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Wheeler v. Piazza

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

February 13, 2018

PAUL WHEELER, Plaintiff,
PETER PIAZZA, et al., Defendants.


          Robert M. Dow, Jr. & United States District Judge

         In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Paul Wheeler (“Plaintiff”) brings claims against Defendants Peter Piazza, Sydney Roberts, Donnelle Grygiel, and Elmer Garza (“Defendants”) for violation of the First Amendment, violation of Plaintiff's due process rights, and conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as violations of state law. Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion [33] to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion [33] is granted. Counts I through VII are dismissed without prejudice. To the extent that Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants in their official capacities for monetary damages, these claims are dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff is given until March 13, 2018 to file an amended complaint consistent with this opinion, if Plaintiff believes that he can overcome the deficiencies identified below. This case is set for further status hearing on March 20, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff is a law enforcement officer for the Illinois Secretary of State Department of Police (“ISOS Police”) and has been employed in that capacity since May 2010. [26, ¶ 5.]

         According to Plaintiff, during all relevant times alleged in the First Amended Complaint, Defendant Sydney Roberts was the Director of the ISOS Police; Defendant Peter Piazza was the Deputy Director of the ISOS Police; Defendant Donnelle Grygiel was a Captain of the ISOS Police; and Defendant Elmer Garza was an Acting Sergeant or Sergeant of the ISOS Police. [Id., ¶¶ 6-9.] All Defendants are named in the First Amended Complaint in both their individual and official capacities. [Id.]

         Plaintiff alleges that, beginning in October 2013 and continuing through June 2014, Plaintiff met with the Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”), members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and an investigator for the DuPage County State's Attorney's Division of Investigation to report alleged misconduct and abuse by ISOS Police personnel. [Id., ¶¶ 11-12.] Plaintiff reported several general allegations of misconduct; Plaintiff also reported several allegations specific to Defendant Piazza (including that Defendant Piazza ordered Plaintiff to violate the due process rights of a criminal defendant and was often absent from duty without explanation), and specific to Defendant Garza (that Defendant Garza threatened Plaintiff when Plaintiff learned of potential perjury by an individual with close ties to an Illinois politician). [Id. ¶ 14.] The OIG investigated the alleged misconduct that Plaintiff reported and, at some point during the investigation, Defendants became aware of these reports. [Id., ¶ 15.]

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants met and conspired to retaliate against Plaintiff for reporting this alleged misconduct. Specifically, Defendants agreed to place Plaintiff on administrative leave in order to conduct a sham investigation into a March 20, 2015 traffic stop of a stopped vehicle conducted by Plaintiff (the “traffic stop”). [Id., ¶¶ 19-20.] During the traffic stop, Plaintiff lawfully arrested the stopped vehicle's passenger and charged that passenger with several criminal violations. [Id., ¶ 17.] Plaintiff also advised the vehicle's driver that he would obtain a warrant for her arrest, but Defendant Piazza later ordered Plaintiff not to do so. [Id., ¶¶ 17-18.]

         The ISOS Police subsequently initiated an investigation into Plaintiff's conduct during the traffic stop. On March 30, 2015, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation. [Id., ¶ 21.] When he was placed on leave, Plaintiff was ordered to surrender his law enforcement credentials and state-owned supplies, thus stripping him of his law-enforcement authority, and his access to Secretary of State premises was limited. [Id.] Plaintiff was initially informed that he would be on administrative leave for a maximum of 45 days. [Id.] However, beginning in May 2015, Defendants sent Plaintiff several letters delaying the expiration of his leave, and Plaintiff did not return to work until November 2, 2015. [Id., ¶¶ 27, 29-31, 36, 39-41.]

         Plaintiff alleges that this investigation into the traffic stop was a sham investigation that Defendants agreed to conduct in retaliation for Plaintiff's reports of misconduct: Defendants did not speak to the driver or passenger of the stopped vehicle before placing him on administrative leave, and neither individual made a citizen's complaint against Plaintiff before Plaintiff was placed on leave. [Id., ¶ 22.] Furthermore, Defendant Grygiel ordered another ISOS Police employee to contact the driver and the passenger from the traffic stop to solicit a citizen's complaint after Plaintiff had already been placed on leave, and the passenger signed such a complaint weeks after Plaintiff's leave had started. [Id., ¶¶ 24, 26.] Defendants also directed the Kane County State's Attorney to dismiss the pending charges against the lawfully-arrested passenger on March 26, 2015. [Id., ¶ 25.]

         While still on leave, Plaintiff was interrogated by Lt. James Murphy of the ISOS Police as part of the investigation into the traffic stop. [Id., ¶ 28.] This interrogation took place on May 13, 2015, at the direction of Defendants, and it was recorded. [Id.] In August 2015, Lt. Murphy informed Plaintiff that he would need to conduct another interrogation of Plaintiff due to issues with the recording and transcript of the first one in May. [Id., ¶ 32.] Another, substantially similar, interrogation of Plaintiff by Lt. Murphy took place in September 2015. [Id., ¶ 38.] Plaintiff requested a transcript of his May 2015 interrogation on multiple occasions. Defendants initially refused to provide Plaintiff with a transcript of whatever portion of this first interrogation was salvageable, but, after Plaintiff filed a grievance related to this issue, Defendant Roberts said that a copy of the transcript would be provided. [Id., ¶¶ 33-34, 37.] Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' conduct in connection with these interrogations violated several provisions of the Illinois Uniform Peace Officer's Disciplinary Act. [Id., ¶¶ 33, 61.]

         Plaintiff's leave ended on October 30, 2015, and Plaintiff reported for duty on November 2, 2015. At the time he reported for duty, Plaintiff was informed via letter from Defendant Roberts of the findings from the ISOS Police investigation into the traffic stop. [Id., ¶ 42.] Plaintiff was notified that, based on these findings, he would be suspended for 18 days. [Id.] Plaintiff filed a grievance relating to his suspension, which was still pending at the time the First Amended Complaint was filed. [Id., ¶¶ 43-44.] Plaintiff served his suspension between January 4, 2016, and January 28, 2016. [Id., ¶ 45.] When Plaintiff returned to work, he was subject to certain restrictions that similarly situated law enforcement officers were not subject to. Specifically, he was assigned to permanent desk duty and ordered not to take any enforcement actions except in emergencies. [Id.]

         Plaintiff thereafter filed this action against Defendants in March 2016. [See 1.] Defendants moved to dismiss this initial complaint for failure to state a claim, [see 16], which was stricken without prejudice after Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, [see 26]. In the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings Section 1983 claims against all Defendants in their individual and official capacities for using a sham investigation to unlawfully retaliate against Plaintiff for engaging in protected speech, in violation of the First Amendment (Count I); for conducting a sham and suspect investigation into the traffic stop, thus denying Plaintiff his right to due process under Illinois law and the Fourteenth Amendment (Count II); and conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights (Count III). Plaintiff also brings claims against all Defendants for violation of the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 430/15-10 (Count IV); for violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174/1 et seq. (Count V); for state law conspiracy (Count VI); and for indemnification (Count VII). Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion [33] to dismiss all claims in the First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)) (alteration in original). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all of Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Killingsworth v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants move to dismiss all claims in the First Amended Complaint, arguing that each of ...

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