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Kelly v. Chambers

December 6, 2007

KAREN KELLY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEAN CHAMBERS, CRAIG ESPLIN, RAMTIN SABET, MAYNARD WILLIAMS, AND THE VILLAGE OF OAKWOOD HILLS, IL DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant the Village of Oakwood Hills, Illinois ("Oakwood Hills"), and individual defendants, Dean Chambers, Craig Esplin, Maynard Williams, and Ramtin Sabet move to dismiss Karen Kelly's ("Plaintiff") complaint alleging retaliation against her First Amendment rights to speech, assembly, freedom of association, and petitioning the Government for redress in its entirety. For the reasons stated below, we deny Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Ramtin Sabet and grant Defendants' motion to dismiss for the remaining defendants.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a resident of Oakwood Hills, was elected to the Oakwood Hills Board of Trustees ("Board") in April of 2005. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8). She served as an Oakwood Hills Trustee from May 2005 until February 2007. (Id. ¶ 9). Plaintiff alleges that while she was Trustee the community had concerns regarding the expanding size of the Oakwood Hills Police Department ("Department"), the increasing funds necessary to support the Department, and the conduct of its officers. (Id. ¶10). In response, the Independent Citizens Police Committee ("Committee") was formed to explore various alternatives to secure law enforcement services for Oakwood Hills, and Plaintiff became involved in the Committee. (Id. ¶ 11).

On October 24, 2006, Plaintiff attended a public meeting hosted by the Committee regarding law enforcement issues. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 15). Plaintiff generated and distributed flyers for this meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14). On October 25, 2006, the Northwest Herald published an article about the meeting that included Plaintiff's criticisms of the Department. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 32(f), (g)).

According to Plaintiff, on October 25, 2006, in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights, Police Officer Ramtin Sabet generated a police incident report regarding an August 26, 2006 traffic stop involving Plaintiff's minor son.*fn1 (Id. ¶¶ 18-20). The police report stated that Plaintiff, who was at the stop, refused to obey a police officer and obstructed the officer in the course of his duties. (Id.) Neither Plaintiff, nor her son, were issued citations or arrested at the traffic stop. (Id. ¶ 21).

At the December 7, 2006 Board meeting, Trustee Esplin publicly initiated a fact-finding probe regarding Plaintiff's alleged "potential abuse" of a police officer. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23). Plaintiff alleges that Williams and Chambers,*fn2 respectively as Police Chief and President, participated in this fact-finding probe, (Id. ¶ 24), and claimed that Plaintiff obstructed a police officer, refused to heed his commands, and attempted to use her position as Trustee to exert undue influence over him. (Id. ¶ 26). These accusations were also posted on the Oakwood Hills website. (Id. ¶ 28). Plaintiff contends these accusations were false, malicious, and/or made with reckless disregard of whether the alleged conduct was false or true. (Id. ¶ 27).

On January 31, 2007, the Oakwood Hills Public Safety Finance Administration Committee tendered a letter to Plaintiff requesting that she answer the charges levied against her with respect to the August 26, 2006 traffic incident. (Id. ¶ 29). Plaintiff alleges that this letter was in continued retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights. (Id.) In addition, she alleges that because of Defendants' actions, she is no longer actively involved in the Committee. (Pl.'s Resp. at 8).

Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Defendants retaliated against her First Amendment free exercise rights and defamed her causing further injuries such as: emotional distress, humiliation, personal indignity, mental distress, and embarrassment. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 35, 41, 46, 52, 57, 62, 67). Among other things, Plaintiff asks us to enter judgment in her favor and award her compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and costs. (Id.)

Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim on three grounds. First, Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity regardless of the veracity of their statements because their alleged acts of retaliation were in the nature of speech and did not contain threats, coercion or intimidation, and it is not clearly established that their actions could be the basis of a First Amendment claim. Second, defendants Chambers and Esplin claim absolute legislative immunity for their investigation of Plaintiff's alleged wrongdoing. Third, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to plead any municipal liability against Oakwood Hills as required under § 1983 because her complaint lacks allegations that the individual defendants possessed final policy-making authority for Oakwood Hills.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court may grant a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6) when "it appears beyond all doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99 (1957). The purpose of a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not to decide the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). Thus, in considering a motion to dismiss, we must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Thompson, 300 F.3d at 753. A sufficient complaint need not give "detailed factual allegations," but it must provide more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Qualified Immunity

Defendants claim protection under the doctrine of qualified immunity as it is not clearly established that their actions could be the basis of a First Amendment retaliation claim. Courts have consistently recognized that not every action by a public official taken in retaliation for an individual's exercise of First Amendment rights is actionable under § 1983. Rees v. Dahl, 24 Fed. Appx. 907, 911 (10th Cir. 2001), Suarez Corp. Indus. v. McGraw, 202 F.3d 676, 686-88 (4th Cir. 2000); Mnyofu v. Bd. of Educ., No. 03 C 8717, 2007 WL 1308523, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 27, 2007); Villagrana v. Vill. of Oswego, No. 04 C 4603, 2005 WL 2322808, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 22, 2005).

The Supreme Court has stated that, when evaluating a claim of qualified immunity, the first question is whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right. Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 1697 (1999). If the deprivation of a constitutional right is supported, then the court examines the issue of immunity. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 199, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2155 (2001). Defendants are entitled to immunity if "the law governing the official's conduct was clearly established" or if "a reasonable [official], in light of the clearly established law, could have believed that his conduct was lawful." Id. Defendants claim that Plaintiff fails to assert the deprivation of an actual ...


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