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Reiff v. Calumet City

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

September 10, 2014

MAUREEN REIFF, Plaintiff,
v.
CALUMET CITY, a municipality incorporated under the laws of Illinois, MICHELLE QUALKINBUSH, in her capacity as mayor of Calumet City, GEORGE VALLIS, in his capacity as Director of Personnel for Calumet City, and EDWARD L. GILMORE, in his individual capacity and as Chief of Police of Calumet City, Defendant(s)

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN J. THARP, Jr., District Judge.

The plaintiff, Maureen Reiff, brought this case against Calumet City and three of its municipal officials: Mayor Michelle Qualkinbush, Director of Personnel George Vallis, and Chief of Police Edward L. Gilmore. Reiff moves for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") asserting that the City unlawfully fired her for violating its employee residency requirement. In the SAC Reiff seeks relief under the following theories: that she was terminated in violation of her right to Equal Protection under the federal and the Illinois constitutions (Counts II and V); that she was terminated in violation of her federal right to due process (Count IV); that she was terminated in retaliation for exercising her rights under the First Amendment (Count VI); and that the City is liable for her under the state indemnification statute (Count I). SAC, Dkt. # 227-1. Reiff also reasserts her state-law wrongful termination claim (Count II), but this claim was previously dismissed with prejudice. Order, Dkt. # 90 at 10-11 (Manning, J.). The defendants move to dismiss (or deny leave to file) the SAC on the ground that it fails to state a claim.[1]For the following reasons, the parties' respective motions are granted in part and denied in part; Counts I, IV, and VI of the SAC may go forward.

BACKGROUND

The City employed Reiff as a clerk in the Calumet City Police Department for seven years until October 13, 2009. On that date, the City Council unanimously voted to terminate Reiff's employment because the aldermen found her to be in violation of Section 2-262 of the city code, requiring City employees to reside within the City of Calumet. Denying that she had violated the residency requirement and claiming that she was at all times during her employment a resident of Calumet City, Reiff sued the City in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Her original complaint asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that the defendants had violated her equal-protection right by discriminatorily enforcing the residency requirement against women and had denied her due process in connection with her termination. She also brought state-law claims for indemnification and wrongful discharge and sought a declaration that the City's residency requirement violates the state Constitution.

The defendants removed the case to this Court. Reiff amended her complaint to add a claim under § 1983 that the defendants violated her First Amendment rights by retaliating against her for advocating that her union take a tougher stance in its negotiations with the City. The defendants moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint in its entirety. Judge Manning, the district judge originally assigned to this case, granted the motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge claim (Count II of the FAC), but denied the motion as to the remaining claims.

Discovery began. The City targeted Reiff's assertions that she had maintained residency in the City and adduced significant evidence suggesting that Ms. Reiff misrepresented her residency in the course of this lawsuit. The City therefore moved for sanctions; the plaintiff countered with her own motion for sanctions and also moved for leave to further amend her complaint. Magistrate Judge Finnegan, who was supervising discovery, denied the plaintiff's motion for sanctions and recommended that the Court deny both the defendants' motion for sanctions and the plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint. After a hearing, the Court accepted Magistrate Judge Finnegan's recommendations. The Court granted the plaintiff leave to file a further motion to amend, however, and directed the defendants to respond to that motion with any substantive arguments for dismissal of the proposed amended counts.

Reiff then filed her second motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, and in the proposed pleading, she no longer alleges that she complied with the City's residency requirement during all times relevant to her complaint, compare FAC, Dkt. # 55 ¶ 28 with SAC, Dkt. 227-1 ¶ 9, or that the City discriminatorily enforced its residency requirement against women only. Compare Dkt. 55 ¶ 24027 with Dkt. 227-1 ¶¶ 30-32. Rather, she now alleges that the City violated her equal-protection rights by arbitrarily enforcing its residency requirement against her but not other employees. Reiff also continues to maintain that the residency requirement was enforced against her in retaliation for her complaints about workplace harassment and her union advocacy.

In its response to Reiff's second motion to file a SAC, the City argues that leave should be denied, or that the proposed SAC should be dismissed, because it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Reiff did not file a reply to the City's arguments. See Order, Dkt. # 229 ("Reply is due 5/14/14").

DISCUSSION

Under Rule 15(a)(2), courts are to freely give parties leave to amend their pleadings "when justice so requires, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), but should not allow plaintiffs to amend their complaints when doing so would be futile. Moore v. State of Ind., 999 F.2d 1125, 1128 (7th Cir. 1993) (internal citations omitted). "A district court need not allow the filing of an amended complaint... if it is clear that the proposed amended complaint is deficient and would not survive a motion to dismiss." Johnson v. Dossey, 515 F.3d 778, 780 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted). Because the City alleges that granting Reiff's motion would be futile, the Court evaluates whether Reiff's claims would survive a motion to dismiss.

"To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. 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.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). When reviewing a plaintiff's complaint, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff's factual allegations as true. Id. In contrast, conclusory allegations merely restating the elements of a cause of action do not receive this presumption. Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

A. Federal Equal Protection Claim (Count III)

As noted, Reiff's equal-protection claim began was originally premised on alleged gender discrimination. Now, the City argues, Reiff appears to be asserting an equal protection "class-of-one" claim because she removed language from her first amended complaint alleging that the City enforced the residency ordinance only against women. See, e.g., FAC ¶ 61 (deleting allegation that unequal and disparate treatment was "sexual" discrimination). Compare also, e.g., FAC, Dkt. # 55 ¶¶ 26, 55, 56, 57, 60, 74 with SAC, Dkt. # 227-1 ¶¶ 26, 56, 57, 58, 60, 76, respectively. Although the SAC still states in the opening paragraph that the plaintiff "seeks redress for gender discrimination, " the Court agrees that the clear import of the modifications to the SAC are to remove the prior claim of gender discrimination; the reference to gender discrimination in paragraph one appears to be a remnant from the earlier version. Accordingly, the Court agrees that the plaintiff is seeking relief as a "class-of-one" by alleging the irrational and arbitrary application of the residency law, not discrimination based on her membership in a protected class. See D.B. ex rel. Kurtis B. v. Kopp, 725 F.3d 681, 685 (7th Cir. 2013) ("class-of-one" equal protection claim arises "when a classification consists of singling out just one person for different treatment for arbitrary and irrational purposes").

Reiff's class-of-one equal-protection theory fails because "the class-of-one theory of equal protection has no application in the public employment context." Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture, 553 U.S. 591, 607 (2008). As the Supreme Court explained in Engquist, allowing class-of-one claims in the context of public employment decisions would risk turning every exercise of supervisory and managerial discretion in the public employment sphere into a potential constitutional claim, id. at 599, 607-08, and would "impermissibly constitutionalize the employee grievance, " id. at 609. Accordingly, as the Seventh Circuit has confirmed, the Supreme Court has foreclosed class-of-one claims "based on the highly discretionary and individualized sorts of decisions that public employers must make about their employees." Abcarian v. McDonald, 617 F.3d 931, 938 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Engquist ). Decisions about when and how a public employer interprets and enforces residency requirements fall easily within the category of discretionary managerial decisions that are immune from class-of-one-claims. See, e.g., Langmead v. Monroe County Office of Sheriff, No. ...


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