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Parker v. Macon County Soil

July 7, 2010

MARILYN PARKER AND TIM MCMAHON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE MACON COUNTY SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT, MARK CHENOWITH, DENNIS BORK, STEVE GARNER AND WILLIAM ARTER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This case is before the court for a ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#20) filed by Defendant Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District and four members of its Board of Directors. This court has carefully reviewed the arguments and documentation submitted by both parties. Following thorough consideration, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#20) is GRANTED.

FACTS

On July 29, 2008, in Case No. 08-CV-2175, Plaintiffs, Ms. Marilyn Parker (Parker) and Mr. Tim McMahon (McMahon), filed a Complaint (#1 in this court against The Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District (District) and four of its directors, including Mark Chenowith (Chenowith), Dennis Bork (Bork), Steve Garner (Garner) and William Arter (Arter), each being a member of the District's Board of Directors.*fn1 Plaintiffs' complaint includes twelve counts; Counts I-X alleged deprivation of property without due process pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, while Counts XI-XII alleged breach of contract claims pursuant to Illinois state law. In Counts I-X, Plaintiffs claim they had a property interest in continued employment with the District and the termination of said interest without a pre- or post-deprivation hearing violated Plaintiffs' Due Process guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment. With respect to Counts XI-XII, Plaintiffs claim that under the terms of their contract with the District they could not be terminated without cause; thus, the District's subsequent termination of both Parker and McMahon absent cause constitutes a breach of contract under Illinois law. While Counts I-X name both the District and the aforementioned District board directors as Defendants, Counts XI-XII name only the District as Defendant.

The documentation of both parties reveals the following facts are undisputed. Between 1993 and August 31, 2006, Plaintiff Parker served as the Executive Director and Resource Conservationist for the District. Between July 1996 and August 31, 2007, Plaintiff McMahon served as a District Watershed Technician. The District is a local government unit organized pursuant to the Illinois Soil & Water Conservation Act, 70 Ill. Comp. Stat. 405/1 et seq, which provides a variety of soil and water conservation services to those in Macon County, Illinois. The District receives over half of its operating budget from grants issued by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (Department). As a condition for such funding, the Department requires District employees to sign a "Soil and Water Conservation District Salary & Benefits Contract" annually, with the Department preparing and providing said form. Both Parker and McMahon were employed by the District pursuant to such a contract, with the effective term of each contract running from September 1 -- August 31 of the respective calendar year. Thus, over the course of employment with the District Parker signed thirteen annual "Salary and Benefit Contracts" while McMahon signed eleven.

In addition to the aforementioned contracts, the Department also published and provided the District with a District Operational Handbook (DOH) to pass along to employees, part of which was devoted to "Personnel Policies." According to the DOH, "Personnel Policies" are those policies "that explain the relationship between the District and its employees and specifically list what the employees should be able to expect from the SWCD [i.e. District] as well as what the SWCD expects from the employees." (Defs.' Ex. G(1) at 6). The aforementioned employment contracts entered into by Plaintiffs incorporated such DOH policies, and each Plaintiff was provided with a current DOH. Both Park and McMahon continued working for the District after reviewing such policies.

On August 31, 2006, Parker's employment with the District concluded with the expiration of her contract, as the District Board decided not to enter into another annual employment contract. The record indicates Parker entered into this last contract on September 20, 2005, which was effective for the time period between September 1, 2005 and August 31, 2006. Parker was informed of the District's decision via a letter in late July 2006. The following year, on August 31, 2007, McMahon's employment with the District ended with the expiration of his contract as the District Board decided, as in Parker's case, not to pursue another annual contract. The record indicates McMahon entered into this last contract on September 13, 2006, with the contract covering the period between September 1, 2006 -- August 31, 2007. McMahon was informed of the District's decision during an August 2007 meeting of the District's Board of Directors. The District conducted no hearing either prior to, or following, the termination of Parker and McMahon. At all times relevant to the Complaint, Defendants Chenowith, Bork, Garner and Arter served as directors of the District, elected by eligible voters owning or occupying land within the District in accordance with the Illinois Soil & Water Conservation Act, 70 Ill. Comp. Stat. 405/1 et seq.

ANALYSIS

I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b), a defending party "may move, with or without supporting affidavits, for summary judgment on all or part of the claim." Summary judgment should be "rendered if 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)(2). As the Supreme Court noted in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, one of the primary purposes of the summary judgment rule is to "isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court has a singular task: "to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial." Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). In determining if a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court is to believe the evidence of the non-movant and "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986), citing Adikes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970).

However, the non-movant cannot rest on mere allegations or denials to defeat summary judgment; "instead, the non-movant must present definite, competent evidence in rebuttal." Butts v. Aurora Health Care, Inc., 387 F.3d 921, 924 (7th Cir. 2004). Thus, in order to survive summary judgment, the non-movant is required to make a sufficient showing for each essential element of its case on which it bears the burden at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the court determines no issue of materiality exists, i.e. the record reveals that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, summary judgment is appropriate. Karazanos v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp., 948 F.2d 332, 335 (7th Cir. 1991).

II. MERITS OF PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS

The District argues it is entitled to summary judgment as Plaintiffs failed to establish either a breach of contract under Illinois law or a violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 as Plaintiffs lacked a legally recognizable property interest in continued employment with the District. Additionally, the individually named Defendants claim summary judgment is appropriate as they were improperly named as Defendants and cannot be sued in an individual capacity. As the following sections will demonstrate, summary judgment is warranted on all counts, even when drawing all inferences in a light most favorable to the ...


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