendants Michael S. Barone, Elbert E. Simon, and Milt Sees (Doc. 21). For the following reasons the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Introduction

This case is a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivations of constitutional rights by persons acting under color of state law. According to the allegations of the operative complaint herein, in 1999 plaintiff Cindy J. Wooden was hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation ("IDOT") as a six-month full-time temporary highway maintainer for the 1999-2000 winter season. See Doc. 20 ("Complaint") ¶ 10. Pursuant to IDOT policy, because of Wooden's satisfactory job performance during the 1999-2000 winter season she was recalled to work as a six-month full-time temporary highway maintainer for the winters of 2000-2001, 2001-2002, 2002-2003, and 2003-2004. See id.¶¶ 11-13. In hiring six-month full-time temporary highway maintainers for the 2004-2005 winter season, IDOT, instead of recalling the six-month full-time temporary highway maintainers from the previous winter, posted the positions, took applications for the positions, and interviewed the applicants. See id. ¶¶ 14-15. Wooden applied for a position as a six-month full-time temporary highway maintainer for the 2004-2005 winter season and was interviewed by defendant Michael S. Barone, an IDOT employee. See id.¶¶ 17-18, ¶ 3. On October 18, 2004, Wooden was notified that she had not been hired as a six-month full-time temporary highway maintainer for the 2004-2005 winter season. See id. ¶ 19. After the 2004-2005 winter season, IDOT resumed its policy of recalling six-month full-time temporary highway maintainers who had performed satisfactorily the previous winter. See id.¶ 22. Because Wooden was not hired for the 2004-2005 winter season, she was not recalled for the 2005-2006 winter season and for the 2006-2007 winter season.

See id.¶ 23.

Wooden brings this suit against Barone and defendant Elbert E. Simon, an IDOT employee, in their individual and official capacities, and against defendant Milt Sees in his official capacity as acting director of IDOT. See Complaint ¶¶ 3-5.*fn1 Wooden alleges that she was not hired for the 2004-2005 winter season for political reasons, in violation of her First Amendment rights. See id. ¶¶ 20-21, ¶¶ 24-25. See also Coffey v. Cox, 234 F. Supp. 2d 884, 886 (C.D. Ill. 2002) (citing Rutan v. Republican Party of Ill., 497 U.S. 62 (1990)); Vickery v. Jones, 856 F. Supp. 1313, 1317-18 (S.D. Ill. 1994). As a result of the alleged deprivation of her constitutional rights by persons acting under color of state law Wooden seeks compensatory damages against Barone and Simon in the amount of $100,000, as well as punitive damages in the amount of $225,000. See Complaint ¶¶ 26-28. Wooden also seeks the entry of an injunction ordering Sees, Barone, and Simon to reinstate her as a six-month full-time temporary highway maintainer for the 2006-2007 winter season, together with her attorney's fees and costs. See id. Prayer for Relief.*fn2 Pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Wooden seeks to represent a class defined as "all persons who had worked as six-month temporary highway maintainers at IDOT in the 2003-2004 winter season who had good evaluations and were denied the six-month temporary highway maintainer positions for the 2004-2005 winter season based on political considerations." Id. ¶ 7. Barone, Simon, and Sees have moved for dismissal of Wooden's complaint on three grounds. Specifically, they contend that: Wooden's claim against them in their official capacities is improper because she does not seek prospective relief; Wooden's claim against Sees is barred by the statute of limitations; and Wooden has failed adequately to allege a violation of her First Amendment rights. The Court considers each of these contentions in turn.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

On a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in a plaintiff's complaint as true. See Cleveland v. Rotman, 297 F.3d 569, 571 (7th Cir. 2002). The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the legal sufficiency of the allegations of a complaint, not to determine the merits of a case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). "Because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establish a liberal pleading system that requires only notice pleading, a 'complaint's mere vagueness or lack of detail is not sufficient to justify a dismissal.'" Brown v. SBC Communications, Inc., No. 05-cv-777-JPG, 2007 WL 684133, at *2 (S.D. Ill. Mar. 1, 2007) (quoting National Serv. Ass'n, Inc. v. Capitol Bankers Life Ins. Co., 832 F. Supp. 227, 230 (N.D. Ill. 1993)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the . . . grounds . . . of his . . . entitle[ment] to relief . . . requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true." Id.

B. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Court turns first to the question of whether Wooden properly seeks prospective relief against Barone, Simon, and Sees in their official capacities. The Eleventh Amendment generally shields both a state and its agencies from suits by state citizens in federal court. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); Keri v. Board of Trs. of Purdue Univ., 458 F.3d 620, 641 (7th Cir. 2006); Gossmeyer v. McDonald, 128 F.3d 481, 487 (7th Cir. 1997). Although a state may waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity and Congress may abrogate the immunity, see Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985); Florida Dep't of Health & Rehabilitative Servs. v. Florida Nursing Home Ass'n, 450 U.S. 147, 149-50 (1981); Meadows v. Indiana, 854 F.2d 1068, 1069-70 & n.3 (7th Cir. 1988); Tolley v. Illinois, Civil No. 06-627-GPM, 2006 WL 3842120, at *2 (S.D. Ill. Dec. 20, 2006), neither is true in this instance. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 338-45 (1979) (holding that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not abrogate Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity); Kroll v. Board of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 934 F.2d 904, 909 & n.5 (7th Cir. 1991) (same); Thomas v. Walton, 461 F. Supp. 2d 786, 799 (S.D. Ill. 2006) (Illinois has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court). Also, states and state agencies, as well as state employees sued in their official capacities, are not "persons" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990); Ryan v. Illinois Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 185 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 1999); Duncan v. Wisconsin Dep't of Health & Family Servs., 166 F.3d 930, 934-35 (7th Cir. 1999); Santiago v. Lane, 894 F.2d 218, 220 n.3 (7th Cir. 1990); O'Reilly v. Montgomery County, No. 102CV1242-DFH, 2003 WL 23101795, at *12 (S.D. Ind. Feb. 24, 2003); Bibbs v. Newman, 997 F. Supp. 1174, 1178 (S.D. Ind. 1998).

Conversely, the Eleventh Amendment does not preclude suits for damages in federal court against state employees in their individual capacities. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 26-27 (1991); Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 278 n.11 (1986); Moore v. Indiana, 999 F.2d 1125, 1129 (7th Cir. 1993); Scott v. O'Grady, 975 F.2d 366, 369 (7th Cir. 1992); Patterson v. Koerner, No. 03 C 0636, 2004 WL 406979, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 6, 2004). Similarly, although claims against state employees in their official capacities are deemed, of course, to be claims against a state for Eleventh Amendment purposes, see Graham, 473 U.S. at 165-66 (quoting Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)); Garcia v. City of Chicago, 24 F.3d 966, 969 (7th Cir. 1994); Brunken v. Lance, 807 F.2d 1325, 1329 (7th Cir. 1986); Fayemi v. Pucinski,155 F. Supp. 2d 944, 948 (N.D. Ill. 2001); Horton v. Marovich, 925 F. Supp. 540, 544 (N.D. Ill. 1996), claims for prospective relief against state employees in their official capacities are not within the scope of the Eleventh Amendment. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 666-67 (1974); Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 159-60 (1908); Ameritech Corp. v. McCann, 297 F.3d 582, 585-86 (7th Cir. 2002); Luder v. Endicott, 253 F.3d 1020, 1024-25 (7th Cir. 2001); Dean Foods Co. v. Brancel, 187 F.3d 609, 613 (7th Cir. 1999); Feldman v. Ho,171 F.3d 494, 495 (7th Cir. 1999); Nicol v. Lavin, No. 03 C 6688, 2004 WL 1881786, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 13, 2004). For purposes of claims for equitable relief, state employees sued in their official capacities are "persons" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 n.10 (1989) (quoting Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n.14) ("Of course a state official in his or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under § 1983 because 'official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State.'"). Also, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar a successful civil rights plaintiff from receiving a statutory award of attorney's fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) if the award is ancillary to a grant of equitable relief against state employees sued in their official capacities. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 163-70; Quern, 440 U.S. at 344-45; Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 695-700 (1978); King v. Illinois State Bd. of Elections, 410 F.3d 404, 421-22 & n.16 (7th Cir. 2005); Blank v. Illinois Dep't of Transp., No. 02 C 4818, 2003 WL 134991, at **3-4 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 16, 2003).

In this instance Wooden's complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages only against Barone and Simon in their individual capacities. Additionally, Wooden properly seeks prospective relief against Barone, Simon, and Sees in their official capacities in the form of an order directing her reinstatement to her job as a six-month full-time temporary highway maintainer, together with a statutory award of attorney's fees and costs. See Kashani v. Purdue Univ., 813 F.2d 843, 848 (7th Cir. 1987) ("[A]n injunction ordering reinstatement . . . is clearly prospective in effect and thus falls outside the prohibitions of the Eleventh Amendment."); Elliott v. Hinds, 786 F.2d 298, 302 (7th Cir. 1986) (in a suit under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 by a former state employee seeking reinstatement and expungement of derogatory information in the employee's personnel records, ...


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