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Downey v. Shonkwiler

October 1, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Roberta Fews' Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 46). On June 30, 2004, Plaintiff Janice Tuxhorn's employment contract with the Macon/Corrections Special Education District, also called School District 428 (District or MCSED), was not renewed. Tuxhorn alleged three Counts against Defendant Fews. First Amended Complaint (d/e 19). In Count I, she alleged that Defendant Fews violated her First Amendment rights by causing her to lose her job because she was a registered Republican. She brought Count I as a § 1983 claim. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Count III, she alleged a state-law tortious interference claim.*fn1 The Court previously dismissed Count II. Opinion entered November 16, 2005 (d/e 28), at 9-10. Tuxhorn has voluntarily dismissed her claims against Defendants Charles Shonkwiler, Pam Jurkoshek, and the Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education (Regional Office). Text Order entered September 25, 2007.

Fews now moves for summary judgment on the remaining claims in Counts I and III. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is allowed. Tuxhorn has presented no evidence that Fews knew Tuxhorn's political affiliation at the time that Fews allegedly gave instructions not to renew Tuxhorn's employment contract. Tuxhorn, thus, cannot establish her First Amendment claim in Count I because she has no evidence that political affiliation was a factor in Fews' decision to terminate her employment. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim in Count III.

STATEMENT OF FACTS Tuxhorn is a registered Republican. Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant Fews' Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 47) (Fews Memorandum), Exhibit 1, Deposition of Janice Tuxhorn (Tuxhorn Deposition), at 28. She worked as a clerical technician for the District on year-to-year contracts. The District is a nonprofit entity of the Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education (Regional Office). The Illinois Department of Corrections (Department or DOC) contracted with the District to provide special education services to persons in Department custody. Memorandum of Law in Support of the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants, Shonkwiler and Jurkoshek (d/e 49) (Shonkwiler Memorandum), Exhibit A, Deposition of Charles Shonkwiler (Shonkwiler Deposition), at 5.*fn2 Shonkwiler was the Regional Superintendent of the Regional Office in 2004. Jurkoshek was employed by the Regional Office as the Program Coordinator for the District. Shonkwiler Memorandum, Exhibit B, Deposition of Pam Jurkoshek (Jurkoshek Deposition), at 11. Fews was the Deputy Director of Programs and Support Services for the Department. The District's funding came from the contracts with the Department and from state and federal grants. LuAnn Eifert Deposition, at 7.

From June 2003 to December 2006, James Reinhart held the position of Advisor to the Director of the Department. On April 30, 2004, Reinhart sent an email to LuAnn Eifert, Business Administrator for the District, wanting to know how to terminate a District employee. Plaintiff's Memorandum, Exhibit 6, Email from James Reinhart to LuAnn Eifert dated April 30, 2004. Reinhart stated in his deposition that he did not remember why he sent the email or whether he talked to anybody about it. Plaintiff's Memorandum, Exhibit 8, Deposition of James Reinhart, at 13-14. Reinhart also stated that he had no control or decisionmaking authority over the District or its contract employees. Id., at 15-16.

Jurkoshek states in her deposition that Fews instructed her not to renew the employment contracts of Tuxhorn and Tuxhorn's brother Kevin Downey. On May 25, 2004, Fews called Jurkoshek to Fews' office. According to Jurkoshek:

She asked me to come to her office, and in the days leading up to the 25th we were going through -- each day we were hearing that principals were being let go and secretaries were being let go, and there was a first issue with our contract, the fringe benefits, where I had been told by Bob Eifert that for the first time ever, that DOC was not going to pay the employer portion, which is a legal requirement that an employer pay. And it was just bad times. People were on edge. Basically, they didn't know who was going next. We would hear people in the field.

So I guess I'm leading up to that, that I had been with the program since 1979, and it always goes to about the last month of the fiscal year, that we don't know if we're going to be in business the next year.

Plaintiff Tuxhorn's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant Roberta Fews (d/e 51) (Plaintiff's Memorandum), Exhibit 5, Deposition of Pam Jurkoshek (Jurkoshek Deposition), at 8-9. The fiscal year ended on June 30. Robert Eifert was Associate Superintendent of the District, and also, married to LuAnn Eifert. LuAnn Eifert Deposition, at 60. He also was Tuxhorn and Downey's brother-in-law. Plaintiff's Memorandum, Exhibit 3, Robert Eifert Affidavit,¶ 5.

Jurkoshek anticipated, as she went to Fews' office, that Fews was going to close the District completely:

So I really thought the call was that MCSED was not going to exist. So I went over there and was prepared for the worst. And Roberta prefaced the conversation with, you know, this is just a bad time, the budget is being cut right and left, and it's just not a good time for anybody. And she -- she was sitting facing me, and she said, "I received a call from over there," and she nodded her head towards the window. Well, out the window, you could see the executive building, and that's where the Director of Corrections is, and the Deputy Director, Tony Small.

Well, the budget cuts, when we would hear of budget cuts, it seemed that they all went back to Tony Small, the Deputy Director of Finance, which would make sense. They would trickle down from there. He didn't -- she didn't say his name, but doing that and nodding towards the executive building, and she's asking me to cut the budget. That's what I assumed that she was meaning, that the call was from Tony Small. . . . .

I do not [know that the call was from Tony Snow]. She did not mention a name, and she is Deputy Director and covering our program. You know, she was at a higher level than me. I wasn't going to take her to task on that.

Jurkoshek Deposition, at 9-10. Fews then told Jurkoshek to cut Downey's position. Jurkoshek sent an email to Charles Shonkwiler the next day informing him that Fews told her to give Downey a thirty day notice. Plaintiff's Memorandum, Exhibit 8, ...

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