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Hutchens v. Harrison

April 28, 2009

JOYCE HUTCHENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KATIE HARRISON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, we grant Defendants' motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part without prejudice. We also decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim and remand the instant action to state court.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Joyce Hutchens (Hutchens) alleges that she was a school teacher and has worked for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for 12 years. Hutchens claims that between 2002 and 2008, she was an English teacher at the Consuella B. York Alternative High School (York School), which was located in a Cook County jail. Hutchens alleges that she received outstanding performance evaluations throughout her tenure at the York School and also received numerous awards and honors.

Hutchens claims that on November 8, 2007, Defendant Katie Harrison (Harrison), a Captain with the Cook County Department of Corrections, made certain unfounded accusations about Hutchens in a written memorandum delivered to the principal of the York School and a superintendent employed by Defendant Sheriff of Cook County (Sheriff). According to Hutchens, Harrison distributed a written memorandum alleging that Hutchens had made derogatory statements about her students in Harrison's presence, that Hutchens terrorized certain students in her classes, and that one individual student had complained about Hutchens' lack of professionalism. Hutchens alleges that all of the allegations by Harrison were false. Specifically, Hutchens alleges that she was not present at the time that Harrison claims that Hutchens had made derogatory statements in her presence and that Harrison knew or had reason to know that the individual student that had complained about Hutchens was lying. Hutchens alleges that, despite Harrison's statements to the contrary, there was no investigation that formed a basis for Harrison's allegations and Harrison was, in fact, acting with malicious intent to injure Hutchens.

Hutchens claims that as a result of Harrison's memorandum, Hutchens suffered property and economic loss, as well as damage to her reputation. Hutchens was allegedly subjected to a disciplinary action by CPS, received a five day suspension without pay from the CPS, and a Warning Resolution was issued against her by CPS. According to Hutchens, Defendant Salvador A. Godinez (Godinez), who was the Executive Director of the Cook County Sheriff's Department of Corrections, knew or should have known that Harrison had previously made false and defamatory statements about other individuals.

Hutchens brought the instant action in the Circuit Court of Cook County and includes a state law defamation per se claim against Harrison (Count I), a respondeat superior claim against the Sheriff and Defendant Thomas Dart, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Cook County (Dart) (Count II), a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against Harrison (Count III), and a Section 1983 Monell claim against the Sheriff, Dart, and Godinez (collectively referred to as "Sheriff Defendants") (Count IV). Defendants removed the instant action to this court and filed the instant motion to dismiss.

LEGAL STANDARD

In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must draw all reasonable inferences that favor the plaintiff, construe the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations in the complaint. Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002); Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir. 1991). In order to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege the "operative facts" upon which each claim is based. Kyle v. Morton High Sch., 144 F.3d 448, 454-55 (7th Cir. 1998); Lucien v. Preiner, 967 F.2d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 1992). A plaintiff is required to include allegations in the complaint that "plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a 'speculative level'" and "if they do not, the plaintiff pleads itself out of court."

E.E. O.C. v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007)(quoting in part Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)). Under the current notice pleading standard in federal courts a plaintiff need not "plead facts that, if true, establish each element of a 'cause of action. . . .'" See Sanjuan v. Amer. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994)(stating that "[a]t this stage the plaintiff receives the benefit of imagination, so long as the hypotheses are consistent with the complaint" and that "[m]atching facts against legal elements comes later"). The plaintiff need not allege all of the facts involved in the claim and can plead conclusions. Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002); Kyle, 144 F.3d at 455. However, any conclusions pled must "'provide the defendant with at least minimal notice of the claim,'" Kyle, 144 F.3d at 455 (quoting Jackson v. Marion County, 66 F.3d 151, 153-54 (7th Cir. 1995)), and the plaintiff cannot satisfy federal pleading requirements merely "by attaching bare legal conclusions to narrated facts which fail to outline the bases of [his] claims." Perkins, 939 F.2d at 466-67. The Seventh Circuit has explained that "[o]ne pleads a 'claim for relief' by briefly describing the events." Sanjuan, 40 F.3d at 251; Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 589, 590 (7th Cir. 1998)(stating that "[p]laintiffs need not plead facts or legal theories; it is enough to set out a claim for relief").

DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss all of Hutchens' claims arguing that Hutchens has failed to plausibly suggest a right to relief. In Hutchens' brief in opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss, Hutchens has conceded that she cannot prevail on her respondeat superior claim in Count II in light of the fact that Defendants have properly invoked qualified immunity under 745 ILCS 10/2-107. (Ans. 3). As such, Hutchens does not contest the dismissal of Count II. (Ans. 10). Therefore, we grant Defendants' motion to dismiss with respect to Count II.

I. Section 1983 Claim Against Harrison (Count III)

Defendants move to dismiss Hutchens' Section 1983 claim brought against Harrison in Count III arguing that Hutchens has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Section 1983. Hutchens alleges in her complaint that, Harrison's defamatory statements "deprived [Hutchens] of her property in violation of her constitutional rights to be free from unconstitutional deprivations of her liberty." (Compl. Par. 24). Defendants note that Hutchens has not pinpointed, in her complaint, a specific constitutional standard underlying her Section 1983 claim. However, Defendants incorrectly suggest that Hutchens' failure to explicitly state the precise constitutional violation that forms the basis of her Section 1983 claim, by itself, necessitates the dismissal of her Section 1983 claim. See Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1077-78 (1992)(stating that "the complaint need not identify a legal theory, and specifying an incorrect legal theory is not ...


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