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Richard Snowden v. Carol Adams

September 1, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sue E. Myerscough, U.S District Judge.

E-FILED Thursday, 01 September, 2011 02:31:35 PM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 29) filed by Defendants Carol Adams, Grace Hou, Robert Kilbury, Kris Smith, Marjorie Olson, and Jane Breen. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Summary judgment is granted in favor of Defendants Hou, Kilbury, Smith, Olson, and Breen. Summary judgment is denied as to Defendant Adams.


In April 2005, Plaintiff Richard Snowden was hired as the Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI), a facility operated by the Division of Rehabilitation Services (Division) of the Illinois Department of Human Services (Department). According to Plaintiff, a campaign was launched in 2006 to have Plaintiff removed as Superintendent. Plaintiff asserts that first his credentials were attacked and then a letter-writing campaign was commenced. On November 7, 2006, Plaintiff was removed as Superintendent and assigned to the Forensic Unit of the Department's Division of Mental Health.

Plaintiff filed a six-count Amended Complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the individuals Plaintiff believed violated his constitutional right to liberty of occupation: (1) Carol Adams, the Secretary of the Department; (2) Grace Hou, Assistant Secretary of the Department; (3) Robert Kilbury, Director of the Division; (4) Kris Smith, Division employee; (5) Marjorie Olson, Educational Liaison to ISVI for the Division; and (6) Jane Breen, Director of Support Services at ISVI.

Each Defendant was sued in his or her individual capacity and, for purposes of implementing equitable relief, his or her official capacity.

The facts are largely undisputed, although the parties dispute the materiality of many of the facts. The following facts are taken from the parties' Statement of Undisputed Facts, Additional Statement of Undisputed Facts, and the attachments thereto.

A. Evidence Pertaining to Plaintiff's Qualifications Evidence pertaining to Plaintiff's qualifications is relevant only to

the extent that Plaintiff's lack of a superintendent endorsement appears to have precipitated the calls for Plaintiff's removal as Superintendent.

Defendant Olson was in charge of the search committee that recommended Plaintiff be hired. Despite Plaintiff disclosing on his application that he did not hold a public school superintendent certification (hereinafter, superintendent endorsement), Olson claimed she did not know this until November 2005 when she contacted Plaintiff for information regarding another position. In March 2006, Olson forwarded information regarding Plaintiff's lack of superintendent endorsement to Defendant Smith who was at that time Plaintiff's supervisor.

In addition, a document describing Plaintiff's credentials as an educator, including his certifications, was left in a brown envelope at the home of Jane Dickison, a 1973 graduate of ISVI and member of the ISVI alumni association. No date is given for when this occurred. Dickison did not know who left the documents at her home but did not think a student would have access to the information contained in the brown envelope.

In September 2006, Dickison, on behalf of the Alumni Association, forwarded the documents she received in the brown envelope to Defendant Adams. Dickison and Joe Lanier, the chairman of the board of directors of the Alumni Association, thought Plaintiff should be removed as Superintendent because they believed Plaintiff was unqualified to be Superintendent.

B. Complaints Made About Plaintiff During 2006, individuals in the Department, the Governor's office, and the Alumni Association began receiving complaints alleging misconduct by Plaintiff and raising concerns about Plaintiff's management of various programs at ISVI. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was asked to respond in writing to some of these complaints. Plaintiff asserts that although Defendant Kilbury informed Plaintiff on September 26, 2006, that the Department had received numerous complaints, Kilbury refused to provide Plaintiff with the source and nature of the complaints.

In addition to the anonymous correspondence complaining about Plaintiff--which is discussed in more detail below--the record shows that additional nonanonymous complaints were made about Plaintiff. For example, on September 27, 2006, Defendants Adams and Kilbury received an email accusing Plaintiff of promoting an atmosphere of distrust, attempting to set up a spy network among students and staff, verbally threatening students, and failing to have proper credentials for his position. The name of the individual sending the email is redacted on the copy in the record.

In addition, Defendant Olson testified that she received complaints about Plaintiff from staff and alumni. Dickison, who had received complaints from parents, students, and staff about both the school's independent living center and Plaintiff, relayed the information to Defendant Olson. Lanier also testified he was contacted by alumni and students with complaints.

The following additional complaints were made about Plaintiff. These letters appear to be the basis for Plaintiff's claims.

1. March 2006 Pamphlet

On March 22, 2006, Congressman Ray LaHood visited the ISVI campus. Two recent graduates of ISVI conducted a protest against Plaintiff, carrying picket signs and passing out a pamphlet critical of Plaintiff. Defendants Olson and Kilbury knew protesters would be there that day but did not tell Plaintiff.

The pamphlet distributed by the two students contained complaints about certain actions taken by Plaintiff, including the demotion of a grant writer, appointment of individuals to positions for which they were not qualified, and the filling of positions with Plaintiff's friends. The pamphlet stated, "Rumor has it that the Superintendent even withheld the filling of one position because the top ranked candidate wasn't a Democrat."

The pamphlet also mentioned that Plaintiff did not have his superintendent's endorsement. Finally, the pamphlet questioned why money was not being spent on up-to-date textbooks, additional servers, an accessible Teen Center, games in the basement, and a new projector and movie screen.

