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Roake v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 17, 2017

Brian Roake, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Forest Preserve District of Cook County, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued January 5, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15-cv-08949 - Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Manion and Williams, Circuit Judges.

          Manion, Circuit Judge.

         Brian Roake, a former police officer for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, was ostensibly disciplined for drinking alcohol at work. He responded with this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging unlawful retaliation under the First Amendment. He also asserted a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim based on reputational harm. The district court dismissed Roake's action under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a plausible claim to relief. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Brian Roake was a police officer for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois. His troubles began on December 31, 2013, when he brought some champagne to a Forest Preserve police station to celebrate the New Year. Roake says that he was off duty at the time and that he got permission from a sergeant (who was present at the celebration) to bring the champagne. Roake and others drank the champagne at the station.

         In January 2014, the department initiated disciplinary proceedings against Roake for his participation in the New Year's Eve gathering. When Roake was interviewed about the incident, the interviewing officer assured him that he would not lose his job but "might be suspended for one or two days at the most."[1] On February 7, 2014, the disciplinary proceedings culminated in what Roake calls a "pre-disciplinary/pre-termination hearing." Roake alleges that the hearing officers "upheld the charges" against him, though he does not say what the charges were. At that point, Roake says he saw the "handwriting on the wall" and so resigned his job. He also states, with no supporting facts, that he "would have been terminated" if he had not resigned.

         Roake claims that his employer used his involvement in the New Year's Eve party as a mere pretext for disciplining him. The real reason he was disciplined, according to Roake, was because he had previously reported to his employer two instances of official misconduct within the police department. First, in October 2013, he reported that a fellow officer had engaged in racial profiling. Roake mentioned the matter again during his disciplinary proceedings in January 2014, when he complained that it wasn't fair that he was being investigated while the officer who engaged in racial profiling was not.

         Roake's second report, made around February 6, 2014, involved a fellow officer whom Roake believed had been unjustly disciplined. Earlier that month, the officer had contacted Roake about a woman and children who were in the Forest Preserves after hours in below-freezing weather. Roake responded that the officers were "mandated reporters" to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), so the officer called DCFS to report the situation. The officer was later written up in connection with the incident, [2] and Roake complained to his employer that the write-up was unlawful.

         After resigning in February 2014, Roake applied for jobs in other police departments. He alleges that officials of the Forest Preserve department told certain prospective employers that he had consumed alcohol while on duty and was not welcome to reapply there. Roake claims that this damaged his professional reputation and made it more difficult for him to find work.

         In October 2015, Roake filed this § 1983 action against the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and several officers who were involved in the disciplinary proceedings against him. He claims that the defendants violated the First Amendment by disciplining him in retaliation for reporting police misconduct. He also claims that the defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by tarnishing his reputation among prospective employers. The district court concluded that Roake failed to state a plausible claim for relief and granted the defendants' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[3] Roake appeals.

         II. DISCUSSION

         We review the grant of a motion to dismiss de novo, construing all well-pleaded facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Huri v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Ct. of Cook Cty.,804 F.3d 826, 829 (7th Cir. 2015). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." 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 ...


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