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Christianson v. Yarbrough

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

April 2, 2015

PHILLIP CHRISTIANSON, Plaintiff,
v.
KAREN YARBROUGH, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Phillip Christianson ("Christianson") filed a three-count Complaint against Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough ("Yarbrough"), Chief Deputy Recorder of Deeds William Velazquez ("Velaquez"), Deputy Recorder of Deeds William Drobitsch ("Drobitsch"), and Cook County, Illinois (hereinafter, collectively, the "Defendants") alleging political discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and violation of the Shakman decrees. (Compl., ECF No. 1.)

There are three motions pending before the Court: (1) Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 13]; (2) Christianson's Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF No. 15]; and (3) Defendants' Motion to Reassign the Case [ECF No. 17)]. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and denies the remaining motions as moot. Christianson is given fourteen (14) days leave to amend his Complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

Christianson began working as the Concourse Manager of the Cook County Recorder of Deed's Office on October 9, 2012 under outgoing Recorder Eugene Moore ("Moore"). Christianson received positive evaluations from Moore's administration.

Yarbrough was elected as Recorder of Deeds in November 2012 and took office in early December 2012. Under Yarbrough, Velazquez serves as Chief Deputy Recorder of Deeds. Drobitsch serves as Deputy Recorder of Deeds and was Christianson's direct supervisor. Christianson claims that Defendants discriminated against him because of his political non-affiliation with Yarbrough. Christianson alleges that he was the victim of false incident reports and evaluations, resulting in his eventual termination in February 2013.

After his termination, Christianson obtained a new job with a title company that required him to go to the Recorder's Office. In April 2013, Christianson filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Inspector General ("OIIG") of Cook County alleging that the Recorder's Office had engaged in political discrimination. In August 2013, Velazquez sent a letter to Christianson's new employer stating that Christianson failed to follow sign-in procedures at the Recorder's Office and disrupted employees when he visited - accusations that are false, according to Christianson. In May 2014, an incident arose between Christianson and a security guard at the Recorder's Office. As a result of this incident, the Recorder's Office sent a letter to Christianson's new employer prohibiting Christianson from setting foot in the Recorder's Office again.

II. ANALYSIS

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 410 (7th Cir. 1987). A court need not accept as true "legal conclusions, or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal quotations and alterations omitted).

A. Count I - Political Discrimination under § 1983

Christianson's first claim is that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights when they terminated him from his position as Concourse Manager because of his political neutrality. According to Christianson, Defendants "attempted to block his appointment as concourse manager and subsequently terminated [him] based upon political factors, including but not limited to, his lack of affiliation with Yarbrough." (Compl. ¶ 48.) Based on this alleged violation of constitutional rights, Christianson seeks relief under § 1983 against all Defendants.

Individual liability under § 1983 requires a showing that defendants were acting under the color of state law and that their conduct violated the plaintiff's rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States. Lekas v. Briley, 405 F.3d 602, 606 (7th Cir. 2005). A "causal connection, or an affirmative link" must exist between the violation and the defendant. Wolf-Lillie v. Sonquist, 699 F.2d 864, 869 (7th Cir. 1983). Supervisors cannot be held liable for § 1983 violations unless they "knowingly, willfully, or at least recklessly" cause the violation. Rascon v. Hardiman, 803 F.2d 269, 274 (7th Cir. 1986).

Under the First Amendment, government officials cannot "discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power, unless party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved." Rutan v. Republican Party of Ill., 497 U.S. 62, 64-65 (1990). Accordingly, to state a claim for violation of First Amendment rights, a public employee must show that: (1) his or her conduct was constitutionally protected; (2) the employee suffered a deprivation likely to deter free speech; and (3) the constitutionally protected conduct caused the adverse employment action. Gunville v. Walker, 583 F.3d 979, 984 (7th Cir. 2009). Although a plaintiff must ultimately establish but-for causation to succeed on a political discrimination claim, he or she may begin by making an initial showing that speech was a "motivating factor" in the employer's adverse decision. Kidwell v. Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 965 (7th Cir. 2012). The burden then shifts to the employer to rebut the causal inference raised by the ...


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