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Cox v. Zalas

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

January 16, 2018

PAUL E. COX, Plaintiff,
DEANNA L. ZALAS, et al., Defendants.


          Andrea R. Wood, United States District Judge

         In May 2009, Plaintiff Paul Cox was injured while performing his duties as a police officer for the Cook County Sheriff's Police Department. Due to the injury, Cox was receiving temporary benefits and also applied to the Cook County Pension Fund (“Fund”) for permanent disability benefits.[1] But Cox's temporary benefits were terminated in May 2014 and his request for permanent benefits was not processed. Accordingly, Cox has filed this lawsuit alleging violations of his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss his Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 66.) For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         In May 2009, Cox, an officer with the Sheriff's Police Department, suffered an injury in the line of duty for which he required surgery. (SAC ¶¶ 13, 14, Dkt. No. 43.) He was on injured on-duty status for some time afterwards. (Id. ¶ 15.) In 2012, Cox reached the maximum point of his expected physical improvement from the surgery and rehabilitation but still had a 25-pound restriction on lifting with his right arm. (Id. ¶ 16.) He returned to work on light-duty status but soon exhausted his eligibility for such work. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.) Cox's status was then changed back to “injury on duty” and his temporary benefits were reinstated. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         Around June 2013, Cox submitted an application to the Fund seeking permanent disability benefits. He also filed a workers' compensation claim; this was required to obtain permanent disability benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) In April 2014, the Sheriff's Police Department offered Cox two positions that would accommodate his physical restrictions. However, those positions were not with the Sherriff's Police Department, so Cox refused them. As a result, Cox's temporary benefits were terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 25-27, 29.) At the end of 2014, Cox provided the Fund with a copy of the settlement agreement for his worker's compensation claim. And in 2015, Cox received various letters from the Fund that made him believe he was about to receive permanent benefits. As it turned out, however, the Fund did not consider Cox to have an open application for permanent benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 33, 35.)

         At some point Cox learned that his application for permanent benefits was not open. He does not allege when he learned this, but it is clear that he did because he subsequently filed a new application for permanent benefits in 2016. (Id. ¶ 36.) In order to have the application processed, Cox had to provide a document completed by an attending physician-the document known as the Attending Physician Statement. Cox acknowledges that he did not submit the required document but contends that he needed a claim number to submit the document and he was not provided with one. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 38.)

         Cox now brings the following claims-all based on the Due Process Clause. Count I asserts a claim against Defendant Deanna Zalas, in her official capacity as the Director of the Cook County Department of Risk Management, alleging that Cox's due process rights were violated because his temporary benefits were paid late. Notably, Cox does not claim that he did not receive the temporary benefits, just that the payments were delayed. (Id. ¶¶ 40-47.) Count II also asserts a claim against Zalas, but in her individual capacity rather than her official capacity. It alleges that Zalas terminated Cox's temporary benefits without advising him of his right to notice and a hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 48-52.) Finally, Count III asserts a claim against Defendants Alexis Herrera, Patrick J. McFadden, Diahann Goode, John E. Fitzgerald, Brent Lewandowski, Patrick Nester, Lawrence L. Wilson, Joseph Nevius, and Dennis White, in their official capacities as Trustees of the Fund. Cox claims that the Trustees violated his due process rights because his application for permanent benefits was not processed in a timely manner. (Id. ¶¶ 53-60.)[3]Defendants have moved to dismiss all of these claims.


         I. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).[4] A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “must construe [the complaint] in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” Carlson v. CSX Transp., Inc., 758 F.3d 819, 826 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted).

         In considering the sufficiency of a due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court must determine: (1) whether the plaintiff was deprived of a protected interest, and (2) what process is due. Leavell v. Illinois Dep't of Nat. Res., 600 F.3d 798, 804 (7th Cir. 2010).

         II. Delay in Temporary Benefits Payments (Count I)

         In Count I of the SAC, Cox alleges that his temporary benefits were delayed. He attributes those delays to Zalas, who was the Director of the Cook County Department of Risk Management. Cox claims that, as a policymaker for the department, Zalas failed to ensure that his payments were timely. In seeking dismissal of Count I, Defendants argue that Cox did not have a protected interest in receiving temporary benefits without delay.

         “A disability benefit that is a matter of right, not of grace, is a property right within the meaning of the due process clause.” Schroeder v. City of Chicago, 927 F.2d 957, 959 (7th Cir. 1991). “If [a person] received [a benefit] after he was entitled to receive it, then he was deprived of an entitlement, and entitlements are what the due process clause has been held to protect in the name of ‘property.'” Id. (emphasis in original). To use an example from Schroeder, if a plaintiff is entitled to receive $1, 000 on May 1 but received it on May 2, there has been a deprivation of an entitlement. “It is a limited, temporary, and easily reparable ...

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