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Michalowicz v. Village of Bedford Park

June 11, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 06 C 2824-James F. Holderman, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge


Before RIPPLE, EVANS, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

For 28 years Ronald Michalowicz was a firefighter and fire inspector for the Village of Bedford Park, Illinois. In 2003 he was diagnosed with an often fatal form of tongue cancer. With the permission of Bedford Park's mayor, some of Michalowicz's co-workers began soliciting donations from local businesses to help cover the cost of his treatment. Shortly after successfully completing treatment and returning to work, Michalowicz was fired for accepting donations from businesses subject to fire inspection and allegedly failing to adequately inspect their properties.

Michalowicz maintains the procedures surrounding his termination were constitutionally insufficient. Specifically, he contests whether he was given adequate notice and opportunity to respond at his pretermination hearing, and whether the body that presided over his posttermi-nation hearing-the Village Board, the same body that presided over his pretermination hearing-was biased against him. However, Michalowicz also alleged in his complaint that the Village did not comply with existing state and municipal laws that would have addressed these procedural defects. As long as adequate state-law remedies exist for such random and unauthorized conduct, relief may not be obtained in federal court. Because the Illinois Administrative Review Act, 735 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/3-101 et seq., authorizes review in state court and permits either remand for rehearing or outright reversal of administrative decisions that are unsupported by the evidence or legally defective, state law provides adequate remedies for the violations Michalowicz alleges. We therefore affirm the district court's dismissal of Michalowicz's complaint for failure to state a claim.

I. Background

Michalowicz worked for the Village of Bedford Park as a firefighter for 17 years and as a fire inspector for 11 years.

In October 2003 Michalowicz was diagnosed with a rare and often fatal form of tongue cancer, which required him to take a leave of absence for treatment from March 2004 to January 2005. With the mayor's approval, two of Michalowicz's co-workers began soliciting donations from local individuals and businesses to assist with Michalowicz's medical expenses. During his leave of absence, their campaign raised approximately $25,000, which was put into a special fund dedicated to paying Michalowicz's medical bills.

After successful treatment, Michalowicz returned to work in January 2005. On July 20, 2005, he received a letter from Sean Maloy, chief of the Village Fire Department, informing him he was under investigation on suspicion of having "accepted gifts of cash and/or property from businesses or individuals associated with businesses that are subject to fire inspection" and having "failed to appropriately and adequately inspect facilities and properties." After receiving this notice, Michalowicz was interviewed twice by a Village Attorney. On August 20, 2005, he received another letter from Maloy informing him that Maloy planned to recommend his termination at an upcoming Village Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for August 25. This notice was accompanied by a document listing the charges against Michalowicz and the statute and ordinances he was alleged to have violated.

Michalowicz attended the August 25 board meeting accompanied by an attorney. Michalowicz's attorney was allowed to make a statement on his behalf but was not allowed to present any witnesses or evidence. Neither Maloy nor the Village Attorney presented any information regarding the evidence or witnesses against Michalowicz.

The meeting was simply adjourned after the statement by Michalowicz's attorney. The Board then reconvened on September 1 and summarily terminated Michalowicz. Shortly thereafter, Michalowicz received notice that he was entitled to a post-termination hearing in accordance with section 1-18-8 of the Village's municipal code. That hearing was held on April 5, 2006. Although section 1-18-8 required the hearing to be held before an independent employee relations committee, it was instead conducted- over Michalowicz's objection-by the Village Board. At the hearing Michalowicz was permitted to present evidence and witnesses contradicting the Village's allegations and cross-examine the witnesses against him. The Board upheld Michalowicz's termination on May 4.

Michalowicz subsequently filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also filed for administrative review in Cook County Circuit Court. His federal complaint raised two claims: that his pretermination hearing was inadequate because it failed to comply with constitutional requirements of notice and opportunity to respond, and his post-termination hearing was inadequate because it was held before the same biased Village Board as his pretermination hearing. His pretermination claim specifically alleged he was not permitted to present evidence or to call witnesses; was not provided with any indication of the specific evidence against him, nor given a list of the Village's witnesses nor the names of any complainants; was not permitted to conduct any discovery [before, during or after]; nor was provided any other procedural safeguard to which he was otherwise entitled . . . .

The district court dismissed both claims with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim. In doing so the court characterized Michalowicz's complaint as challenging only the failure to follow governing ordinances and statutes, rather than challenging the constitutionality of the procedures provided in the ordinances or statutes themselves. Concluding that the Village's alleged failure to follow applicable law was random and unauthorized, the court held that the state's duty was not to prevent such misconduct, but rather to provide adequate remedies after it occurred. Because it deemed the remedies found in the Illinois Administrative Review Act adequate, the ...

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