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Keel v. City of Harvey

January 21, 2010

DARNELL KEEL AND MERRITT GENTRY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF HARVEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Darnell Keel ("Keel") and Merritt Gentry ("Gentry") (hereinafter, collectively, the "Plaintiffs") filed this action in state court in April 2007 against Defendants City of Harvey, Eric Kellogg, Sandra Alvarado and Steven Porter (hereinafter, the "Defendants"). After the Plaintiffs filed their Fifth Amended Complaint, Defendants removed the case to federal court. Plaintiffs Keel and Gentry have been police officers for the City of Harvey, Illinois, beginning in 1995 and 1996, respectively, and both achieved civil service status in 1997. In 2003, both were hired as commanders for the police department. In 2006, both were put on indefinite administrative leave with pay. Keel was on administrative leave until November 2009. Gentry eventually received written reasons for his suspension over a year after the fact and was forced to resign.

Plaintiffs allege due process violations (Counts I-IV) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law, claiming they were not given written reasons for the suspensions or a hearing, despite numerous requests, and that they were deprived of pension benefits, retroactive pay raises, welfare benefits, unused sick leave, and promotional opportunities. Plaintiffs also allege a civil conspiracy against them (Counts V-VI) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 among City of Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg, and city officials Sandra Alvarado and Steven Porter.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must dismiss a plaintiff's claim if it does not include sufficient facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Justice v. Town of Cicero, 577 F.3d 768, 771 (7th Cir., 2009). In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept a plaintiff's allegations as true and view them, along with any reasonable inferences drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss argues that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted and raises several issues.

A. Laches

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of laches, and that the general rule in civil service discharge cases is that an action must be brought within six months of the discharge unless there is a reasonable explanation for the delay. See Dixon v. Cahill, 295 N.E.2d 349, 352 (Ill.App.Ct., 1973). Gentry filed this action about a year after his original suspension, and Keel filed his claim about seven months after his suspension. Plaintiffs argue that their "reasonable explanation" for delay was that Defendants repeatedly assured them that they should not seek a hearing but should wait until they were reinstated, which would happen in "no time."

As Defendants have alleged, no prejudice that they suffer from the delay, and as the delay itself was not excessive, especially in Keel's case, the Court finds Plaintiffs' explanation reasonable and holds that the doctrine of laches does not bar their claims. See id. at 353 (noting laches inapplicable where plaintiff's delay caused by actions or statements of defendants).

B. Plaintiffs' Procedural Due Process Claims Under Section 1983

As provided by 65 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/10-1-18(b), "No officer . . . of a police . . . department . . . of any municipality . . . may be removed or discharged, or suspended for a period of more than 5 calendar days, except for cause upon written charges and after an opportunity to be heard in his own defense." Plaintiffs argue (Counts I-II) that their ...


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