Argued December 11, 2014
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 12-CV-00133 -- Michael J. Reagan, Chief Judge.
For Jimmy L. Hinkle, Plaintiff - Appellant: Greg Roosevelt, Attorney, Roosevelt Law Office, Edwardsville, IL.
For Rick White, Thomas Oliverio, Defendants - Appellees: Clifford Berlow, Attorney, Office of The Attorney General, Civil Appeals Division, Chicago, IL.
Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and MANION, Circuit Judges.
Manion, Circuit Judge.
Jimmy Hinkle sued Rick White, an investigator with the Illinois State Police, and White's supervisor, Thomas Oliverio, alleging that they violated his due process rights by spreading rumors that he was an arsonist and a child molester. The district court concluded that Hinkle had not established a protected liberty interest and granted the defendants summary judgment. We affirm.
In August 2010, while Jimmy Hinkle was finishing his elected term as Sheriff of Wayne County, Illinois, his fourteen-year-old step-daughter falsely accused him of sexually abusing her while helping her apply chigger medicine. An officer with the Charleston, Illinois Police Department interviewed the step-daughter and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (" DCFS" ) notified the Illinois State Police that it had received a report that Hinkle had sexually abused his step-daughter.
Rick White, an investigator with the Illinois State Police, began investigating the step-daughter's allegations. White interviewed the step-daughter and she repeated her claim of sexual abuse. However, her sister (another of Hinkle's stepdaughters) was also interviewed and she said that Hinkle had also helped her apply chigger medication and that it was nonsexual. She also said she thought her sister was lying because Hinkle and her mom were too strict. White also interviewed Hinkle, who denied the allegation. The step-daughter later recanted her claim of sexual abuse on several occasions and an Illinois prosecutor declined to press charges against Hinkle.
Nonetheless, the accusations became well-known in the community because White talked to a lot of people with whom he had no business sharing details of the investigation. For example, while at the local Wal-Mart in January 2011, White told Roy Finley, his third cousin and a felon, to listen to the news and that there would be a story about a former Wayne County Sheriff, whom Finley was able to determine was Hinkle from White's comments. White told Finley that there was a " bad charge" and that " the former sheriff would be looking at prison time." White also told Stephanie Luker, a Trooper with the Illinois State Police, that there was a sexual assault case against Sheriff Hinkle. (Luker was in no way involved in the investigation of the matter.) Additionally, White told Jonah Kinsolving, an investigator with the Secretary of State's Office (who also had nothing to do with the investigation) that he (White) was investigating Hinkle for sexually abusing his step-daughter. White told Kinsolving that he (White) was right in believing Hinkle sexually abused his stepdaughter. Kinsolving went home and told his wife about it and his wife in turn told her hairdresser.
If telling the local hairdresser wasn't enough to churn the rumor mill, word was also leaked to the local paper, the Disclosure, at White's instigation. White directed Greg Hanisch, an inspector for the Southern Illinois Drug Task Force (who worked out of the Illinois State Police station), to tell a local reporter to look into the Kelly Henby and Hinkle matter. Henby was apparently a private investigator who interviewed the step-daughter and to whom she recanted. Hanisch leaked to the Disclosure that an arrest warrant had been issued for Henby charging him with working as a private investigator without a license. The Disclosure also published an article that included details of the step-daughter's initial claim of sexual abuse, although the article, in essence, said the step-daughter was lying and provided an innocent explanation for what really happened, while positing that the information was made public in retaliation for Henby and Hinkle crossing White on other matters. Nonetheless, in the end, the rumor that Hinkle was a child molester permeated the public sphere.
In addition to the rumor that Hinkle had sexually abused his step-daughter, there was talk that Hinkle was also an arsonist. A couple of months before his step-daughter falsely accused him of sexually assaulting her, Hinkle's home was destroyed by a fire. White spoke with the State Fire Marshal concerning the investigation into the cause of the fire and asked a detective with the Wayne County Sheriff's Department whether he " suspected anything" about the fire. Thomas Oliverio, a lieutenant with the Illinois State Police, went one step further, saying to another investigator, " [h]ow much do you want to bet me that [Hinkle's] prize 1950 Chevy was not in the garage when he burnt his house? ... I'm telling you, he moved that car from his garage before the fire."
After his step-daughter recanted her accusation of sexual abuse and the prosecutor declined to press charges, Hinkle filed this § 1983 suit against White and Oliverio, alleging the defendants denied him his right to liberty in the occupation of his choice without due process of law. Specifically, Hinkle alleged that the defendants, by spreading the rumors that he was an arsonist and child molester, rendered him unable to find a job in law enforcement management. The defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, concluding that Hinkle did not establish a protected liberty ...