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Miller v. Broderick

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 26, 2014

KATHLEEN MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
MAUREEN BRODERICK, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kathleen Miller filed an Amended Complaint against Defendant Maureen Broderick, alleging three violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (I) violation of Miller's right to an impartial hearing; (II) violation of Miller's liberty interest right to stand for office; and (III) violation of Miller's right to participate in the political process under the First Amendment. Broderick moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), on the basis that Broderick is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. For the reasons provided below, this Motion is granted.[1]

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of the Motion to Dismiss. See Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). Miller is a citizen of the Village of New Lenox, Illinois. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Miller was a candidate for the Board of Education of New Lenox School District 122 ("School Board") in the April 9, 2013 election. ( Id. ¶ 2.) Broderick is the Secretary of the School Board and was a member of the Educational Officers Election Board ("EOEB") in January 2013. ( Id. ¶ 4.) As a member of the School Board and the EOEB, Broderick was a state actor within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( Id. ¶ 35.)

On January 3, 2013, Broderick reviewed Miller's School Board nominating petitions in the offices of the New Lenox School Local Election Officer. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Broderick left the offices and returned later the same day with an objection to Miller's nominating petitions, signed by Nikki Sanders. ( Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Broderick did factual and legal research for, caused to be prepared, and personally filed the objection to Miller's nominating petitions. ( Id. ¶ 17.) The objection was based on a single page of the petition lacking a date and erroneously identifying Miller herself as the circulator. ( Id. ¶ 19.) Broderick recruited Nikki Sanders to act on Broderick's behalf and sign the objection to Miller's nominating petitions so that Broderick could serve on the EOEB in Miller's case. ( Id. ¶¶ 15-16.)

On January 11, 2013, the EOEB convened to determine if Miller's nominating petitions were sufficient to place her name on the April 9, 2013, School Board ballot. ( Id. ¶ 32.) As secretary of the School Board, Broderick sat in a quasi-judicial capacity when the EOEB convened to determine the sufficiency of Miller's nominating petitions. ( Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) At the conclusion of this hearing, counsel for the EOEB advised that there were insufficient grounds to strike Miller's name from the ballot. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Broderick and another EOEB member voted to strike Miller's name from the ballot in spite of this advice. ( Id. ¶ 39.) Miller initiated proceedings in state court to remain on the School Board ballot, and on January 28, 2013, Miller was reinstated as a candidate by an order of the state court. ( Id. ¶¶ 43-44.)

Miller alleges three claims against Broderick under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, Miller asserts Broderick denied Miller's right to a fair and impartial hearing under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by acting as a member of the EOEB after preparing the objection to Miller's nominating petitions. Second, Miller claims Broderick deprived Miller of her liberty interest in running for public office under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Third, Miller contends Broderick denied Miller's right to participate in the political process as provided for by the First Amendment. Broderick moves to dismiss the Complaint, arguing that she was acting in a quasi-judicial capacity as a member of the EOEB and, therefore, entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity.

LEGAL STANDARD

To properly assert a claim in a complaint, the plaintiff must present "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and a demand for the relief sought." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. A defendant may assert by motion several defenses to a claim, including "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Courts construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff when assessing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss; all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the plaintiff. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

In order to withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

ANALYSIS

Broderick asserts she is immune from Miller's claims under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity, which is derived from the doctrine of judicial immunity. Judges are held immune from civil liability in recognition of the value in allowing them to act on their convictions "without apprehension of personal consequences....'" Brokaw v. Mercer Cnty., 235 F.3d 1000, 1015 (7th Cir. 2000) (quoting Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 10 (1991)). Pursuing this benefit more broadly, immunity is extended to officials who perform acts "functionally comparable" to judges. Wilson v. Kelkhoff, 86 F.3d 1438, 1443 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 512 (1978)). Therefore, quasi-judicial immunity "is justified and defined by the functions it protects and serves, not by the person to whom it attaches." Killinger v. Johnson, 389 F.3d 765, 770 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227 (1988)).

"[T]he actual conduct or alleged wrongdoing of an official acting in a quasi-judicial capacity does not temper the protection of absolute immunity... That is the rule because the threat of being subjected to any litigation impedes the officers' ability to engage in independent and fearless decision-making.'" Capra v. Cook Cnty. Bd. of Review, 733 F.3d 705, 710 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Tobin for Governor v. Illinois State Bd. of Elections, 268 F.3d 517, 524 ...


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