United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
R. Herndon United States District Judge
before the Court is defendant, Belleville Area Special
Services Cooperative (hereinafter “BASSC”),
motion to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint
(Doc. 15) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). Plaintiff Ruth Hamerski (hereinafter
“Hamerski”), opposes the motion on grounds that
she has pled sufficient facts to meet the standard for Rule
12(b)(6) dismissal (Docs. 25 & 26). For the reasons
explained below, the Court DENIES defendant's motion to
dismiss (Doc. 23).
began her employment with defendant BASSC on July 1, 2007, as
an administrator for instructional programs. (Doc. 15, ¶
5). At that time, she had twenty-six years of experience as a
teacher and special education department chair at Mt. Vernon
High School. (Doc. 15, ¶ 5). BASSC is a federally funded
educational cooperative that implements and enforces the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (hereinafter
“IDEA”). (Doc. 15, ¶ 4). It provides special
education services to children between elementary and high
school levels that have qualified disabilities under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (hereinafter
“ADA”), and whom are entitled to special
education under the IDEA. (Doc. 15, ¶ 5).
2008, plaintiff was assigned to be the interim principal of
Pathways school. (Doc. 15, ¶ 7). Plaintiff soon found
Pathways was “both legally and ethically in
violation” of the ADA and IDEA. (Doc. 15, ¶ 7).
The children were allegedly “routinely being arrested
by the police at the staff members' behest as a means of
control, ” with a resulting criminal charge of
“disturbing the peace….” (Doc. 15, ¶
7). As a result of a hostile environment between the staff
and students, plaintiff created “written policies
restricting the use of arrests, isolation, seclusion and
restraint.” (Doc. 15, ¶ 7).
alleges that one paraprofessional, Melissa Stines, had to be
removed by plaintiff from the high school and elementary
school due to “her inability to control her own
behavior with students.” (Doc. 15, ¶ 8). Plaintiff
allegedly had to have Ms. Stines escorted off the campus
after she went on a “tirade with young students
present” and refused to leave the building. (Doc. 15,
¶ 8). Ms. Stines then allegedly “physically
threatened Plaintiff, and… upon resigning from BASSC,
promised that Plaintiff ‘will hear from me
again.'” (Doc. 15, ¶ 8).
Stines was and continues to be married to Matt Stines, who at
the time was “being groomed to become a superintendent
at Grant Illini” school. (Doc. 15, ¶ 9). This
would entitle Mr. Stines to membership on the BASSC executive
board, which consisted of the superintendents from the
twenty-three member schools. (Doc. 15, ¶ 9). Plaintiff
alleges that Mr. Stines “complained repeatedly in
derogatory terms” to her supervisor, BASSC executive
director Jeff Daugherty. (Doc. 15, ¶ 9). In 2009, Mr.
Stines formed a committee to study and oversee the Pathways
School. (Doc. 15, ¶ 9). He also allegedly sought to keep
plaintiff from membership, despite her job description
including oversight of the School's programs. (Doc. 15,
¶ 9). Mr. Stines became the chair of the executive
committee in 2011. (Doc. 15, ¶ 10).
2013, plaintiff announced that she intended to retire in 2017
or 2018. (Doc. 15, ¶ 10). Plaintiff alleges that she was
entitled to receive a 6% pay increase over her final four
years at Pathways School, but that Mr. Stines only offered
her a 3% raise. (Doc. 15, ¶ 10). According to plaintiff,
this offering was “approximately one-half the dollar
amount that was given to the last retiring administrator, and
the [same as] current retiring teachers.” (Doc. 15,
¶ 10). On October 16, 2013, however, plaintiff and
defendant entered into a four year written contract that
stated she could only be discharged “for just
cause.” (Doc. 15, ¶ 11). If dismissal were to
occur, plaintiff would be entitled to written notice of the
charges, notice of hearing, a full hearing to confront and
cross-examine witnesses and evidence, and representation by
legal counsel. (Doc. 15, ¶ 11).
2007 and January 2015, plaintiff states that she received
“'excellent' in virtually every category”
of her annual performance appraisals conducted by executive
director Daugherty. (Doc. 15, ¶ 12). In 2015, however,
plaintiff states that she would have “latent,
unresolved issues in the mind of Matt Stines, and his wife,
Melissa Stines.” (Doc. 15, ¶ 13). Mr. Stines, in
his capacity as chair and president of the executive board,
allegedly hired his counsel of record to investigate
plaintiff. (Doc. 15, ¶ 14). Plaintiff was subsequently
informed on March 13, 2015, by executive director Daugherty
that she was being criticized by three subordinates regarding
the implementation of the above referenced written policies.
(Doc. 15, ¶ 15). Plaintiff states her policies were
compliant with the IDEA and were actually adopted and
approved by the BASSC executive board, as well as the
Pathways committee on which Mr. Stines was the chairman.
(Doc. 15, ¶ 15). Thus, plaintiff alleges she was being
criticized “by the very people that approved” the
policies. (Doc. 15, ¶ 15).
same March 13, 2015, discussion, plaintiff was informed that
both she and Mr. Daugherty were to appear at the law office
of Barney Mundorf on Monday, March 16, 2015, regarding the
investigation ordered by Mr. Stines. (Doc. 15, ¶ 16).
Mr. Daugherty and plaintiff were allegedly instructed not to
talk to each other over the weekend. (Doc. 15, ¶ 16).
Plaintiff states that when she appeared, she was not allowed
to explain the accusations being made by Mr. Mundorf.
