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Blahut v. Oden

September 11, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Gettleman United States District Judge

Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiffs Stephanie Blahut and David Chambers, individually and doing business as GSU Phoenix, filed a four-count pro se amended complaint against defendants Roger Oden, Albert Chesser, James McGee, Stuart Fagan, Paul Keys, Peggy Woodward, Emmanuel Alozie, and Lorraine Sibbet.*fn1 The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for alleged violations of: plaintiffs' constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); the First Amendment to the Constitution (Count II); and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (Count III). The complaint also requests declaratory and injunctive relief in Count IV, plaintiffs' demand for equitable relief.*fn2 Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons discussed below, the court grants defendants' motion.


Plaintiffs Stephanie Blahut ("Blahut") and David Chambers ("Chambers") were undergraduate students at Governors State University ("GSU") in Cook County, Illinois; Blahut was a student from 2003 to 2005, and Chambers was a student from 2002 to 2005. Both Blahut and Chambers worked for plaintiff GSU Phoenix ("Phoenix"), GSU's student newspaper. Blahut was the Editor-in-Chief ("EIC") of the paper, and Chambers worked as the Copy Editor and interim business manager.

According to Blahut and Chambers, defendant Lorraine Sibbet ("Sibbet"), Executive Director of Student Life at GSU, frequently restricted them from accessing their press office, despite prior written notice from GSU Vice President John Tuohy that Blahut, Chambers, and all other staff members of the Phoenix should have unrestricted access to the office during all GSU facility hours of operation. Plaintiffs also allege that the defendants required them, along with other Phoenix staff members, to vacate their offices at arbitrary times during their tenure with the newspaper.

From August 2003 to August 2004, defendant Sibbet refused to process Blahut's purchase orders for new equipment and necessary repairs for the newspaper. Sibbet also delayed purchase orders submitted by the Phoenix, including those concerning supplies and the new printing vendor.

During the 2003 spring trimester, Sibbet, along with defendants Roger Oden ("Oden"), Dean of the GSU College of Arts and Sciences, Paul Keys ("Keys"), the GSU Provost, and Stuart Fagan ("Fagan"), GSU President, appointed defendant Emmanuel Alozie ("Alozie"), a GSU faculty member, as advisor to the newspaper, despite the fact that other student organizations chose their own advisors.

In August 2003, Blahut signed a contract with Sibbet to act as EIC of the Phoenix. That contract stated that the EIC must "review final copy of newspaper with advisor before it goes to print" and submit all requisitions to Sibbet for approval. According to Blahut, if she had not signed the contract, she would have been prohibited from assuming and performing her duties as EIC. Further, Blahut was the only leader of a student club required to sign a contract to assume her duties. As an inducement to sign the contract, Sibbet orally promised Blahut that she would provide her with sufficient staff for the newspaper. Sibbet then breached the oral agreement, forcing Blahut to advertise for, recruit, interview, and hire her own staff and then submit the names of her selections to Sibbet and Alozie for approval. Sibbet also denied Blahut's request to add more paid positions to the newspaper.

In May 2004, Sibbet withheld Blahut's pay for approximately 45 days because of a disagreement concerning the newspaper's summer production schedule. On June 9, 2004, defendant James McGee ("McGee"), Police Sergeant for the GSU Department of Public Safety, ordered a Phoenix staff photographer to cease and desist from taking photographs at a public graduation ceremony. During the spring trimester (April through August of 2004), defendants Sibbet, Oden, Keys, and Alozie, along with Peggy Woodward ("Woodward"), GSU Assistant Provost, refused to authorize a purchase order request made by Blahut to pay Chambers for his work as interim business manager and interim EIC. Also during that trimester, defendants Sibbet, Oden, Keys, and Fagan placed two recently hired adjunct faculty members in the EIC and newly created Technical Coordinator positions without interviewing other applicants.

On March 11, 2004, Blahut submitted an 18-count grievance to Sibbet concerning her tenure as EIC. Sibbet refused to conduct an investigation into Blahut's complaints. According to Blahut, defendants Fagan and Woodard also failed to investigate her grievance from April 2004 to August 2004. Additionally, from August 2003 to August 2004, Sibbet signed off on paperwork concerning charges to the newspaper's account without showing the paperwork to Blahut, who was responsible for the paper's finances. Sibbet also deducted money from the newspaper's account without Blahut's knowledge or authorization.

According to Blahut, she submitted a budget for the newspaper's 2005 operations. That budget was $15,000 less than the budget submitted for the 2004 calendar year and was approved by the GSU Student Senate Fee and Finance Committee, but Sibbet decreased the original funding amount and Woodard approved that reduced amount.

On February 10, 2005, Sibbet issued a university-wide e-mail containing the GSU Student Senate election results, which stated that Chambers had won a seat as the Board of Governors Student Senate representative. On February 17, 2005, Sibbet reissued the results with Chambers's name removed. Plaintiffs allege that Sibbet removed Chambers from his seat in retaliation for an investigation that Chambers ...

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