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McKay v. County of Cook

July 31, 2009

ROBERT R. MCKAY PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF COOK, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendant County of Cook's (County) motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, we grant the County's motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Robert R. McKay (McKay) alleges that he worked for the County as the Safety Director of Provident Hospital (Hospital) starting in 1993. McKay claims that in February 2007, after a disagreement with a supervisor named Barbara Patterson (Patterson), in which McKay refused an order to restore the Hospital's tube system, McKay was charged with insubordination and was later suspended on March 8, 2009. According to McKay, one day after he was suspended, he notified management for the County that Patterson had caused the contamination of the Hospital's tube system which had resulted in chlorine fume exposure that injured two Hospital employees. McKay alleges he also filed a report with the Chicago Fire Department about the incident.

McKay claims that on March 28, 2007, the County rescinded the discipline against him but, at the same time, notified McKay that he would be laid off due to budget cuts, effective March 30, 2007. McKay alleges that, in violation of personnel rules adopted by the County, McKay was laid off despite having more seniority than another co-worker of the same classification who was not laid off. According to McKay, the chief operating officer of the Hospital, Sidney Thomas (Thomas), overrode the decision to lay off the less-senior employee and improperly elected to lay off McKay. McKay alleges that, since he was laid off by the County, he was afforded no procedural rights to contest the decision.

McKay brought the instant action and includes a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983) for procedural due process violations by the County (Count I), a retaliation claim under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/1 et seq. (Whistleblower Act), based on McKay's complaints to the Hospital about Patterson (Count II), and a Whistleblower Act retaliation claim based on McKay's report to the Chicago Fire Department. The County moved to dismiss all claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must "take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true" and make reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (U.S. 2009); Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002). To defeat a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis in original)(quoting in part Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (U.S. 2007)); Hecker v. Deere & Co., 569 F.3d 708, 710-11 (7th Cir. 2009)(stating that "Iqbal reinforces Twombly's message that '[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged'") (quoting in part Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).

A complaint that contains factual allegations that are "merely consistent with a defendant's liability, . . . stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted); see also Hecker, 569 F.3d at 710-11(stating that the Court in Iqbal "explained further that 'where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]-that the pleader is entitled to relief'")(quoting in part Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). A plaintiff is not required to "plead facts that, if true, establish each element of a 'cause of action. . . .'" See Sanjuan v. Amer. Bd. of Psychiatry and 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").

DISCUSSION

The County argues that McKay's claims are barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion (res judicata)since the same claims were previously litigated by other courts. Specifically, the County points out that, after McKay was notified of his layoff, he filed a complaint for administrative review with the Cook County Employee Appeals Board (EAB). The County has included with its motion to dismiss portions of the administrative record from the EAB proceeding (EAB Record) which are matters of public record. (Mot. Ex. 1); see Henson v. CSC Credit Services, 29 F.3d 280, 284 (7th Cir. 1994)(stating that in addition to the allegations in the complaint "'[t]he district court may also take judicial notice of matters of public record' without converting a 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment")(quoting in part United States v. Wood, 925 F.2d 1580, 1582 (7th Cir. 1991)). According to the EAB Record, McKay argued at the EAB proceeding that the County's decision to lay him off was just a "smokescreen" designed to allow the County to terminate McKay's employment without the requirement of disciplinary process. (Mot. Ex. 1: 00010). However, after a hearing was held in which witnesses were called to testify and McKay was represented by counsel, the EAB issued a written decision stating that "there is no direct evidence here that the actual reason for the [employment] action was based upon . . . the pending disciplinary proceeding . . . [n]or is there any direct evidence that the action was simply a pretext for avoiding the disciplinary process." (Mot. Ex. 1: 00012). The EAB decision went on to state that, since there was no evidence that McKay was terminated for cause, the EAB did not need to reach the issue of whether McKay's layoff was proper. (Mot. Ex. 1: 00012).

McKay appealed the decision by the EAB to the Circuit Court of Cook County, under the Illinois Administrative Review Act, 735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (State Court Action). The County has included a copy of the complaint in the State Court Action and the final order in the State Court Action, both of which are matters of public record of which this court can take judicial notice, as exhibits to the motion to dismiss. (Mot. Ex. 2, 3). The court in the State Court Action affirmed the decision by the EAB. (Mot. Ex. 3).

Under the doctrine of res judicata, judgments by state courts are entitled to "full faith and credit" and subsequent actions relating to matters that were the subject of such judgments are barred. Garcia v. Vill. of Mount Prospect, 360 F.3d 630, 634 (7th Cir. 2004)(citing Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 481 (1986)). Adistrict court's res judicata review should be based upon the applicable state law. Id. (stating that "[a] judgment of a state court sitting in an administrative review capacity will have preclusive effect on claims and issues brought in subsequent lawsuits according to the law of the state where the judgment was rendered"). Under Illinois law, "[t]hree requirements must be satisfied before res judicata precludes a claim: '(1) there was a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (2) there is an identity of cause of action, and (3) there is an identity of parties or their privies.'" Hicks v. Midwest Transit, Inc., 479 F.3d 468, 471 (7th Cir. ...


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