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Ketelsen v. Smith

July 25, 2008

JILLIAN KETELSEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RONALD SMITH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy McDade United States District Judge

ORDER

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed October 10, 2007. (Doc. 21.) Plaintiff filed a Response on November 5, 2007. (Doc. 24.) Also before the Court is a related Motion to Strike filed by Defendants on November 21, 2007. (Doc. 26.) Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion to Strike on December 4, 2007. (Doc. 28.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Strike is GRANTED, and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed by the Wells Center as a substance abuse counselor from September 1, 2004 through June 8, 2005. (Doc. 1 at 2.) Pursuant to a contract between the Wells Center and the Illinois Department of Corrections (hereinafter "IDOC"), Plaintiff provided substance abuse counseling to youth inmates detained at the Kewanee Youth Center (hereinafter "KYC"). (Doc. 1 at 2.) Defendant Ronald Smith was Chief of Security at the KYC during Plaintiff's employment. (Doc. 22 at 4.) Defendant Jennifer Stoudt was the warden of the KYC from December 1, 2004 through December 15, 2005. (Doc. 22 at 3.)

During the course of Plaintiff's employment, Defendant Stoudt raised concerns about Plaintiff's conduct to Wells Center supervisors. (Doc. 22 at 5.) In June of 2005, Defendant Stoudt determined that Plaintiff was unsuitable for employment in a correctional setting, and denied Plaintiff access to the KYC. (Doc. 22 at 5.) Defendant Stoudt informed her supervisor, Deputy Director Kurt Fredenaur, and Debi Rouch and Bruce Carter of the Wells Center that Plaintiff was denied access because "she had boundary issues that made her unsuitable for a correctional setting." (Doc. 22 at 6.) Because Plaintiff was barred from working at the KYC, the Wells Center terminated her employment on June 7, 2005. (Doc. 1 at 4.)

Plaintiff alleges that she was falsely accused of having a sexual relationship with a particular youth at the KYC (hereinafter "Youth K"), and that these false allegations led to her dismissal from the KYC. (Doc. 1 at 2.) During this time, Plaintiff was also accused of exposing her breasts to a youth. (Doc. 1 at 2.) An investigation found the accusations of sexual misconduct to be without merit. (Doc. 22 at 5.) However, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Smith continued to accuse her of having inappropriate relationships with youths, including accusations that she allowed a youth to sit with his head in her lap. (Doc. 1 at 2.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Smith had other youths spy on Plaintiff and report back to him as to how frequently she was with Youth K. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant Stoudt refused Plaintiff access to the KYC in response to Defendant Smith's accusations. (Doc. 1 at 4.)

Defendants allege that during Plaintiff's employment at the KYC, several security concerns were raised regarding her conduct. These concerns include failing to secure doors, being unable to account for missing supplies, removing her shoes during group sessions with youths, and addressing youths regarding sensitive matters without first speaking with her supervisor. (Doc. 22 at 4-5.) For these reasons, Defendant Stoudt determined that Plaintiff was not suitable for a correctional setting and denied Plaintiff access to the KYC. (Doc. 22 at 5.) Defendants further claim that neither Smith nor Stoudt had ever commented to anyone regarding Plaintiff's skills or abilities as a counselor. (Doc. 22 at 6.)

Defendants admit they were aware that youths had made allegations that Plaintiff paid special attention to Youth K and spent a disproportionate amount of time with him. (Doc. 22 at 5.) Additionally, there were indications that Plaintiff intended to keep Youth K under her supervision despite the fact that he had completed the program. (Doc. 22 at 5.) However, at no time do Defendants indicate they ever believed Plaintiff had a sexual relationship with Youth K, or any other youth at the KYC. The only place where such accusations are made is in Plaintiff's own Complaint, her deposition statements, and in incident reports that she authored.

Following Plaintiff's dismissal from the KYC, she obtained positions at Texas Roadhouse as a bartender, TASC (an organization working with Department of Court Services) as a case manager for substance abuse patients, and Ashford University as an Admissions Counselor. (Doc. 22-3 at 12-13.) Plaintiff also applied for positions with the Clinton Community School District as a counselor, (Ketelsen Dep. at 34), Moline High School as a truancy officer, (Ketelsen Dep. at 34), Generations as a case manager for elderly patients, (Ketelsen Dep. at 33), Transitions as a mental health counselor, (Ketelsen Dep. at 31), Child Abuse Council as an abused child counselor, (Ketelsen Dep. at 30), and Family Resources as a domestic abuse advocate, (Ketelsen Dep. a 25). Plaintiff does not allege she failed to obtain these positions due to any conduct by Defendants. Rather, the only reasons she gives for not obtaining these positions are that the employers were not interviewing at that time (Ketelsen Dep. at 31), salary offers were too low (Ketelsen Dep. at 27), and there were many applicants for the positions (Ketelsen Dep. at 34).

Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants on December 21, 2005. Count I of the Complaint alleges intentional interference with employment against Defendant Smith. Count II alleges intentional interference with employment against Defendant Stoudt. Count III alleges a procedural due process violation against both Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and claims deprivation of Plaintiff's "liberty and/or property interest" in continued employment in her chosen field. (Doc. 1-3 at ¶ 25.) Count IV alleges sexual harassment and discrimination against Defendants Smith, Stoudt and Matthew Doug Linze under § 1983.

Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on March 24, 2006. (Doc. 6.) This Court granted the Motion to Dismiss in regard to Counts I and II and the property interest claim in Count III, and denied the Motion regarding Count IV and the liberty interest claim in Count III. (Doc. 13.) On March 30, 2007, the parties agreed to dismiss all claims against Defendant Linze, thereby eliminating Count IV. (Doc. 19.)

Defendants Smith and Stoudt now bring this Motion for Summary Judgment and a related Motion to Strike. Defendants have also raised a claim of qualified immunity against Plaintiff's claims. We address each issue separately.

Qualified Immunity "The test for determining whether a public official defendant is entitled to qualified immunity is an objective one." Triad Assoc. v. Robinson, 10 F.3d 492, 496 (7th Cir. 1993). Qualified immunity applies when (1) the alleged conduct violates a constitutional right and (2) the constitutional right is clearly established at the time in question. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Qualified immunity allows officials to carry out their duties confidently, without fear of incurring unexpected liability, and it allows courts to dispose of insubstantial claims prior to trial, sparing officials from unnecessary litigation. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639 (1987).

The Defendants assert, and the Court agrees, that Defendants are protected by qualified immunity. However, qualified immunity is ultimately not relevant in this case because Defendants did not violate a constitutional or statutory duty when they barred Plaintiff from the KYC for security reasons. Further, Plaintiff has no established right to continued employment. Though Plaintiff argues that a reasonable public official would have known that they could not refuse access to an employee for the "poisonous charges" of inappropriate relations with a youth, the argument does not apply here because Plaintiff offers no proof that the dismissal was based on inappropriate relations. Based on the Court's finding and discussion below, Plaintiff is unable to show a violation of a constitutional right and therefore Defendants' right to qualified immunity is irrelevant.

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment should be granted where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court as to portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant ...


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