BRADLEY L. SWEENEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
THE CITY OF DECATUR, Defendant-Appellee.
from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 16L18 Honorable Albert
G. Webber, Judge Presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE TURNER delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices Harris and Steigmann concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
PRESIDING JUSTICE TURNER
1 In February 2016, plaintiff, Bradley L. Sweeney, filed a
two-count complaint against defendant, the city of Decatur
(City), his former employer, and Tim Gleason, the City's
manager. In April 2016, plaintiff filed an amended complaint
against only the City. In response, the City filed a combined
motion to dismiss the amended complaint under section 2-619.1
of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1
(West 2014)). After a June 2016 hearing, the Macon County
circuit court granted the City's motion and dismissed
with prejudice plaintiff's amended complaint under
section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)).
2 Plaintiff appeals, contending the circuit court erred by
dismissing his claim (1) brought under section 15(b) of the
Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174/15(b) (West 2014)) because
that provision (a) only requires disclosure of suspected law
violations to a government or law enforcement agency and (b)
does not require the employee to also refuse to participate
in the activity and (2) of common-law retaliatory discharge
based on the public policy protecting (a) whistleblowing and
(b) the freedom of speech under the first amendment (U.S.
Const., amend. I). We affirm.
3 I. BACKGROUND
4 In the February 2016 complaint, plaintiff asserted a claim
of common-law retaliatory discharge and a violation of the
Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174/1 et seq. (West
2014)) against the City and Gleason. The City and Gleason
filed a section 2-619.1 motion to dismiss. After an April
2016 hearing, the circuit court granted the motion to dismiss
under section 2-615 and allowed plaintiff to replead.
5 Plaintiff's April 2016 amended complaint again asserted
retaliatory discharge and Whistleblower Act claims but only
against the City. The amended complaint alleged that, in
January 2015, Ryan McCrady, then the City's manager,
appointed plaintiff as the City's police chief. As the
police chief, plaintiff reported directly to the city
manager. In March 2015, Gleason became the City's
manager. In May 2015, Gleason told plaintiff to provide a
police car and uniformed officer to drive him to the St.
Louis airport to catch a plane for a vacation after the
City's State of the City address. Plaintiff reported to
Gleason his personal use of public resources was improper.
Gleason then ordered plaintiff to have the car waiting at the
City's civic center to transport him to St. Louis.
Plaintiff discussed the situation with the deputy chief of
police, Jim Getz, who agreed Gleason's personal use of
the officer and police car was improper but volunteered to
drive Gleason. While on duty, Getz drove Gleason to the St.
Louis airport in his police vehicle. Plaintiff
"involuntarily allowed, " but did not order,
Gleason's personal use of police resources. After Gleason
returned from vacation, plaintiff again told Gleason his use
of a police car and driver for his personal use was improper.
While Gleason stated he understood plaintiff's objection
to his use of the officer and car, their relationship was
difficult after the conversation. Plaintiff alleged
Gleason's actions violated (1) the official misconduct
statute (720 ILCS 5/33-3 (West 2014)); (2) the City's
police department's general order No. 11-03, which
prohibits the use of departmental vehicles outside the
City's limits for personal business; (3) chapter eight of
the City's code, which prohibits a City officer or
employee from the solicitation or acceptance of gifts
prohibited by the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act
(Ethics Act) (5 ILCS 430/1-1 et seq. (West 2014));
(4) the Ethics Act; and (5) article VIII, section 1(a), of
the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art.
VIII, § 1(a)), which provides "[p]ublic funds,
property or credit shall be used only for public
purposes." Plaintiff contends Gleason knew or should
have known his personal use of the police car and officer was
improper because he was then a member of the Illinois Law
Enforcement Training and Standards Board and a former police
6 The complaint further alleged that, in January 2016,
Gleason asked plaintiff to make a public statement supporting
Gleason's request for a new local motor fuel tax at the
City council meeting. Plaintiff refused to make the requested
public statement. Gleason responded with hostility and told
plaintiff to leave his office. The complaint alleged matters
of tax policy were outside the scope of plaintiff's job
duties as police chief.
7 On February 2, 2016, Gleason and the City department heads,
including plaintiff, met at the City's civic center.
During the meeting, Gleason requested input from those
present. When it came to his turn, plaintiff responded the
City had other potential revenue sources and stated his
opposition to a further tax increase. Gleason became furious
and ordered plaintiff to leave the meeting. Later that day
and the next day, Gleason asked plaintiff the following
questions: " 'Do you know who you work for?' and
'Do you want to keep your job as Police Chief?'
" On February 4, 2016, Gleason asked plaintiff to
resign. When plaintiff refused to resign, he received a
written notice of termination.
8 As to his retaliatory discharge claim, plaintiff alleges
his termination was in retaliation for his (1)
"disclosure regarding Gleason's personal use of a
Decatur police car and uniformed officer"; (2)
"refusal to make a public statement at the City Council
meeting supporting Gleason's proposed motor fuel
tax"; and (3) "February 2, 2016 statement in
opposition to increasing taxes when he believed other sources
of income were available to the City." He alleges his
retaliatory termination violated on or more of the following
clear mandates of public policy:
"(1) enforcing the State's criminal code and ethics
regulations, (2) the policy of furthering investigation of a
crime within a police department, (3) preventing the private
use of public resources, in violation of Article VIII(1)(a)
of the Illinois Constitution, (4) protecting the First
Amendment rights of public employees to speak on matters of
public concern outside the scope of their job duties, and (5)
protecting the First Amendment right of a [sic]
public employees to not be coerced by their government
employers into engaging in political speech."
9 Regarding his claim under the Whistleblower Act, plaintiff
asserted he disclosed certain information to Gleason, who was
his sole supervisor and authorized by the City to receive
such information on behalf of the City. He had a reasonable
belief the information disclosed to Gleason concerned
violations of the Illinois Constitution, as well as state
laws, rules, and ethics regulations. Moreover, plaintiff
contends Gleason, acting for and on behalf of the City in his
capacity as city manager, retaliated against him by
terminating his employment due to plaintiff's disclosure
of information to Gleason, which plaintiff reasonably
believed disclosed a violation of state law.
10 In May 2016, the City filed a combined motion to dismiss
the amended complaint under section 2-619.1 of the Code. The
section 2-615 part of the motion asserted plaintiff's
retaliatory discharge claim should be dismissed for failure
to state a clear mandate of public policy undermined by the
discharge of an at-will employee. The City also argued both
claims should be dismissed because they failed to allege
whistleblowing activity. Moreover, the section 2-615 motion
to dismiss contended the allegations regarding the first
amendment failed to state a cause of action and the element
of causation was defeated. The section 2-619 portion of the
motion asserted (1) the allegations in the amended complaint
and Gleason's ...