United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
PHILIP G. REINHARD, District Judge.
For the reasons stated below, defendants Chief Donald Grady and Lieutenant Todd Henert's motion for summary judgment  is granted. The case is closed.
On April 11, 2012, plaintiff Anthony Kafka, a former Northern Illinois Police Officer, filed a two count complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Chief of Police Donald Grady and Lieutenant Todd Henert (plaintiff's former supervisors/superiors). See . In his complaint, plaintiff alleged Grady and Henert violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him through various employment actions. See id. Specifically, plaintiff claimed he exercised his First Amendment rights by filing a number of grievances in his role as vice president of the union of police officers and defendants Grady and Henert retaliated against him by "reducing [his] work hours, prohibiting [him] from working on vehicle patrol duties, changing [his] shift and duty assignment schedules, denying [him] vacation... [c]onducting an investigation designed to intimidate, harass, annoy and harm [him]..." and eventually terminating his employment.  at 7-8. Count one of the complaint sets forth a First Amendment retaliation claim under Section 1983. In count two, plaintiff asserts a conspiracy claim under Section 1983.  at 9.
On February 5, 2013, defendants Grady and Henert moved to dismiss portions of the complaint. See . In their motion, they argued that certain allegations should be dismissed as untimely because Section 1983 claims carry a two-year statute of limitations. See id. Ultimately, this court agreed and struck paragraphs 12 through 28 of the complaint. See . After issuing this opinion, the court instructed defendants to answer to the remaining portions of the complaint and ordered both sides to begin discovery.
The parties have now completed discovery and currently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. See . In their motion, defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on both counts because plaintiff cannot set forth a prima facie case. Alternatively, defendants contend they are entitled to qualified immunity. See -. Plaintiff has responded and does not oppose dismissal of count two so long as count one survives. See  at 19-20. He argues that he has established a prima facie case in count one and defendants' motion should be denied with respect to his First Amendment retaliation claim.
On summary judgment, the court construes all facts and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Schepers v. Commissioner, Indiana Dept. of Corrections, 691 F.3d 909, 913 (7th Cir. 2012). The court does not weigh evidence or determine the credibility of witness testimony. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). Instead, the court only grants summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). That said, Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Prior to addressing the merits of defendants' motion, it is necessary to set forth the undisputed facts located in the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements of Material Fact. In doing so, the court is cognizant of its obligation to construe all facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff and does so accordingly. See Schepers, 691 F.3d at 913.
Plaintiff was hired as a police officer for the Northern Illinois University Department of Public Safety ("NIUPD") on August 6, 2001.  ¶ 1. At the time he was hired, defendant Grady was the Chief of Police of the NIUPD and Henert was a patrol officer, (Henert was later promoted to Lieutenant and Director of Police Operations in 2007).  ¶¶ 2-3.
In September 2008, plaintiff was the vice president of the union of police officers and was also the acting president because the actual president was off of work due to an injury.  ¶ 2. Between September 2008 and September 2009, plaintiff filed approximately 24 grievances on behalf of the union. At some point in late 2008, he also filed an unfair labor practice charge on behalf of the union against the NIUPD and defendant Grady. See id. Prior to filing the charge, he informed Grady of the union's intentions and Grady became upset. Apparently, Grady told plaintiff filing an unfair labor practice charge was "the equivalent of nuclear war."  ¶ 6.
At some point after this, plaintiff was involved in his second at-fault automobile accident while driving an NIUPD vehicle. As a result of the accident, he received a three-day suspension and was assigned exclusively to foot patrol. See  ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff did not feel the assignment to foot patrol was necessary and filed a grievance seeking relief.  ¶ 8. However, his grievance was denied.
Shortly after the accident, plaintiff was assigned to a program entitled Secure Areas for Everyone ("SAFE"). See  ¶ 25. SAFE officers generally work day shifts and are assigned to foot patrol. While his pay, shift, title, and seniority did not change, plaintiff was unhappy with his assignment and again complained about not being permitted to drive an NIUPD vehicle. Id. ¶ 25-26. As a result, he filed a grievance concerning his assignment to SAFE. In his grievance, he alleged the assignment to SAFE was in retaliation for his union activity. After his grievance was denied, he appealed and Grady referred the matter to Human Resources for review.  ¶ 30.
In March 2010, plaintiff received a two-day suspension for illegally entering an apartment and seizing property while on duty. Plaintiff later admitted he illegally entered the dwelling and stated that at the time he did so he was unaware he was violating the law and NIUPD policy. He felt the two-day suspension was justified.  ¶ 33.
In the spring of 2010, plaintiff was assigned to a task known as Book Buyback duty.  ¶ 19. Apparently, this duty involves acting as a security guard while NIU students sell their books back. Id. Plaintiff believed this task was "tedious" and "boring" and claimed he was assigned to this task more frequently than other officers because of his involvement with the union. Id.
On May 4, 2010, plaintiff submitted a vacation request. The request indicated he wished to take a vacation day on June 5, 2010 as long as he was "not scheduled for training or required to supplement patrol due to staffing shortage...[.]"  ¶ 36. Plaintiff sought to take that particular day off so he could celebrate his anniversary with his wife. Id.
Generally, the NIUPD conducts its annual training at the end of the spring semester. As a result, officers are advised that vacation requests during this time are disfavored and usually denied.  ¶ 37. In 2010, the training was scheduled the first week of June, (during the time plaintiff wished to take a vacation day). Id.
On May 24, 2010, the NIUPD posted the schedule for May 31, 2010 through June 13, 2010. The schedule reflected that plaintiff was assigned to work a twelve-hour shift on June 5, 2010. After he learned he was scheduled to work, plaintiff was upset and sent an email asking to have his schedule changed from a twelve-hour shift to a seven-hour shift.  ¶ 38.
In light of his request, a revised schedule was posted a few days later.  ¶¶ 39-40. The revised schedule partially accommodated plaintiff's request and scheduled him for an eight-hour shift, rather than a twelve-hour shift.  ¶ 39.
On May 27, 2010, plaintiff reported to work and reviewed the revised schedule. After doing so, he became angry that he was still scheduled to work on June 5. While armed, he shouted, "I don't know if I should shoot Karen (Clifton), or if I should shoot the rest of you all!"  ¶ 40. He made this statement in the presence of Sergeant Dathan Jackson and Officer Cynthia Zimberoff as well as other employees of the NIUPD. While making the statement, he slammed his fists on a table, slapped a wall, and used profanity. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. At no point did he indicate he was joking. Id.
Shortly after the outburst, plaintiff informed Sergeant Jackson (his supervisor at the time) that he wished to go home. He gave Jackson a "Report of Absence" form and on it wrote the reason for ...