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Urbina v. Village of Fox Lake

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

January 5, 2015

VILLAGE OF FOX LAKE, DONALD SCHMIT, individually, and PETER JAKSTAS, individually, Defendants.


MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

In April 2013, defendant Donald Schmit beat incumbent Edward Bender in the race for mayor of Fox Lake. On Schmit's second day in office, he fired Francisco Urbina and Tina Williams-two members of the prior administration and vocal supporters of the unsuccessful Bender re-election campaign. Urbina and Williams responded by bringing suit against Schmit, the Village of Fox Lake, and Peter Jakstas-a Fox Lake businessman alleged to have orchestrated plaintiffs' termination. In their 17-count complaint, plaintiffs Urbina and Williams allege violations of state and federal law, including claims for breach of contract, tortious interference, and violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Defendants now move under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss some, but not all, of plaintiffs' claims. For the following reasons, the Village's and Schmit's motions are granted, and Jakstas's motion is denied.

I. Legal Standard

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted." Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, 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). "In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [the court] accept[s] the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true...." Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013).

II. Background

In early 2013, plaintiffs Francisco Urbina and Tina Williams worked for defendant Village of Fox Lake. [1] ¶¶ 9-13. Urbina was the Village's building commissioner and Williams was an administrative assistant in the Building Department. Id. Both plaintiffs were strong and outspoken supporters of the incumbent mayor, Edward Bender. Id. ¶ 13. During and immediately after the 2013 mayoral election, Bender's opponent, Donald Schmit, made it publicly known that any Fox Lake employee who strongly supported Bender's re-election would be terminated once Schmit was elected. Id. ¶ 42.

One of Schmit's supporters, defendant Peter Jakstas, owned and operated a historic hotel and restaurant called the Mineola. Id. ¶ 190. In April 2011, then-Mayor Bender asked Urbina to inspect the Fox Lake landmark, during which Urbina found safety violations requiring it to be shut down. Id. ¶¶ 193-94. Jakstas angrily blamed Bender, Urbina, and Williams not only for this closure of his business, but also for the death of his daughter, who had been operating the Mineola until it was closed. Id. ¶¶ 196, 198-99. Thus, when Schmit chose to run for mayor of Fox Lake, Jakstas agreed to support him financially in exchange for Schmit agreeing to fire Urbina and Williams once he was in office. Id. ¶¶ 204-05.

Schmit won the election in April 2013 and was sworn in on May 14, 2013. Id. ¶ 44. Schmit fired plaintiffs shortly thereafter, appointing a campaign supporter, David Thomey, to replace Urbina as the Village's building commissioner. Id. ¶¶ 45, 55-56.

At the time plaintiffs lost their jobs, Fox Lake had the following ordinances in effect (Ord. 1-8-4(A), (C)):

A. Term Of Office; Appointed Officials: Unless otherwise provided by ordinance, each appointed officer in the village shall hold office for a term of one year or until his successor is appointed and qualified. Unless otherwise provided, the term of each office will expire on April 30 following the appointment, but at the pleasure of the president and board of trustees, an appointed official may continue in office beyond April 30 until his successor is appointed and qualified.
C. Removal:
1. Employees Generally: The board of trustees by majority vote may dismiss an employee at any time for just cause. An employee who is dismissed shall be given written notice of the reasons for the action, copies of which shall be forwarded to the president and village clerk.
2. Appointed Official: The president shall have the power to remove any appointed official or employee on formal charge whenever he shall be of an opinion that the interests of the village shall demand such a removal. He shall report the reasons for such removal to the board at a meeting thereof to be held not less than five (5) days nor more than ten (10) days after such removal. If the president shall fail or refuse to file with the village clerk a statement of the reasons for the removal, or if the board, by two-thirds (2/3) vote of all its members authorized by law, should disapprove such removal, such official or employee shall thereupon be restored to the office from which he was removed. No official shall be removed a second time for the same incident.

Schmit did not follow these procedures when he terminated plaintiffs. [1] ¶¶ 50-54.

Plaintiffs filed a 17-count complaint alleging first-amendment retaliation, denial of due process, breach of contract, wrongful termination, tortious interference, and failure to pay accrued vacation time. Defendants now move to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), with Jakstas moving as to all counts against him, Schmit moving as to Counts I, III, IX, and XI, [1] and the Village moving as to Counts I through V, and VII.

III. Analysis

A. Counts I-IV (Against the Village)

In Counts I and II, plaintiffs say the Village fired them as payback for their support of Bender's re-election campaign, thereby violating their rights under the First Amendment. In Counts III and IV, plaintiffs claim the Village violated their fourteenth-amendment due process rights by firing them without a pre- or ...

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