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Messina v. Village of Villa Park

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

July 20, 2015

DANIEL MESSINA, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF VILLA PARK, ILLINOIS, Village Manager RICHARD KEEHNER, JR., Deputy Chief ROBERT BUDIG, Sergeant DANIEL McCANN, Village Trustee JOHN DAVIS, and Village Trustee ROBERT TAGLIA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John J. Tharp, Jr. United States District Judge

Plaintiff Daniel Messina (“Messina”) is a former municipal police officer who alleges that he was wronged when other municipal officials trumped up allegations that he had handled an arrest inappropriately. He asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law against his former employer, the Village of Villa Park, Illinois (“Villa Park”), and five of its municipal officials: Village Manager Richard Keehner, Jr. (“Keehner”), Deputy Chief of Police Robert Budig (“Budig”), Sergeant Daniel McCann (“McCann”), and Trustees John Davis (“Davis”) and Robert Taglia (“Taglia”). The defendants have moved to dismiss the current First Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Dkt. 36. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the defendants’ motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Villa Park hired Messina as a probationary police officer in November 2010.[1] On December 26, 2011, Messina arrested a suspect in connection with a reported theft (“the December arrest”). When he sought to book the suspect at the Villa Park police station, defendant McCann told him to release her without charges. At some point during the next few weeks, McCann told defendants Budig and Keehner that in the course of the December arrest, Messina had failed to check the license plate number of the suspect’s vehicle before arresting her and had injured the suspect by dragging her down six stairs. According to Messina, McCann’s description of Messina’s conduct during the December arrest was false, was known by McCann to be false, and was also known by Budig and Keehner to be false. Nevertheless, on or around January 17, 2012, Budig told the attorney for the suspect involved in the December arrest that Messina had violated police department regulations and would be disciplined.

Messina’s employment with Villa Park ended on January 19, 2012. On that date, Budig met with Messina and informed him that he was not meeting police department standards. In ostensible support of this determination, Budig stated that during the December arrest Messina had failed to check the suspect’s license plate and had injured the suspect by dragging her down some stairs, even though Budig knew those allegations to be false. At the end of their meeting, Budig gave Messina the choice of resigning or being immediately discharged; Messina opted to resign.[2] Messina did not receive notice or a hearing prior to the termination of his employment.

On unspecified dates after January 19, 2012, Budig repeated his statements about Messina’s conduct during the December arrest to other Villa Park employees and to members of the public. In addition, on March 4, 2012, defendant Davis posted a message on Villa Park’s blog in response to questions about recent terminations by the police department; his message indicated that two probationary officers had been discharged for failing to meet Villa Park’s standards, but it did not name the officers. Later on March 4, 2012, defendant Taglia posted a message on the same blog using the screen name “fishbones”; his message mentioned Messina’s name, included a copy of a lawsuit filed against Messina by the suspect involved in the December arrest, and concluded by describing Messina as a “nut job.” According to Messina, the lawsuit included within Taglia’s blog contained false allegations of police brutality.

Since the events described above, Messina has applied to approximately 15-20 police officer positions in the greater Chicago area but has not received any offers of employment. Only one employer-the Village of Prospect Heights-expressed interest in response to his application; that employer ultimately declined to hire him after conducting a background check and speaking with individuals at Villa Park.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Messina filed this lawsuit on January 17, 2013. His original complaint sought relief under § 1983 based on the following federal law theories: that he was deprived of his property interest in continued employment in violation of procedural due process (Count I), that he was deprived of his liberty interest in seeking future employment in violation of procedural due process (Count II), that the individual defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate his procedural due process rights (Count VI), and that Villa Park engaged in a custom, practice, or policy of denying police officers procedural due process (Count VIII). He also asserted state law claims for defamation (Count III), tortious interference (Count IV), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), as well as respondeat superior and indemnification by Villa Park (Count VII).[3]

After the defendants moved to dismiss the original complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court dismissed three of the federal claims (Counts I, VI, and VIII) with prejudice in their entirety; dismissed the remaining federal claim (Count II) without prejudice as to defendants Budig, Taglia, and Davis and with prejudice as to all other defendants; and dismissed the state law claims (Counts III, IV, V, and VII) without prejudice.[4] Mem. Op. & Order, Dkt. 31. Messina subsequently filed the current Complaint which amended some of the allegations within Count II, see Compl., Dkt. 32, at ¶ 40, and added new allegations relevant to that count in the background facts section, see Compl., Dkt. 32, at ¶¶ 26-30. The Complaint reasserted all seven other claims from the original complaint without change (and without any acknowledgment that the Court had dismissed some of those claims with prejudice). See Resp., Dkt. 39, at 1 (“Messina has filed an Amended Complaint amending only Count II . . . . He has not amended any of his other claims.”).

The defendants have now moved to dismiss the current Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Since the Court previously dismissed Counts I, VI, VIII, and part of Count II with prejudice, the defendants’ motion and supportive filings address only the surviving claims. See Mtn. to Dismiss, Dkt. 36, at 1 n.1. The Court’s discussion below likewise addresses only those claims.

DISCUSSION

“To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Although a court must accept all of the plaintiff’s factual allegations as true when reviewing the complaint, conclusory allegations merely restating the elements of a cause of action do not receive this presumption. Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ...


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