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Kempferr v. Wolff

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 5, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment in this First Amendment retaliation case (Doc. 13). Plaintiff Kenneth M. Kempfer, Jr. has responded to the motion (Doc. 16).

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment must be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

         The initial summary judgment burden of production is on the moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013). Where the non-moving party carries the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production in one of two ways. It may present evidence that affirmatively negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), or it may point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case without actually submitting any evidence, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169. Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

         In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1168. A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of “some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if “a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         II. Facts

         Viewing all the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in Kempfer's favor, the Court finds the following relevant facts for the purpose of this motion.

         In December 1994, Kempfer was hired by defendant Randolph County, Illinois (the “County”), to work in the Randolph County Sheriff's Office. In June 2014, Kempfer and the County entered into an early retirement agreement (“ERA”) under which Kempfer agreed that his employment would terminate on December 31, 2014. The ERA also contained a release of claims against the County and its employees. Under the agreement, the County allowed Kempfer to use his accrued sick leave for the entire time between entering into the ERA and the end of his employment on December 31, 2014.

         The sheriff had the authority to appoint a Sheriff's Office employee to serve as a school resource officer for the Sparta Community School District #140 (the “District”). The collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) governing the relationship between the County and its employees required the sheriff to offer this position to full-time deputies first, then to supervisors. If no one in these positions volunteered, a part-time deputy could be assigned to the position. CBA § 26.8 (Doc. 14-2). In August 2014, while he was still technically a full-time employee of the County but not reporting to work, Randolph County Sheriff Michael Hoelscher commissioned Kempfer to serve as a school resource officer for the District. Hoelscher arranged for the District to pay Kempfer directly rather than having the sheriff's department pay Kempfer for his service at the school.

         Around the same time, defendant Shannon Wolff was challenging Hoelscher for the position of Randolph County sheriff in the 2014 general election. Kempfer supported and campaigned for Hoelscher, but Wolff ended up winning the election. Wolff became sheriff on December 1, 2014.

         After the election but before he took office, Wolff told Hoelscher he was not going to renew Kempfer's commission as the District's school resource officer because Wolff did not like the things Kempfer had said about him during the campaign. He told Kempfer the same thing, and suggested that if he wanted to keep his position as the District's school resource officer, he would have to seek a commission from another law enforcement agency such as the Sparta Police Department. Other factors played into Wolff's decision not to renew Kempfer's commission. He thought it was unethical for Kempfer to be drawing a paycheck from the County and the District at the same time while potentially subjecting the County to liability for his conduct as a school resource officer. He also thought there was a conflict because the County and the District both had control over Kempfer, presenting uncertainty about to whom Kempfer answered for his conduct. At the time of his decision, Wolff knew that Kempfer had an agreement with the County to retire early, but he was not aware of the details of the agreement, including the date Kempfer agreed his employment would terminate. Wolff did not see the ERA itself until this lawsuit.

         Kempfer continued to work as the District's school resource officer until the school let out for Christmas break. However, true to his word, Wolff did not renew Kempfer's commission and instead commissioned another sheriff's deputy to be the school resource officer in January 2015.

         Kempfer filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in May 2016. He alleges that Wolff retaliated against him because of his political activities in violation of the First Amendment (Counts I and II). He seeks to hold the County liable for Wolff's conduct under Monell on the grounds that Wolff was a policy-maker for the County (Count III). See Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (holding that a municipality can be ...

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