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Avila v. Pappas

March 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow


Plaintiff, Maria Avila, has filed an eight-count complaint against defendants, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas; three employees of the Treasurer's Office, Vicky Pappas, Michael Shine, and Richard Laner; and Cook County. She alleges claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the individual defendants for substantive due process violations (Count I), equal protection violations (Count II), and civil conspiracy (Count III), as well as a Monell claim under § 1983 against Maria Pappas as Cook County treasurer (Count IV), and state law claims for malicious prosecution against Vicky Pappas and Michael Shine (Count V), intentional infliction of emotional distress against Vicky Pappas and Michael Shine (Count VI), respondeat superior against Cook County (Count VII), and indemnification pursuant to 745 Ill. Comp. Stat. 10/9-102 against Cook County (Count VIII).*fn1

Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion [#103] will be granted.


Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine issue of fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c) & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit. Insolia, 216 F.3d at 598--99. Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986).


Avila was employed as a clerk at the Office of the Cook County Treasurer for about 21 years, from February 1984 until her termination in June 2005. On the evening of Thursday, May 26, 2005, Avila phoned her friend and co-worker, Geneva Fitch, and discussed various stresses at work, including the possibility that Avila might lose her job at an upcoming disciplinary hearing regarding allegations she had been insubordinate and made errors in her work. During that conversation, Avila told Fitch that she felt like she could "go postal" on co-workers Artemis Papageorgeou, Michael Shine, and William Kouruklis, because of animosity towards her from management and her feeling that they were targeting her. Avila also said that if Fitch was in the room at the time, she should duck.

The three individuals to whom Avila referred were supervisory employees at the Treasurer's Office. Papageorgeou was an assistant supervisor and had made the allegations underlying the upcoming disciplinary hearing, Shine was Chief Deputy Treasurer and in charge of personnel, and Kouruklis was Deputy County Treasurer in charge of operations.

Although Fitch initially thought that Avila had just been blowing off steam, she was somewhat concerned that Avila might actually carry out the threat. According to Avila, when she made the comment about "going postal" to Fitch, Fitch said that Avila should not say that, and Avila told her, "You should know me by now... I'm only joking." Pl.'s SoF ¶8. According to Fitch, Avila never said that she was joking or just blowing off steam. The two women planned to meet the following morning for breakfast before work.

The next morning, May 27, 2005, Avila did not show up for work and did not meet Fitch for breakfast. This worried Fitch. Fitch told Emma Sandei, the Deputy Treasurer of Special Projects, about the call she had received from Avila the night before. Sandei felt that because of Avila's personal and family problems, it was possible that Avila could act on her threat. That afternoon, Sandei told Shine what she had learned.

After speaking with Sandei, Shine went to speak with Fitch about what had happened. Fitch related the conversation almost exactly the same way that Sandei had. Treasurer Maria Pappas first received information from Shine about Avila's threat on Friday before Memorial Day Weekend 2005, when Maria Pappas was out of the country.

The next business day, Tuesday, May 31, 2005, Sandei was visibly upset and told Kouruklis about the conversation between Avila and Fitch. Kouruklis, who was very concerned for his own well-being and that of his wife, immediately called security and asked that the building's doors be monitored and instructed security not to let Avila in the building. When she learned of Avila's remarks, Papageorgeou became very worried and started to cry. By the end of the day, most of the employees in the Treasurer's Office had learned of the threat and become very scared, with some people crying.

Maria Pappas, who had returned to the office by Wednesday, June 1, 2005, tried to calm her staff down because there was hysteria in the office and people crying. Some employees were afraid to be near the window where Kouruklis sat and moved to different locations out of concern for their safety.

At first, Shine did not want to overreact or move too quickly in response to the threat, but after talking with friends and family members, he realized that he could not take the threat too lightly. Defendant Richard Laner is an attorney employed by a private firm who has represented the Cook County Treasurer's Office in labor and employment matters for many years. Laner told Shine to treat the threat as the most serious thing possible and take every precaution necessary.

After Shine informed Laner that Avila was already scheduled for a hearing on charges of insubordination, Laner suggested that the notice be modified to include the threat as grounds for termination at the hearing. Laner and Shine also discussed the necessity of having some kind of police protection or security present whenever Avila came into the building.

Shine called the police on the morning of Tuesday, May 31, 2005 to report the threat. Shine initially called the Sheriff's Police and then called the Chicago Police Department. A Chicago Police Officer came to the County ...

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