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Gonzales v. Madigan

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

June 20, 2017

JASON GONZALES, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. MADIGAN, FRIENDS OF MICHAEL J. MADIGAN, 13TH WARD DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATION, PRISONER REVIEW BOARD, SHAW DECREMER, SILVANA TABARES, RAY HANANIA, JOE BARBOSA, and GRASIELA RODRIGUEZ, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge

         In March 2016, Jason Gonzales ran in the primary election hoping to become the Democratic Party's nominee for the District 22 seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. Gonzalez ran against incumbent representative (and Speaker of the House) Michael Madigan and two other candidates who he contends were sham candidates put up by Madigan and his associates in order to split up the Hispanic vote in the district. Gonzales lost the primary. He later filed this suit against Madigan and a number of other defendants, alleging that their conduct during the election violated his rights under the Constitution and state law.

         In March 2017, the Court granted a motion by defendants to dismiss the complaint and granted Gonzales leave to amend his claims against certain defendants. See Gonzales v. Madigan, No. 16 C 7915, 2017 WL 977007 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 14, 2017). Gonzales filed an amended complaint, and defendants have again moved to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendants' motion.

         Background

         Gonzales is a resident of Illinois and an active member of the Chicago community, serving as a member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Spertus Institute, and the Civic Club of Chicago. Sometime prior to 2015, he decided he wanted to run for political office. He believed this would be difficult, however, because he had been convicted of crimes as a teenager. Between 1991 and 1994, Gonzales faced several arrests and felony and misdemeanor convictions related to the unlawful use of credit cards at shopping malls. He served time in jail as well as on probation.

         After his release, Gonzales asked several Illinois governors to grant him a pardon. In January 2015, then-Governor Pat Quinn granted his request for executive clemency and a full pardon with an order for expungement of his record. By October 2015, all of Gonzales's case files had been either expunged or sealed.

         Gonzales then began the process of qualifying to run in the 2016 election for the District 22 seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. In November 2015, he went to the office of the Illinois State Board of Elections to file his nominating petition. Gonzales says that he arrived about 15 minutes before the deadline for filing nominating petitions. While there, he noticed Shaw Decremer, an aide to incumbent Representative Michael Madigan, watching him; he says that Decremer had been "staking out" the office to see if others would file nominating petitions for the District 22 seat. Once Gonzales filed his nominating petition, Decremer "suddenly produced" and filed nominating petitions for two additional candidates: Joe Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez. Am. Compl. ¶ 82. Gonzales alleges that Barbosa and Rodriguez were sham candidates who did not actually intend to run for the seat; he says that that they did not actively campaign for the seat, maintain campaign websites, or otherwise promote their candidacies. Instead, Gonzales claims that they were sham candidates that Madigan instructed Decremer to put up in order to divert Hispanic voters from Gonzales (people of Hispanic origin, Gonzales says, make up seventy percent of the population of District 22).[1]

         Gonzales further alleges that, throughout the campaign, Madigan and others acting in concert with him misinformed voters regarding Gonzales's eligibility for the seat. Gonzales alleges that Madigan used television, internet, and door-to-door advertising to inform voters of Gonzales's past convictions and to inaccurately claim that these convictions made him ineligible to run for political office. Madigan allegedly used his own campaign funds as well as the funds and employees of two political action committees-Friends of Michael J. Madigan (Friends) and 13th Ward Democratic Organization (13th Ward)-to help disseminate this information.

         Gonzales alleges that the other defendants participated in these efforts. First, Gonzales alleges that the Prisoner Review Board (PRB)-the state agency responsible for making clemency recommendations to the governor-disclosed records of his past convictions to a reporter for the Daily Herald. He further states that he observed Silvana Tabares-the representative for District 21 and a close friend of Madigan-at an early voting location telling voters in Spanish that Gonzales was a convicted felon and that he was ineligible to run for office. Finally, Gonzales says that reporter Ray Hanania published similar statements in his columns, blog, and other postings. Gonzales ultimately lost the primary to Madigan.

         In August 2016, Gonzales filed his initial complaint in this case against Madigan, Friends, 13th Ward, the PRB, Decremer, Hanania, Barbosa, and Rodriguez, alleging they violated his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. Gonzales claims that informing voters that he was a convicted felon, after he had received a full gubernatorial pardon, violated his right under the First Amendment to petition the government for redress of grievances. Gonzales also claims that informing voters that he was ineligible to become an elected official due to his past convictions violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Gonzales brings both of these claims against Madigan (counts 1 and 2), Friends (counts 7 and 8), 13th Ward (counts 13 and 14), and Tabares (counts 25 and 26). Gonzales brings a similar First Amendment claim against the PRB, alleging that its disclosure of his criminal record to a reporter violated his right to petition the government for redress of grievances (count 19).

         Gonzales next claims that defendants worked together to register two sham candidates-Barbosa and Rodriguez-for the purposes of diluting the Hispanic vote in the election for District 22 representative. Gonzales claims that this violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Gonzales further claims that this same conduct abridged his right to vote on account of his race, in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment and the federal Voting Rights Act. He brings these claims against Madigan (counts 3 and 4), Friends (counts 9 and 10), 13th Ward (counts 15 and 16), Decremer (counts 23 and 24), Tabares (counts 27 and 28), Barbosa (counts 33 and 34), and Rodriguez (counts 35 and 36). Finally, Gonzales claims that all nine of the defendants, including Hanania, engaged in a conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights (count 37).

         Gonzales also asserts state law claims. Gonzales claims that informing voters that he was a convicted felon constitutes defamation per se under Illinois law. Gonzales claims that the same conduct also placed him in a false light in violation of Illinois law. He brings these claims against Madigan (counts 5 and 6), Friends (counts 11 and 12), 13th Ward (counts 17 and 18), the PRB (counts 20 and 21), Tabares (counts 29 and 30), and Hanania (counts 31 and 32). Gonzales claims that the PRB's disclosure of his criminal record to Lester constitutes unlawful disclosure in violation of 730 ILCS 5/3-5-1 (count 22). Gonzales also claims that all nine of the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to prevent voters from supporting him in violation of 10 ILCS 5/29-18 (count 38), and deprived him of his constitutional rights in violation of 10 ILCS 5/29-17 (count 39).

         In November 2016, the PRB filed a motion to dismiss in which it argued that it is not a "person" suable under section 1983 and that Gonzales failed to allege the deprivation of any constitutional right. The Court agreed with the PRB on both grounds and dismissed with prejudice Gonzales's federal claims against the PRB. The remaining defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the federal claims against them on two grounds: (1) Gonzales failed to allege that defendants acted under color of state law; and (2) he failed to allege the deprivation of any federal constitutional right. The Court determined that Gonzales failed to allege that the remaining defendants acted under color of state law and dismissed all of his federal claims against those defendants, including the claim of civil conspiracy. The Court did not consider defendants' remaining arguments.

         The Court granted Gonzales leave to amend his complaint; the Court's order said that unless he filed an amended complaint that included at least one viable federal claim, the Court would dismiss his federal claims with prejudice. Gonzales filed his amended complaint on March 29, 2017, ...


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