(Doc.15, ¶ 17). The accusations allegedly included the
following: (1) “being negligent in her duties regarding
training of teachers”; (2) “lying about eight (8)
claimed work days in July, 2014”; (3) “her IDEA
instructions on restraint and arrest of children from
calendar year 2008 at Pathways”; and, (4)
“whether she told a subordinate administrator to keep
illegal, confiscated drugs in his desk.” (Doc. 15,
¶ 17). These allegations, according to Mr. Mundorf, were
coming from the same three subordinate employees who had
criticized plaintiff, and whom were allegedly sought out by
Mr. Stines. (Doc. 15, ¶ 18). Plaintiff states those
subordinates are only three of fifty-four over which she had
direct supervision, and three of eighty-three over which she
had indirect supervision. (Doc. 15, ¶ 18).
March 18, 2015, Jeff Daugherty and plaintiff were then
summoned to a full executive board meeting, at which neither
were allegedly allowed to talk. (Doc. 15, ¶ 19).
Instead, Mr. Stines and Mr. Mundorf presented the findings of
their investigation to the other superintendents. (Doc. 15,
¶ 19). The full board then allegedly went into a closed
session, but took no action or votes regarding Mr. Daugherty
or plaintiff's employment. (Doc. 15, ¶ 19).
Following the meeting, Mr. Stines and Mr. Mundorf allegedly
took Mr. Daugherty and plaintiff individually into a
conference room. (Doc. 15, ¶ 20). First, Mr. Stines and
Mr. Mundorf spoke to Mr. Daugherty, at which point plaintiff
claims a “tactic [was] employed… [to] accus[e]
him of improper conduct, [which] removed him from advocating
for Plaintiff.” (Doc. 15, ¶ 20). His employment
was not threatened. (Doc. 15, ¶ 20).
plaintiff was informed that the “'most serious act
of misconduct alleged against her was her enforcement of the
BASSC policy regarding IDEA student arrests and restraints
from calendar year 2008.” (Doc. 15, ¶ 21). Thus,
plaintiff believes she was being criticized for advocating
for IDEA students. (Doc. 15, ¶ 21). The conversation
ended with plaintiff being informed that she had the two
following options: (1) “retire on June 30, 2015, at her
current pay level”; or, (2) “be demoted and
reassigned as a teacher with substantially less pay.”
(Doc. 15, ¶ 21). The following day, March 19, 2015,
plaintiff received a written letter memorializing the two
options and giving her four days to make a decision. (Doc.
15, ¶ 22). Plaintiff claims that at no time was she
given the opportunity to present her side of the accusations,
have a hearing to confront and cross-examine her accusers, or
present her own evidence and be represented by counsel. (Doc.
15, ¶ 23).
Motion to Dismiss
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Gen. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge
No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). The Supreme
Court explained in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), that to withstand Rule 12(b)(6)
dismissal, a complaint “does not need detailed factual
allegations, ” but must contain “enough facts to
state a claim for relief that is plausible on its
face.” 550 U.S. at 570.
and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), retooled
federal pleading standards, but notice pleading remains all
that is required in a complaint. “A plaintiff still
must provide only ‘enough detail to give the defendant
fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which
it rests and, through his allegations, show that it is
plausible, rather than merely speculative, that he is
entitled to relief.'” Tamayo v.
Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008)
(citation omitted). In making this assessment, the district
court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations
and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's
favor. See Rujawitz v. Martin, 561 F.3d 685, 688
(7th Cir. 2009); St. John's United Church of Christ
v. City of Chi., 502 F.3d 616, 625 (7th Cir. 2007).
above standard applies to civil rights and municipal
liability cases, as “a federal court may not apply a
heightened pleading standard more stringent than the usual
Rule 8(a) pleading requirements.” See Estate of
Sims ex rel. Sims v. Cnty of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 514
(7th Cir. 2007) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County
Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S.
163, 165 (1993)). In particular, the Seventh Circuit has
acknowledged that “district courts continue to struggle
with… exactly what a plaintiff bringing a municipal
liability suit must plead to survive a motion to
dismiss….” See McCormick v. City of
Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 324 (7th Cir. 2000). For this
reason, it clarified in McCormick that notice
pleading is all that is required, as “plaintiff need
not ‘allege all, or any of the facts logically entailed
by the claim… A plaintiff does not have to plead
evidence…. [A] complaint does not fail to state a
claim merely because it does not set forth a complete and
convincing picture of the alleged wrongdoing.'”
Id. at 325 (quoting Payton v.
Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, 184
F.3d 623, 626-27 (7th Cir. 1999) (internal citations
believes her two employment options were “calculated to
force [her] to quit- a constructive discharge.” (Doc.
15, ¶ 24). That is, she does not believe anyone
“in their right mind would” accept a demotion
from an administrative to a teaching position, thereby
significantly reducing her salary in the years from which her
retirement pay would be calculated. (Doc. 15, ¶ 24). As
a result, she brings her five count first amended complaint.
The counts allege as follows: (1) a violation of
plaintiff's property interest in employment by virtue of
her written contract under the Fourteenth Amendment of the
United States Constitution; (2) a violation of
plaintiff's due process rights under the Fourteenth
Amendment of the United States Constitution for not affording
a “name-clearing” hearing; (3) a violation of
plaintiff's liberty interest under the Fourteenth
Amendment of the United States Constitution for accusing her
of “illegal acts, incompetence, and unfitness in her
profession”; (4) a violation of Titles I and II of the
ADA for retaliating against plaintiff after she advocated for
the students protected under that statute and the IDEA; and,
(5) a breach of plaintiff's employment contract. (Doc.
15, ¶ 25). Each count will be analyzed in turn.
Count I: Violation of Fourteenth Amendment ...