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Marshall Garner v. Lakeside Community Committee

June 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment [58]. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion [58] is granted as to Plaintiff's constitutional claims, and the remaining state law claims are dismissed without prejudice. Judgment is entered in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.

I. Background

This lawsuit arises out of Plaintiff's termination from employment with Defendant Lakeside Community College ("LCC") on September 11, 2009. In his amended complaint [40], Plaintiff alleges that his termination from LCC violated his constitutional due process rights because he was not afforded a pre- or post-termination hearing. (Am. Cmplt. [40] at ¶¶ 12, 13). Plaintiff further alleges that his constitutional right to freedom of association was violated, in that his termination was politically motivated. (Id. at ¶ 28). Plaintiff alleges throughout his complaint that LCC is a "state actor" and that his termination was a "state action." (See, e.g. id. at¶ 22). Additionally, Plaintiff brings state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983), an individual can bring an action for damages for violations of the individual's constitutional rights. Id. For a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish "'that the defendants deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the defendants acted under color of state law.'" Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 606 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Brokaw v. Mercer County, 235 F.3d 1000, 1009 (7th Cir. 2000)); see also Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1002-03 (1982) (stating that the Fourteenth Amendment "erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful") (internal quotations omitted).

Relying on the principle that the constitution does not protect a person from private conduct, on February 21, 2010, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's lawsuit, arguing that Plaintiff had not plausibly alleged that LCC was a state actor when it terminated Plaintiff [see 21]. In its order of August 3, 2010, the Court denied the motion to dismiss [34], concluding that Plaintiff (who was then pro se) had "alleged enough at this preliminary stage to avoid dismissal of his complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Id. at 2. However, recognizing that the issue of state action was a "threshold" one, the Court limited initial discovery to that issue alone. Id. Following discovery, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, which argues that there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding LCC's status as a private (i.e., not a state) actor.

The relevant facts are as follows: LCC is a Chicago-based child and family advocacy nonprofit entity.*fn1 LCC's clients are wards of the State of Illinois aged 0-21, biological parents of these wards, relative care givers of wards, and foster parents and community children and families throughout the Chicago area. LCC is a licensed contractor of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). LCC enters into contracts with the State to fulfill some traditional public functions. Some of the services that LCC provides include direct service counseling, foster care case management, adoption, guardianship, and advocacy.*fn2

As part of its relationship with DCFS, LCC sends DCFS certain compliance reports. Further, as a provider of services to families and children, LCC must comply with certain state and federal statutes and other regulations (including certain consent decrees). Defendants do not require (or obtain) DCFS's approval in making employment decisions regarding the hiring and firing of LCC employees.*fn3 However, the State requires LCC to perform background checks with DCFS on those whom it hires.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the Court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004).

To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is proper against "a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In other words, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

III. Analysis

A. Constitution-Based Claims

As discussed above, when a plaintiff brings a § 1983 claim against a defendant who is not a government official or employee, the plaintiff must show that the private person or entity acted under the color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Reynolds v. Jamison, 488 F.3d 756, 764 (7th Cir. 2007). The requirement "sets the line of demarcation between those matters that are properly federal and those matters that must be left to the remedies of state tort law." See Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999); Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 349-51 (1974). Both the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have acknowledged the difficulty of determining whether a private entity has acted under the color of state law. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Service, 577 F.3d 816, 823 (7th Cir. 2009). At its most basic level, the state action doctrine requires that a court find such a "close nexus between ...

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