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Earin Land v. Paul J. Kaupas

April 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Plaintiff Earin Land filed this § 1983 action against Defendants Paul J. Kaupas, John Moss, Steven McGrath, Patrick Maher, Martin Nowak, and Duane Davis (collectively, "the Defendants") alleging that he had been subjected to political retaliation in violation of the First Amendment because Land, a law enforcement officer, withdrew his support for Sheriff Paul J. Kaupas. This court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment, dismissing the action with prejudice. Presently, the Defendants move for an award of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and an award of attorney's fees and costs as the prevailing party under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). For the reasons that follow, the court denies the Defendants' motion.


A. Factual Background*fn1

As noted, Land filed a § 1983 action alleging that the Defendants retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights. After working in the Will County Sheriff's Office since 1989, Land was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2002. Land had been an active supporter of Defendant Kaupas's successful 2002 campaign for Sheriff of Will County, but during a March 7, 2005 meeting with Defendant Nowak (the Undersheriff for Will County and Kaupas's 2002 campaign manager) Land informed Nowak that he would not support Kaupas's re-election campaign.

In May of 2005, Land took part in an incident that resulted in his investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit of the Sheriff's Office. In short, Land placed his hand over the ear of a subordinate, Dan Patriquin, and kissed his own hand as well as part of Patriquin's ear. About a month later, with the support of Defendant Davis-Patriquin's "liaison officer"-Patriquin filed a formal sexual harassment complaint. Defendant McGrath, a sergeant in Internal Affairs, led the investigation into Patriquin's complaint. Although the investigators ultimately concluded that Land had not violated the Sheriff's Office's sexual harassment policy, Land received a oneday suspension for "conduct unbecoming." In addition, because various witnesses contradicted certain statements Land made in the first investigation, Internal Affairs launched a second investigation in which Land was charged with untruthfulness, failure to cooperate, and conduct unbecoming. Although Land admitted that he had been less than forthright in the first investigation, Kaupas dropped the second investigation and chose not to punish Land.

B. Procedural Background

Land's complaint, filed August 21, 2006, alleged six acts of retaliation following his March 2005 meeting with Nowak, including: "(a) [p]ressuring another employee to file a knowingly false and baseless complaint against Land; and (b) [l]aunching an unwarranted internal affairs investigation against Land that was designed solely to retaliate against him and to discredit him in the eyes of his fellow officers." A news article on Land's lawsuit, in which Land denied that the lawsuit was politically motivated, was published in the Chicago Tribune on September 11, 2006. See Hal Dardick, Sheriff in Will Sued by Sergeant; Plaintiff Alleges Political Retaliation, Chi. Trib., Sept. 11, 2006 at 3. On November 21, 2006, the Defendants sent Land a letter requesting that he withdraw certain allegations in the complaint; attached to that letter, the Defendants included a proposed motion for sanctions under Rule 11.*fn2 Land refused to drop the allegations, and the parties commenced discovery. On February 27, 2008, the court denied two of the Defendants' motions for sanctions under Rule 37(b). In those motions, the Defendants alleged that Land engaged in witness tampering; the court found that sanctions would be premature at that time.

On August 30, 2008, Land filed a motion to compel the Defendants to "[i]dentify each and every individual who has been formally investigated by the [Sheriff's Internal Affairs Office] since January 1, 2005." The court denied this motion without prejudice and requested that Land narrow his request. Land filed another motion to compel on October 24, 2008, and the court again denied the motion, noting that Land failed to narrow the request or to demonstrate the relevance of the information sought. The court remarked "if [Land's motion] is not a fishing expedition, plaintiff has failed to make clear what else it could be."

As the summary judgment deadline approached, the Defendants made four separate requests asking Land to withdraw any allegations he intended not to pursue. Land did not withdraw any of his allegations. The Defendants then moved for summary judgment, which the court granted on September 30, 2009. Land, 2009 WL 3187788 at *7. The court held that Land failed to meet his initial or ultimate burden of putting forth evidence to show his protected conduct was a motivating factor in any of the adverse actions against him. As to the allegations relevant to the Defendants' motion for sanctions, the court noted that because Land admitted he did in fact kiss Patriquin's ear, he could not satisfy his ultimate burden of showing that "a rational fact finder could infer . . . [defendants'] explanations [for the adverse actions] were lies." Id. at 3.


The Defendants argue that Rule 11 sanctions are appropriate because some of the allegations in the Complaint were "frivolous, legally unreasonable and without factual foundation." They claim that Land knew that the allegations were false because he had admitted committing the acts underlying the sexual harassment complaint, and that Land could not have a good faith basis for pursuing the allegations once he received the proposed motion for sanctions because the motion detailed why those admissions defeated Land's allegations.

The Defendants further argue that Land pursued the false allegations for an improper purpose: to create negative publicity for Sheriff Kaupas before the 2006 election and to make the lawsuit as expensive and burdensome as possible after the election. In support of this assertion, the Defendants point to the length of Land's discovery responses, the amount of discovery produced, and the length of Land's deposition. Additionally, the Defendants note that the court twice sustained their objections to Land's motion to compel access to Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs ...

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