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McPartlin v. County of Cook

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

February 10, 2018

COUNTY OF COOK, TONI PRECKWINKLE, individually and in her official capacity, and PETER N. SILVESTRI, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.


          Honorable Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Frank McPartlin alleges that he was fired from his job as a Special Assistant in the Cook County Bureau of Administration in retaliation for political activity protected by the First Amendment. He filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois common law against three defendants: Cook County; Toni Preckwinkle, the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners; and Peter Silvestri, a Commissioner on the Board.[1] (For convenience’s sake, the Defendants collectively will be referred to as the County unless context dictates otherwise.) The County now moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). R. 13, Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss.[2] The defense argues that McPartlin could be fired for political reasons because he was employed in a “Shakman-exempt” position. R. 14, Defs.’ Br. at 5. In the alternative, they argue that Preckwinkle and Silvestri are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 8. The County also contends that McPartlin’s state law claims are time-barred under the Illinois Governmental Tort Immunity Act. Id. at 11. For the reasons discussed below, the County’s motion is granted as to McPartlin’s First Amendment claims, and the Court relinquishes supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims if and when the dismissal of the federal claims becomes final.

         I. Background

         For the purpose of this motion, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint. McPartlin has held several positions with Cook County over the years. R. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 9-13. In 1996, he started out as an Operating Engineer at the Department of Facilities Management. Id. ¶ 9. He left County employment in 1998, but was rehired in 2008 as a Coordinator in the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. He again left County employment in 2010. Id. ¶ 12. In March 2011, McPartlin was again hired by the County, this time as a Special Assistant assigned to the Bureau of Administration. Id. ¶ 13. He was fired from that position on January 16, 2015. Id. ¶ 40.

         Throughout his employment with the County, McPartlin was active in local politics. He placed signs in front of his home supporting political organizations and candidates, and later worked as a campaign manager on local campaigns. Id. ¶¶ 15, 19, 26. In early April 2011, he was appointed the director of the Elmwood Park Neighborhood Civic Organization (EPNCO). Id. ¶ 19. This is when McPartlin’s run-ins with Silvestri began. Id. ¶ 20. Specifically, in May 2011, EPNCO, the Better Government Association,[3] and Fox News started an investigation into possible corruption and misconduct amongst the Village of Elmwood Park’s leadership; Silvestri was the Village President. Compl. ¶ 20. In June 2011, the BGA and Fox (but not EPNCO) published an article asserting that Elmwood Park employees performed work on Silvestri’s house while being paid from the Village’s coffers. Id. ¶ 21. A few months later, in October 2011, the BGA and Fox (again, not EPNCO) published an article alleging that Elmwood Park auxiliary police officers performed political campaign work for Silvestri while being paid by the Village (and as a condition of employment). Id. ¶ 22. In February 2012, the BGA and Fox alleged that non-residents with ties to Silvestri had voted in Village elections. Id. ¶ 23. According to McPartlin, on around July 20, 2012, Silvestri told McPartlin to resign as director of EPNCO. Id. ¶ 24.

         Eventually, in December 2013, McPartlin announced that he was going to run for office himself, specifically for the Ninth District seat-Silvestri’s seat-on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Id. ¶¶ 29, 31. McPartlin alleges that Silvestri informed him that if he continued his run for Commissioner, McPartlin would lose his job with the County Id. ¶ 34. Running as the Democrat in the November 2014 race, McPartlin lost to Silvestri. Id. ¶¶ 31, 38. Two months after the election loss, on January 16, 2015, McPartlin was fired without any explanation. Id. ¶ 40.

         II. Standard of Review

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of the Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). In order to survive such a challenge, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint at this stage, factual allegations are to be assumed true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         III. Analysis

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         As an initial matter, the County moves to dismiss any claims against Preckwinkle and Silvestri in their official capacities. Defs.’ Br. at 4. They argue that those claims are redundant because official capacity claims are in reality claims against the municipality itself, and the municipality is already named in the suit. Id. McPartlin responds that the claims are not redundant, because the County is not named in all counts of the complaint. R. 26, Pl.’s Resp. Br. at 4.

         In suits against public officials, personal-capacity suits and official-capacity suits are distinct. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (“Proper application of this principle … requires careful adherence to the distinction between personal- and official-capacity action suits.”). While “[p]ersonal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law,” official-capacity suits “represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Because suing someone in his or her “official” capacity is just the same as suing the government, “an official capacity suit is … to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Id. at 166 (citing Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72 (1985)).

         Here, Count One alleges that Cook County is liable for the retaliatory firing of McPartlin, and that simply duplicates the official-capacity claims in Counts Two and Three (both of which also allege retaliatory discharge). So the redundant official-capacity claims in Counts Two and Three are dismissed in favor of Count One. (As discussed below, the Court proposes to relinquish jurisdiction over the state-law claims, so there is no need to address the official-capacity claims in Counts Four, Five, and Six.)

         B. Shakman-E ...

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