United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.
Plaintiff Glenn Ores has filed this lawsuit against the Village of Dolton and its Chief of Police, Bolden Jones, alleging that Jones violated his right to procedural due process (Count 1) and asserting a Monell claim against the Village (Count 2). R. 1, Compl. Defendants have moved to dismiss both counts. R. 17. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is denied.
In evaluating Defendants' motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true the factual allegations in the complaint and draws reasonable inferences in Ores's favor. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2079 (2011). "As a general rule, on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court may consider only the plaintiff's complaint." Rosenblum v. Travelbyus.com Ltd., 299 F.3d 657, 661 (7th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff Glenn Ores was a police officer for the Village of Dolton during 2011 and 2012. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7. Defendant Bolden Jones was the Village's Chief of Police during that time. Id. ¶ 3. In May 2011, two Village police officers were allegedly involved in an excessive-force incident involving an unknown civilian. Id. ¶ 8. Ores heard a comment in passing about the incident, just before leaving for a lengthy vacation to Europe. Id. ¶ 10. Ores assumed that the officer with first-hand knowledge of the incident would file an official complaint, so Ores left for vacation without filing a complaint. Id.
After an investigation, Jones accused Ores of receiving and failing to report the excessive-force complaint, and Jones ultimately suspended Ores for fifteen days (without pay) starting on February 21, 2012. Id. ¶¶ 10, 14. Jones did not file formal charges against Ores with the Village of Dolton Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, provide Ores with formal charges, or provide Ores an opportunity to be heard by the Commissioners before his suspension. Id. ¶ 15. As a result, Ores lost three weeks' worth of pay and a disciplinary report was placed in his personnel file. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. This lawsuit followed.
II. Legal Standard
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule "reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).
"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.
Ores raises two claims in his complaint. He alleges that Jones deprived him of his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process by suspending him for fifteen days without providing a formal hearing in front of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. Compl. ¶¶ 18-22. Ores also alleges a Monell claim against the Village, arguing that Jones, as Chief of Police, was acting as a final "policymaker" when he suspended Ores. Id. ¶¶ 23-27. Defendants' motion to dismiss targets both claims. They raise three core arguments: (1) Ores's due-process rights were not violated because he did have administrative remedies to challenge the suspension; (2) Jones is entitled to qualified immunity against individual liability for damages; and (3) Ores has failed to state a Monell claim against the Village. The Court addresses each of these arguments in turn.
A. Due-Process Claim
Defendants frame their argument against Ores's due-process claim as an "exhaustion" issue, that is, the claim purportedly should fail because Ores failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See R. 17, Defs.' Br. at 5-7. This argument is based on a mistaken premise. In general, there is no "exhaustion" requirement for a procedural due-process claim. Instead, there are two central questions that comprise every due-process claim, and as applied here, they are: (1) whether Ores was deprived of a protected property interest, and if so, (2) whether an adequate post-deprivation remedy (or "process") was available to him. See Price v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chi., 755 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2014); Leavell v. Ill. Dep't of Natural Res., 600 F.3d 798, 804-05 (7th Cir. 2010). If there was an adequate remedy available, then his due-process claim would fail simply because an adequate remedy was available, not because he failed to "exhaust" the remedy. Another way to understand this point is to consider the following: even if Ores pursued an available and adequate post-deprivation remedy-that is, he exhausted this other remedy-he still would not have a due-process claim because, again, adequate remedies were available. Whether he exhausted or not is neither here nor there. As it turns out, however, there were not any post-deprivation remedies available to Ores.
Defendants argue that Ores did have two remedies available to him: (1) an appeal process under the Illinois Municipal Code and (2) the grievance process under the Village's collective bargaining agreement with Ores's union. See Defs.' Br. at 5-8; see also Defs.' Reply Br. at 4-5. But surprisingly (and perhaps unwittingly), both the Municipal Code and the collective bargaining agreement place restrictions on appeals from suspensions that exceed five days-and remember, Ores was suspended for fifteen days.
The starting point is that the Illinois Municipal Code generally protects certain municipal police officers (like Ores) from removal or discharge except for "cause." 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-17 ¶ 1. But the Code then goes on to authorize municipal police ...