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Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy, Individually v. City of East St. Louis; Alvin Parks

April 6, 2011


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


This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants City of East St. Louis ("City"), Alvin Parks and Robert Betts (Doc. 22). Plaintiffs Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy have responded to the motion (Doc. 26), and the defendants have replied to that response (Doc. 27).

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. 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 v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). 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 plaintiffs' favor, the evidence establishes the following relevant facts. Plaintiffs Frazer and Murphy served on the City's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners ("Board") beginning in January 2006. There were three members on the Board, and each's membership term was two or three years. 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-1. Board members are subject to termination for cause only after written notice of the cause charges and after an opportunity to be heard by the City Council. 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-3. Although it had been proposed as part of City Ordinance No. 01-10115 that Board members receive a monthly honorarium of $250, that provision is marked "Delete" and is underlined in the version passed.

Nevertheless, the City paid Board members such an honorarium on various occasions when the City's finances allowed. It did not pay Frazer or Murphy.

One of the duties of the Board was to appoint officers and members of the City's fire and police departments. 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-4. As a practical matter, the Board exercised this duty by maintaining an "eligibility list" of qualified applicants who had passed psychological, physical, drug and academic tests as well as background checks. The applicants were listed in the order of their test scores, and the City Manager selected and approved new police and fire department employees, in the order listed, whenever a vacancy and hiring funds became available. City officials expected the Board to meet at least once a month to accomplish this and other duties.

While on the Board, Frazer and Murphy came to believe the City was discriminating against whites in its hiring and firing police officers. The perceived discrimination manifested itself in a reluctance to hire white police officers and unfounded delays in swearing in Christopher Heatherly, a white police officer hired in December 2006 with Frazer and Murphy's support.

In addition, Frazer complained to defendant Mayor Parks when the City was on the verge of not hiring a qualified white police chief, Ronald Grimmings, that Frazer had contacted and convinced to apply for the position. Parks responded by saying he would never hire a white police chief for the City. On other occasions, Frazer spoke to Parks, Betts and other City officials about allegedly discriminatory hiring and firing practices, but he did not complain to any outside agency or authority about those practices. Frazer testified in his deposition that during these conversations he was speaking in his capacity as a Board member, but he now contends he was speaking in his capacity as a private citizen.

As for Murphy, in a September 2007 meeting with Parks, Betts, other City officials, Frazer and Heatherly on the day Heatherly was to be sworn in as a police officer, she objected when Parksaccused Heatherly of being a racist and hating African-Americans. Frazer also adamantly defended Heatherly's swearing in and argued that the City violated Heatherly's civil rights by accusing him of racism. Murphy testified that she was speaking in her capacity as a Board member and as a citizen of the City when she made her objection. Like Frazer, she did not contact any outside agency to complain of discrimination by the City.

After December 2006, when Heatherly was hired with Frazer and Murphy's support, the defendants began interfering with the Board's meetings. Specifically, they failed to pay Board members the monthly $250 honorarium, refused to authorize overtime pay for the Board's secretary, Janet Battle, to enable her to attend and take minutes at Board meetings, failed to provide space for meetings, and threatened to remove Frazer and Murphy from the Board. The Board stopped meeting after the December 2006 meeting. During that time, the eligibility list expired.

In October 2007, Parks and Betts recommended the City Council dismiss the Board because the Board was not meeting regularly, maintaining the eligibility list, holding disciplinary hearings or maintaining contact with City officials. Letters from Betts dated October 9, 2007, alerted Frazer and Murphy to the removal recommendation and its reasons and that the recommendation would be presented to the City Council on October 11, 2007. Neither Frazer nor Murphy received the letters before the hearing. At a hearing on October 17, 2007, the City Council ...

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