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Palka v. Shelton

October 7, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:07-cv-05432-Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sykes, Circuit Judge.


Before RIPPLE, KANNE, and SYKES,Circuit Judges.

Tadeusz Palka was employed for 28 years as a Deputy Sheriff in the Cook County Sheriff's Department. His son Peter was an aspiring police officer enrolled in the Chicago Police Depart-ment's Police Academy. He did not complete the program, however. He was terminated from the Academy, ostensibly for not having mastered the Police Department's firearms manual. Palka thought his son had been targeted for termination based on his Polish ethnicity, and he intervened on his son's behalf with Matthew Tobias, the Chicago Police Department official who was in charge of the Academy. The intervention did not end well; Peter Palka was not reinstated. A few weeks later, a strange phone call was received by the elementary school Tobias's children attended. The caller had a Polish accent and made inquiries about Tobias's children. Tobias traced the call to the Cook County Building, which confirmed his suspicion that Tadeusz Palka was the anonymous caller.

Tobias filed a complaint against Palka with the Internal Affairs Division of the Sheriff's Department, and Palka was suspended with pay during the ensuing investigation. A hearing was eventually scheduled before the County's Merit Systems Protection Board, but Palka resigned his position just before the hearing. He then filed this § 1983 action against Cook County, the City of Chicago, the Sheriff, and numerous employees of both the Sheriff's Department and the Police Department. He claimed the defendants violated his procedural and substantive due-process rights prior to his suspension and resignation, and deprived him of his interest in "occupational liberty." His claims against the City and County were brought pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). After Palka filed a second and then a third amended complaint, the district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Palka's claims with prejudice. We affirm.

I. Background

Tadeusz Palka was a Cook County Deputy Sheriff, and his son Peter was in training to become a police officer at the Chicago Police Academy. In February 2007 Peter was terminated from the Academy. Palka believed his son was singled out for termination because he is Polish, and he contacted Assistant Deputy Superintendent Matthew Tobias, the head of the Police Academy, to complain. Palka tried to convince Tobias to rein-state Peter, but Tobias refused, telling Palka that Peter was terminated based on his lack of knowledge regarding the Police Department's firearms manual.

On May 9, 2007, an unidentified caller phoned the school in Park Ridge, Illinois, that Tobias's children attended and made inquiries about the children. When the school receptionist asked the caller to identify him-self, the caller stated he was a "friend" and wanted to send the children flowers for their birthdays. The receptionist reported the call to Tobias and told him the caller was a man with a Polish-sounding Eastern European accent. Based on this information and the recent dispute over Peter Palka's termination from the Police Academy, Tobias suspected that Tadeusz Palka was the caller. Tobias launched an investigation, asking Nicholas Roti, who was then the commander of the Police Department's Gang Crimes Unit, to look into the call. Roti instructed two subordinates to retrieve the school's phone records and trace the call using "whatever method would get the info the quickest." The phone records revealed that on the afternoon of May 9, the school received a call from a telephone number at the Cook County Building at 69 West Washington Street in downtown Chicago. This confirmed Tobias's suspicion that Palka was the caller, so he reported the call to the Park Ridge Police Department. He also opened a Police Department Original Case Incident report and filed a "Selective Enforcement-Non-Traffic" report with the Department; this allowed him to run Palka's license plate and driver's license through the "Leads System" to check if Palka had any outstanding warrants.

Tobias also asked Deputy Superintendent Constantine Andrews and Commander Joseph Salemme of the Chicago Police Department to speak with Palka. At around 10 p.m. on May 10, 2007, Andrews and Salemme went to Palka's residence in suburban Norridge, Illinois. Palka was not home when they arrived; the complaint alleges that the officers woke up an elderly neighbor to ascertain Palka's whereabouts. When Palka arrived home at about 10:30 p.m., the officers accused him of making the phone call to Tobias's children's school the day before. Palka denied making the call. The officers continued to insist that he was the caller, but they also told him that the call was not a "big deal" and he should not "do it anymore."

On the morning of May 11, 2007, Tobias filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Department's Office of Internal Affairs accusing Palka of making the telephone call. In the complaint Tobias said that he, his wife, and the school staff considered the phone call to be threatening; they were concerned that Palka was attempting to stalk and possibly harm his children, and the school staff feared for the safety of the entire student body. The complaint also stated that Palka had attempted to adversely affect Tobias's employment status with the Chicago Police Department as revenge for Peter's termination from the Police Academy. Later that same day, in response to Tobias's complaint, Palka's supervisor and the head of Internal Affairs summoned Palka to a meeting, confiscated his badge and firearm credentials, de-deputized him, and placed him on paid suspension. Palka alleges that he was told he was being de-deputized because of a phone call from a "big wheel" at the Police Department.

About two months later, in July 2007, Sheriff's Detective Roger Shelton and another detective met with Palka and his attorney. The detectives told Palka they would refer the telephone call incident to the Cook County State's Attorney for possible criminal prosecution unless Palka voluntarily resigned as a Sheriff's Deputy. Palka refused to resign. Although the detectives did discuss the matter with the State's Attorney's Office, no charges were filed.

The disciplinary proceedings moved forward, however, and charges were eventually filed against Palka with the Merit Board, recommending that his employment be terminated. A hearing was scheduled for March 2008, but before it was held, Chief Edward Carik of the Sheriff's Department told Palka that if he retired, the Merit Board action would "go away" and he would receive full retirement benefits, including his retirement badge and firearms credentials, which would permit him to obtain another job in law enforcement. Palka accepted this advice and resigned, but he has not received his retirement badge and credentials.

Palka then filed this suit alleging he was deprived of his due-process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The district court dismissed Palka's first two complaints without prejudice; Palka's third amended complaint is the subject of this appeal. In that complaint Palka named as defendants Cook County, the Sheriff, the City of Chicago, and numerous officials in the Police and Sheriff's Departments. The district court "charitably" construed the complaint to allege procedural and substantive due-process claims, a claim for deprivation of occupational liberty, and Monell claims against the City and County. The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a ...

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