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Johnson v. Village of Sandoval

April 8, 2008

OLIVIA JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF SANDOVAL, ILLINOIS, RONALD EUGENE RODGERS, JEROME RATTERMANN, MARK COPPLE, GERALD FANGER, JAMES GORE, CORA OEHMKE, AND BILL THOMSON, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

A. Background and Introduction

On March 16, 2007, Johnson filed this action alleging retaliation and violations of her federal rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 2). On September 24, 2007, Johnson filed an amended complaint against the Defendants (Doc. 26). The amended complaint alleges six counts:

(1) that the Village of Sandoval violated her rights under Title VII due to sexual harassment she experienced while serving as a police office, (2) that the Village of Sandoval retaliated against her in violation of her rights under Title VII, (3) that the Village of Sandoval violated her First Amendment rights under § 1983, (4) that the Mayor and members of Sandoval's Board of Trustees violated her First Amendment rights under § 1983, (5) that the Village of Sandoval, its Mayor, and the Board of Trustees violated her equal protection rights under § 1983, and (6) that Defendant Rodgers violated her equal protection rights under § 1983. Johnson requests compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

On October 17, 2007, all Defendants except Rodgers moved this Court to dismiss or strike portions of these claims (Doc. 29). On November 19, 2007, Johnson submitted a response (Doc. 34). Having reviewed the parties' filings, this Court now GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 29).

B. Analysis

FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 8(a)(2) and 12(b)(6) govern motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. To satisfy the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint need only include a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. In other words, a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief by saying enough "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, - U.S. - , 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965-66 (2007).

In Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, the United States Supreme Court "retooled federal pleading standards," and retired the oft-incanted standard from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appeared "beyond doubt" that the plaintiff could prove "no set of facts in support of his claim" which would entitle her to relief. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007).

Bell Atlanticcalled into question dicta contained in (and abrogated the holdings of) cases such as Kolupa v. Roselle Park District, 438 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir. 2006),which had declared Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal proper only "when it would be necessary to contradict the complaint in order to prevail on the merits." No longer does it suffice for a complaint to avoid foreclosing possible basis for relief; the complaint must indicate that the plaintiff has a right to relief. EEOC v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007).

Specific facts are not necessary for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Jervis v. Mitcheff, -- F.3d --, 2007 WL 4355433 (Dec. 13, 2007). But, labels and conclusions alone will not suffice. Rather, the complaint must contain enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face, and the complaint must give the defendants "fair notice" of the grounds on which plaintiff's claim rests. Killingsworth, 507 F.3d at 618.

In assessing whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted (thereby escaping Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal), the district court accepts all well-pled allegations as true and draws all favorable inferences in plaintiff's favor. Id.; see also Erickson v. Pardus, -- U.S. --, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007).

1. Motion to Dismiss Johnson's Requests for Punitive Damages in All Counts

First, Defendants move this Court to dismiss Johnson's requests for punitive damages against the Village of Sandoval and the individual Defendants in their official capacities. Though Johnson's response is not a model of clarity,*fn1 it appears that Johnson agrees that she cannot recover punitive damages against the Village of Sandoval in Counts 1 and 2. However, Johnson does not address the viability of her requests for punitive damages against the individual Defendants in their official capacities.

Johnson requests punitive damages in all counts of her complaint. However, municipalities are immune from punitive damages under Title VII and § 1983. In the Title VII context, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(1) specifically provides that

A complaining party may recover punitive damages under this section against a respondent (other than a government, government agency or political subdivision) if the complaining party demonstrates that the respondent engaged in a discriminatory practice or discriminatory practices with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual.

42 U.S.C. § 1983a(b)(1) (emphasis added). In the § 1983 context, the United States Supreme Court has specifically held that punitive damages may not be awarded against a municipality. City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981). Consequently, Johnson's request for punitive ...


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