The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Kathleen Stevens, Michael Sheppo, Donna Metzger, and Susan Vondrak's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 31). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Motion.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.
Plaintiffs Richard Chaklos (Chaklos) and Andrew Wist (Wist) were employed by the Illinois State Police (ISP) to train forensic scientists. Wist trained scientists in DNA analysis and Chaklos trained scientists in drug chemical analysis. In addition to their duties with ISP, Chaklos and Wist owned and operated Midwest Forensic Services, Inc. (MFS). Additionally, Wist had assisted the National Forensic Science Training Center (NFSTC) in developing a training program for ISP trainees, and had taught occasionally at NFSTC. NFSTC is a not-for-profit company established by the American Society of Crime Directors to provide quality assistance to crime laboratories, to validate certain types of scientific techniques, and to establish standards within the community of crime scene laboratories. In the past, NFSTC has conducted training for ISP personnel at no cost to the State of Illinois.
During the period in question, Colonel Kathleen Steven (Stevens) was Deputy Director of the Forensic Services Command. Michael Sheppo (Sheppo) was both Commander of ISP's Forensic Services Bureau and President of the NFSTC's Board of Directors. Donna Metzger (Metzger) was Assistant Commander of ISP's Forensic Services Bureau, and reported to Sheppo. Susan Vondrak (Vondrak) was the director of training for the forensic services command, whose duties included supervising Chaklos and Wist.
In 2004, the State of Illinois released money to ISP to hire and train 14 (later 15) new forensic scientists to help alleviate a backlog in the analysis of DNA samples, a condition that had gotten a lot of attention in the press. The forensic science command held meetings to discuss how best to train the new hires. In an email, Wist suggested various options: that the group could be split into two or three smaller groups and trained at various laboratories throughout the state; that the trainees could be sent as one large group to the NFSTC; that some trainees could be sent to NFSTC and others trained internally at ISP facilities; or that ISP could look for external space within the State of Illinois to train new hires. At the time he outlined these options, Wist believed that any training provided by NFSTC would be federally funded and would not entail a cost to the State of Illinois.
ISP follows the State of Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) procedures for determining whether a contract for services should be opened for competitive bids or "sole sourced." These procedures call for competitive bidding unless the Procurement Officer determines that there is only one economically feasible source able to meet the requirements of the contract. Craig Allen (Allen), ISP's Procurement Officer believed that the training contract should be competitively bid. Nevertheless, on or about March 22, 2004, Allen was informed that the Director of ISP, on the recommendation of the forensic science command, had decided that the contract would be sole sourced to NFSTC, rather than put up for bid. The cost to the State of Illinois for the contract would be nearly $750,000. Allen, as an ISP officer, was bound to follow the Director's order. However, Allen and purchasing and accounting section manager, Michael Yokley (Yokley), were concerned about Sheppo's possible conflict of interest arising from his position with NFSTC. Yokley forwarded his concerns up the chain of command.
CMS procedures require that notice of sole sourced contracts be published at least 14 days prior to execution in order for venders to challenge the decision not to allow competitive bids. Although the procedures specified challenges from vendors, ISP's Procurement Officer would consider challenges from any Illinois resident. On March 26, in a letter (the protest letter) signed by Wist and Chaklos, MFS protested the awarding of a no-bid contract to NFSTC for the training of personnel in DNA analysis. The letter indicated that MFS could conduct equivalent training at a lower cost to the state, and further indicated that some of MFS's competitors might also be able to submit competitive bids for services equivalent to those provided by NFSTC.
As a result of the protest letter, Colonel Harold Nelson (Nelson), Deputy Director of ISP Division of Internal Investigations (DII) and Captain Karpawicz, Asistant Deputy Director of DII attended a meeting with Stevens, Sheppo, Metzger, and Chief Legal Counsel Keith Jensen. At the meeting, the participants decided that the procurement office would handle the protest for the contract. Nelson was then questioned as to whether Chaklos and Wist should be investigated for possible violations of ISP policy and conflicts of interest. Metzger believed that Wist and Chaklos had violated ISP policy and committed ethical violations by submitting the protest letter, which could be interpreted as soliciting secondary employment which mirrored their ISP responsibilities without prior approval. Nelson responded that he did not feel an investigation was warranted. Nevertheless, DII opened an investigation into whether Wist and Chaklos had violated ISP policy by submitting the protest letter. DII found that the protest letter did violate ISP policy. August 11, 2004, Stevens conducted a meeting with the forensic command staff, the head of labor relations, and the Equal Opportunity Officer to discuss the findings of the investigation and the possible discipline to be imposed. In October 2004, Director Trent approved a 30-day suspension of Chaklos and Wist, which was later rescinded.
Chaklos and Wist filed a First Amendment retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, maintaining that because their protest letter was protected speech, the investigation and suspension that it brought about constitute unlawful retaliation. Defendants counter that the protest letter was not protected speech. They further assert that even if the protest letter was protected speech, they are protected by qualified immunity ...