Olson was with Plaintiff during part of LaHood's visit. A newspaper reporter told Plaintiff, in Defendant Olson's presence, that he was going to print an article based on the information in the pamphlet but would give Plaintiff the opportunity to speak with him. Plaintiff told Olson he was going to speak to the reporter, although Olson had instructed him not to make any comments to the press. As Plaintiff and Olson approached the reporter, Olson stated, "Let's see you get your ass out of this one."

According to Plaintiff, Defendant Breen later told Plaintiff that Olson visited Breen in the hospital the afternoon of LaHood's visit. Breen purportedly told Plaintiff that when Olson entered the room, Olson was waving the pamphlet and saying, "[W]e got him, we got him."

2. Anonymous Undated Letter to a Parent An undated letter, purportedly sent anonymously by a parent of an ISVI student, was sent to "Mr. Zabelski," another parent of an ISVI student. In the letter, the author notes recent allegations that Plaintiff lacked a superintendent endorsement. The author also noted that, in speaking with ISVI staff and Department personnel, they seemed to fear Plaintiff's political connections and "supposed vindictive nature toward staff or non-democrats." The author asked that the matter of Plaintiff's lack of credentials be investigated.

3. April 21, 2006 Anonymous Letter On April 21, 2006, the Governor's Office received an anonymous letter reflecting that the letter was also sent to Defendant Adams, Judy Barr Topinka, and the Chicago and Springfield newspapers. The letter read:

Superintendent Richard Snowden--UnEthical hiring practices

1. Review job posting (Enclosed)

2. Note highlighted area.

3. Richard Snowden does not possess a Superintendents Endorsement nor is he attempting to obtain one.

4. Note: Previous Superintendent, Carrol Jackson did not possess certification. According to Carrol Jackson, his failure to obtain certification resulted DHS requested his resignation.

This is an ethical violation in hiring practices. I think the Governor and DHS needs to respond."

4. September 18, 2006, Anonymous Letter On September 18, 2006, the Rehabilitation Services Department, Associate Director's Office, received an anonymous letter written to "whomever is willing to listen to the truth." The letter purports to have been written by students of the ISVI. In the letter, the author complains of changes to the independent living program and the lack of a recreation program. In addition, the letter states:

Our Superintendent asks students things about what staff are doing and pits students against student as well as staff against staff.

The environment is very uncomfortable for everyone. Everyone is afraid of each other even among us students. We are afraid of who will report who first.

This is the dirtiest way to play and is much like what happens on the streets.

5. September 21, 2006 Letter

On September 25, 2006, the Governor's office received a letter dated September 21, 2006 from "The Students of Illinois School for the Visually Impaired." In the letter, the author complains about changes to the Transitional Living Program and Transitional Learning Center. The letter states,

"All of the changes are enforced by our superintendent, Richard Snowden. It appears to us he is taking the [Transitional Living Center], a good program and shredding it to pieces. When we called our parents and expressed our frustration to them, he bought some chicken and pizza which seem to be a bribe. . . . We are sick and tired of bribes and prevarications. . . . We believe he is an extremely unethical individual who would do anything to get his way. We are afraid to state our opinions for fear of being ignored and campus morale is very low. Students and staff alike are being bullied by kids and it appears that the superintendent does nothing to stop it or picks and chooses who should be punished and what is the punishment. . . . It seems as if our parents are being lied to about the things that are happening at this school and a pretty yet deceitful picture is being painted and displayed to the public. We are tired of the unfair actions and would like nothing more than for someone to take action.

6. September 26, 2006 "Politics" Letter On September 26, 2006, Defendant Olson found a letter on the chair in her office. Defendant Olson's office was located in the Hay Edwards building in Springfield. According to Defendant Kilbury, no ISVI student or staff member would have access to her office. Security in the building requires that visitors sign in and out to gain access.

The letter, titled "Politics" was signed "ISVI Staff and Students." The letter provided:

We, the staff at ISVI, find it odd that DHS refuses to deal with an individual (Richard Snowden) whom has committed more infractions than a human rights organization can shake a stick at . . . . Unprofessional . . . .bully . . . intimidator . . . . unethical . . are a few of the terms utilized to describe this individual.

Everyone is so angry at the politics of the situation. However, we have to ask Secretary Adams, Robert Kilbury and others, [i]s it politics that keep you from acting on what you know is the right thing to do? Well, we here at ISVI feel your pain. We too stand to loose our jobs. We fear the Governor[']s office and Senator Deanna Demuzio. We question the integrity of the entire situation due to the fact that "Dr." Snowden is considered small in terms of what truly is considered a man. Our question is one of judgment in terms of the individuals we have elected into office, we have truly made the wrong choice in voting for the Governor and Deanna Demuzio.

Each can count on (as of today) 60 or more less votes from ISVI staff during this next election. Staff that have retired or preparing to retire will unite to be advocates to spread the word about corruption and human rights issues here at ISVI.

7. October 25, 2006, Letter

On October 25, 2006, Plaintiff was provided with a letter that had been located in a student's room. In his deposition, Plaintiff testified a stack of letters was found in the student's room. It is not clear from the record whether the letter dated October 25, 2006, was the letter found in a student's room.

The October 25, 2006, letter was sent to parents of ISVI students from "A Group of concerned Students, Illinois School for the visually impaired." The letter attempted to refute information provided by Plaintiff in a September 28, 2006, ...

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