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Merced Rojas v. Town of Cicero

June 21, 2011


Name of Assigned Judge Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge James F. Holderman than Assigned Judge



For the reasons explained in the Statement section of this order, plaintiff Merced Rojas's ("Rojas") "Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's Order (Docket #335) Regarding Monell Liability" [392] is granted. The court will permit Rojas to present evidence related to the Town's Monell liability based on either a widespread practice or final policymaker theory of liability. Because the identification of the final policymaker is a question of law for the court, the court will make its ruling on whether President Larry Dominick was a final policymaker after the jury reaches its verdict.

O[ For further details see text below.] Notices mailed.


On November 16, 2010, Rojas filed a "Motion for Finding as a Matter of Law" (Dkt. No. 235), asking this court to find as a matter of law that defendant President Larry Dominick ("President Dominick") "had policy making authority for the termination of Plaintiff Rojas and acted under color of law in making such decision." (Dkt. No. 235 at 1.) This court granted Rojas's motion in part to the extent that it asked the court to make such a determination but ultimately concluded that President Dominick was not a final policymaker based on the limitations of his authority imposed by certain Town of Cicero ("Town") ordinances. (Dkt. No. 335.) Because Rojas had not identified another theory of Monell liability in his pre-trial submissions nor proposed any Monell jury instructions in the parties' Proposed Pretrial Order, the court removed Rojas's claim against the Town from its Proposed Verdict Form. (See Dkt. No. 343.)

Rojas originally did not file a motion for reconsideration of this court's determination regarding the Monell claim against the Town. Instead, he raised the issue in his reply brief in support of his motion for reconsideration of this court's ruling that defendants President Dominick and the Town (collectively "Defendants") had qualified immunity with respect to Rojas's First Amendment familial association claim. (Dkt. No. 385.) Despite not having filed a motion for reconsideration on the Monell issue, on April 4, 2011, Rojas proceeded to file a "Motion to Supplement Reconsideration of this Court's Order of November 29, 2010 (Docket #335) with Recent Seventh Circuit Authority." (Dkt. No. 388.) During the hearing on that motion, the court granted Rojas's motion to supplement but explained to Rojas's counsel that a motion for reconsideration of the Monell order had never been filed. (See Dkt. No. 391.) On April 21, 2011, Rojas filed his "Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's Order (Docket #335) Regarding Monell Liability" (Dkt. No. 392 ("Rojas's Mot.")), which included over 250 pages of exhibits.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) permits district courts to revise "any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims . . . at any time before the entry of a [final] judgment." Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b). "The authority of a district judge to reconsider a previous ruling in the same litigation . . . is governed by the doctrine of the law of the case, which authorizes such reconsideration if there is a compelling reason, such as a change in, or clarification of, law that makes clear that the earlier ruling was erroneous." Santamarina v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 466 F.3d 570, 571-72 (7th Cir. 2006); see also Solis v. Current Dev. Corp., 557 F.3d 772, 780 (7th Cir. 2009) ("The court [has] broad discretion to revisit its interlocutory orders . . . ." (citing Santamarina, 557 F.3d at 571)). Having had an opportunity to more thoroughly review the relevant legal authority, the court agrees that reconsideration of its previous finding that Rojas could not pursue his Monell claim against the Town is warranted.

Under Monell, a municipality may be liable for a violation of a plaintiff's constitutional rights if the alleged violation was caused by "(1) an express policy that causes a constitutional deprivation when enforced; (2) a widespread practice that is so permanent and well-settled that it constitutes a custom or practice; or (3) an allegation that the constitutional injury was caused by a person with final policymaking authority." Waters v. City of Chi., 580 F.3d 575, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Estate of Sims ex rel. Sims v. Cnty. of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 515 (7th Cir. 2007)). Rojas argues that in this case the Town may be liable under either the second or third Monell theories of liability. The court will address each theory in turn.

First, regarding whether President Dominick was a final policymaker, the Seventh Circuit's decision in Valentino v. South Chicago Heights, 575 F.3d 664 (7th Cir. 2009), is instructive. In Valentino, the court explained that

[h]elpful in determining whether an official is a final decisionmaker is an inquiry into: (1) whether the official is constrained by policies of other officials or legislative bodies; (2) whether the official's decision on the issue in question is subject to meaningful review; and

(2) "whether the policy decision purportedly made by the official is within the realm of the official's grant of authority."

Id. at 676 (quoting Randle v. City of Aurora, 69 F.3d 441, 448 (10th Cir. 1995)). The court in Valentino further noted that "[a]lso helpful is an examination of not only 'positive law, including ordinances, rules and regulations, but also the relevant customs and practices having the force of law.'" Id. (quoting Mandel v. Doe, 888 F.2d 783, 793 (11th Cir. 1989)). Additionally, this inquiry focuses not on "whether an official is a policymaker on all matters for the municipality, but [rather on] whether he is a policymaker 'in a particular area, or on a particular issue.'" Id. (quoting Kujawski v. Bd. of Comm'rs, 183 F.3d 734, 738 (7th Cir. 1999)).

In its order finding that President Dominick was not a final policymaker with respect to employment issues, this court relied on ยง 2-96(b) of the Cicero Municipal Code, which provides: "The personnel director in addition to the town attorney and the town president is empowered to adopt and issue personnel rules." Determining that, based on this ordinance, President Dominick "could not have alone undertaken to set official employment policies on behalf of the Town of Cicero," this court concluded that President Dominick "was not a final policymaker for purposes of the Town's potential Monell liability." (Dkt. No. 335.) See also Wragg v. Vill. of Thorton, 604 F.3d 464, 469 (7th ...

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