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Allen v. City of Moline

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

November 21, 2017

TODD ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MOLINE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          James E. Shadid Chief United States District Judge

         Now before the Court are the Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (D. 11)[1] and the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (D. 12). For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' Motion (D. 11) is DENIED in part and GRANTED in part.

         Background

         The Plaintiff, Todd Allen, filed his Complaint in February 2017 against the City of Moline and the following individuals: Alderman Stephanie Acri, Alderman John Zelnio, Alderman Mike Wendt, Alderman David Parker, Kevin Irby, and Scott Houzenga. (D. 1). The Plaintiff seeks damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) alleging violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and Conspiracy by all Defendants. Id. He further alleges defamation by Parker, Irby, and Zelnio.

         The Plaintiff has been a firefighter for the City of Moline since 1993 and is currently serving as a Battalion Chief. Defendants Irby and Houzenga are also City of Moline firefighters. Defendants Acri, Zelnio, Wendt, and Parker served as elected alderman for the City of Moline during all relevant times. The Plaintiff's now-wife, Heather Allen (“Heather”), began working for the City of Moline fire department in 2004, when the Plaintiff was already serving as Battalion Chief.

         The Plaintiff alleges the Defendants retaliated against him when: (1) Houzenga filed a lawsuit against him; (2) Houzenga, Irby, “and others” defamed him; (3) Houzenga threatened him in front of his son; (4) an unknown person vandalized his house and broke some of his windows; (5) Houzenga called an unidentified employee “Todd's boy” after the unidentified employee accused Houzenga of cheating on a work-related test-resulting in Houzenga and Irby retaliating against the employee; (6) false and defamatory statements about him were published; and (7) the Defendants made accusations and initiated investigations into him forging timekeeping records. (D. 1 at pp. 8-10).

         The Plaintiff claims that Heather was subjected to sexual harassment at the fire department until she was constructively discharged in 2010. He says he reported Heather's complaints up the chain of command and attempted to ensure they were addressed. The Plaintiff asserts that Houzenga was one of the individuals sexually harassing Heather. According to the Plaintiff, Houzenga filed a lawsuit against him in 2012, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, which was dismissed in 2014.

         In March 2016, the City conducted an initial investigation into allegations of timekeeping irregularities within the fire department. The Plaintiff's timekeeping and use of flex time were investigated. While the Plaintiff was not found to have engaged in any misconduct, the department's payroll system was found to be flawed, resulting in unintentional timekeeping errors, clerical errors, and inadvertent miscoding.

         In the wake of the investigation, the Plaintiff alleges that Irby falsely accused him of engaging in misconduct and stealing time off. He says Irby provided this false information to the City Council. Irby, Acri, Wendt, and Parker initiated a second investigation into timekeeping irregularities within the department, hiring the law firm of Lane & Waterman to conduct it. The Plaintiff claims the second investigation was used by the Defendants to influence the City's 2017 mayoral election. Acri was running in that election as a write-in candidate. The Plaintiff insists he had no affiliation with Acri's candidacy for mayor.

         The Plaintiff further alleges that in approximately October 2016, Zelnio made false statements that he stole time off from the City. He also claims that sometime around November 2016, Irby made the same allegation and falsely stated that the Plaintiff had an affair. Additionally, the Plaintiff claims that in January 2017, Parker falsely told people that a City employee was fired for approving the Plaintiff's inaccurate timekeeping records.

         During the second investigation into timekeeping irregularities, an attorney from Lane & Waterman interviewed the Plaintiff. The attorney mentioned the Plaintiff's prior complaints about Houzenga and Irby harassing him and asked questions about Heather.

         The Defendants now move to dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Defendants argue that each of the Plaintiff's counts are faulty. Specifically, they claim: (1) Count I fails to state a claim, or, in the alternative, all of the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (2) Count II only states a claim for retaliatory investigation and fails to state a claim against Zelnio or Houzenga; (3) Count III is barred by the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine or otherwise fails to state a plausible entitlement to relief; and (4) the claims in Count IV are barred by absolute privilege. (D. 11 at pp. 6-10).

         Legal Standard

         In reviewing the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts the Plaintiff's factual allegations as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Allegations stated in the form of legal conclusions, however, are insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012). A complaint must contain a short and plain statement of the plaintiff's claim, sufficient to show entitlement to relief and to notify the defendants of the allegations against them. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). This standard is met if the plaintiff describes in sufficient factual detail enough to suggest a right to relief beyond a speculative level. Id.; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); EEOC v. Concentra Health Srvs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). In short, “the plaintiff must give enough details about the ...


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