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Daniel Lee Austin v. Randy Grounds and Danny Hartline

February 7, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the motion of defendants Randy Grounds and Danny Hartline for summary judgment (Doc. 40). Plaintiff Daniel Lee Austin has responded to the motion (Doc. 45).

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.

R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396. This standard is applied with special scrutiny in cases that turn on issues of intent and credibility. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

II. Facts

Viewed in the light most favorable to Austin, the relevant evidence establishes the following facts.

In 2007 and 2008, Austin was employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") as the warden of the Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville CC"). Hartline, IDOC's acting deputy director, was Austin's immediate supervisor. Grounds was IDOC's operations security coordinator and was Hartline's immediate supervisor. All three were supporters of the Democratic Party.

Austin's tenure with IDOC was not free from disciplinary trouble. In 2005, while he served as an assistant warden, he was disciplined for a rule violation based on his "horseplay" with a female subordinate. Austin was also investigated for his participation in a high speed chase of an escapee from another IDOC facility in May 2007. Hartline was interviewed as a witness in the 2007 investigation, but he did not otherwise participate in the investigation. In September 2007, Hartline recommended that Austin be suspended for three days.

In late 2007, Grounds told Hartline to call the wardens in his district to solicit funds for the campaign of Democratic candidate Patty Hahn for a state legislative position. Hahn had no particular expertise in corrections issues. Pursuant to this instruction, in November or December of 2007, Hartline contacted Austin and a number of other wardens and a major under his supervision and asked for a $600 campaign contribution that would be funneled to the campaign through Grounds. Austin had told Hartline in the past to let him know if he could help the Democratic Party, so Hartline thought Austin would be receptive to the request. Although Hartline was speaking on his personal phone and had prefaced the call to Austin with the statement that this was "Dan to Dan" (suggesting Hartline was not making the call in his capacity as Austin's supervisor), Austin responded that he didn't feel comfortable with the conversation because Hartline was Austin's supervisor. Austin did not contribute to Hahn's campaign.

After Austin refused to donate to Hahn's campaign, he sensed a different atmosphere at work in that none of his work seemed to satisfy his supervisors as it had in the past. Hartline had private meetings with Austin's administrative assistant, Kelly Moeller, and Moeller then began keeping a diary of Austin's daily activities. On behalf of Grounds, Hartline directed Austin to change Moeller's evaluation to be more favorable.

In early 2008, an IDOC official received an anonymous letter critical of Austin's management of Pinckneyville CC, including favoritism towards Austin's wife, who was also employed at the prison, and about other activities that occurred there. In response, IDOC employee Ricky Harrington investigated Austin. After a less than thorough investigation, Harrington found that Austin had falsified two timesheets in January 2008 and had harassed Moeller and his secretary, Dessie Staley, in violation of IDOC rules. The complaint of harassment normally would have been referred to IDOC's Affirmative Action Department but was not in this instance.

Neither Hartline nor Grounds initiated or conducted the investigation, but based on the investigation's results, on April 17, 2008, Hartline recommended Austin be suspended for seven days. Since Austin had not yet served the three-day suspension Hartline recommended in response to the 2007 investigation, Hartline recommended the suspensions be consolidated as a single ten-day suspension. In addition, based on the 2005 and 2007 disciplinary actions and two other instances where Hartline believed Austin had exercised poor judgment (by failing to timely inform an inmate's family after the inmate's death and by calling on the National Guard to fix a backed up sewer that was able to be fixed locally by available engineers), Hartline recommended Austin be demoted to the rank of major and transferred to a different IDOC facility. Grounds ...

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