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Villacci v. Herrell

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

December 18, 2014

JOSEPH VILLACCI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MARI HERRELL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ELAINE E. BUCKLO, District Judge.

Plaintiffs are thirteen former police officers for the Memorial Park District ("District") in Hillside, Illinois. The District is a unit of local government organized under the Park District Code, 70 ILCS § 1205/1-1 et seq.

Plaintiffs allege that the District, its Director, its former Chief of Police, and the five individuals who serve on its Board of Commissioners (collectively, "Defendants") retaliated against them for exercising their First Amendment rights (Counts I and III) and terminated their employment in violation of their procedural due process rights (Count II). Count IV seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the first amended complaint, with prejudice, on the ground that it fails to state any claims upon which relief may plausibly be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). I grant Defendants' motion to dismiss, in part, for the reasons stated below.

I.

At the motion to dismiss stage, I must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. See Vesely v. Armslist LLC, 762 F.3d 661, 664 (7th Cir. 2014). However, I "need not accept as true any legal assertions or recital of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 664-65 (internal quotation omitted).

A.

Plaintiffs were among a group of police officers who wanted to join the Illinois Council of Police ("ICP") union. See Dkt. No. 22 ("Am. Compl.") at ¶ 29. On December 10, 2013, the ICP filed a petition with the Illinois Labor Relations Board under 5 ILCS § 315/9 certifying that a majority of the District's police officers wanted the ICP to act as their exclusive representative. Id. at ¶ 30. On or around February, 25, 2014, the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled that the ICP had made an adequate showing of majority interest and overruled the District's objections to the petition. Id. at ¶¶ 32-33.

On January 21, 2014, while the ICP's petition was pending, the District's Board of Commissioners ("Board") voted to keep the police department open. Id. at ¶ 34. Over the next month, however, the Board held a closed door meeting at which the Commissioners discussed Plaintiffs as a group and whether to close the District's police department. Id. at ¶ 35.

On February 18, 2014, before the Illinois Labor Relations Board had ruled on the ICP's petition, the Commissioners reversed their prior decision and voted to eliminate the District's police department effective May 1, 2014. Id. at ¶ 36. When the police department officially closed, Plaintiffs were reclassified as security guards; forced to relinquish their police uniforms and commission cards; and told that they could no longer utilize firearms, handcuffs, or other law enforcement equipment. Id. at ¶¶ 38-39.

Plaintiffs remain employed by the District as "security officers" except for Joseph Villacci ("Villacci"), who was terminated on or around May 1, 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 4-16. In their new roles as security officers, Plaintiffs are expected to perform the same duties they performed as police officers, but without law enforcement equipment. Id. at ¶ 40.

B.

Plaintiffs have sued the District and seven of its officials-the Director, former Chief of Police, and five Commissioners-in their individual capacities.

In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants retaliated against them for engaging in protected First Amendment activity. Before the Board voted to dissolve the District's police department, Plaintiffs allegedly engaged in two forms of protected activity: (1) attempting to unionize the District's police officers and (2) raising concerns about "inoperable police radios, lack of firearm requalification and dilapidated law enforcement equipment." Id. at ¶ 47. Plaintiffs believe that Defendants took several adverse actions against them because of their union activities and complaints about inadequate training and equipment. Id. at ¶ 51 (alleging that adverse actions included "reclassification of their job duties; denial of renewed commissions; [and] deprivation of use of law enforcement equipment").

In Count II, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants deprived them of a protected property interest in their jobs as police officers without providing due process.

In Count III, Villacci alleges that the District retaliated against him for engaging in protected First Amendment activity. Villacci allegedly complained that:

Plaintiffs were not receiving adequate firearm re-training; police radios were in poor condition; officer safety and citizen safety was in (and continues to be in) jeopardy because of the possibility of officers not able to communicate; and that other law enforcement equipment was unable to be used in the line of duty.

Id. at ¶ 60. Count III is effectively subsumed with Count I.

Finally, in Count IV, Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the conduct alleged in the previous counts violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint on several grounds. The individual Defendants argue that they are entitled to legislative and/or qualified immunity and that the complaint fails to allege that they personally participated in the alleged constitutional violations and. The District, in turn, argues that Plaintiffs have failed to allege plausible First Amendment or procedural due process claims.

II.

I start with the individual Defendants' arguments for dismissal. A complaint fails to state a plausible claim when its factual allegations, accepted as true, show that one or more Defendants are entitled to immunity from suit. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the ...


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