United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge
matter is now before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17) filed by
Defendants McLean County, McLean County Public Defender Carla
Barnes (“Barnes”), and McLean County
Administrator Bill Wasson (“Wasson”) (referred to
collectively as “Defendants”). For the reasons
stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART.
Laura McBride (“Plaintiff”), is a licensed
private investigator who began her employment with the McLean
County Public Defender's Office in January 1997 and was
eventually promoted to Criminal Defense Investigator, a
position which she held from July 2005 to December 2017. (ECF
No. 3 at 9). Plaintiff initially filed a Pro Se Complaint in
this Court on November 21, 2018 (ECF No. 1) claiming
violations of the First Amendment as well as a state law
claim for the Illinois Whistleblowers Act against the
Defendants. An Amended Complaint (ECF No. 3) was filed on
February 15, 2019. The Amended Complaint named the same
Defendants as the Pro Se Complaint and claimed: (1) a First
Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
Barnes and Wasson; (2) a First Amendment conspiracy under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against Barnes and Wasson; (3) a section
1983 Monell claim for violation of Plaintiff's
First Amendment rights against all Defendants; and (4) a
violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 730 ILCS
174/20.1, against all Defendants. On May 3, 2019, Defendants
filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint
with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
(ECF No. 17). This Opinion follows.
action stems from the December 31, 2017 termination of
Plaintiff's employment as a Criminal Defense Investigator
in the Public Defender's Office through the McLean County
Board's adoption of a new budget for the Fiscal Year
2018. Plaintiff contends that Barnes and Wasson made the
decision to terminate Plaintiff by using the pretext of
budgetary concerns after she spoke out on matters regarding
the misuse of county funds, of how former Public Defender Kim
Campbell (“Campbell”) may have improperly aided
the prosecution in the murder trial of People v. David
Boswell, Jr.;2010 CF 1117, and of how the current Public
Defender, Defendant Barnes, failed to report Campbell's
actions from that trial.
pleaded facts surrounding Plaintiff's claims began in
August 2011 when Plaintiff testified in a professional
capacity in the Boswell trial. (ECF No. 3 at 12).
Defendant Barnes was lead counsel for the defendant, and
former Public Defender Campbell was her supervisor. (ECF No.
3 at 13, 15). After closing arguments, Campbell allegedly
told Plaintiff that she had helped the Assistant State
Attorney handling the prosecution write her closing argument.
(ECF No. 3 at 14). The defendant was ultimately found guilty.
(ECF No. 3 at 15). Plaintiff reported Campbell's
statement to Defendant Barnes, who noted that she had
suspected that Campbell was assisting the prosecutors, but
nonetheless declined to report Campbell. (ECF No. 3 at 15).
April 2014, Plaintiff met with the Illinois Attorney
General's Office because she became concerned that
Campbell was improperly using public funds and resources (ECF
No. 3 at 21). Plaintiff was told to report the conduct to
Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb (ECF No. 3 at 21). On July 22,
2014, Plaintiff met with Chief Judge Robb and revealed her
insight of Campbell's involvement with the
Boswell trial and Defendant Barnes' knowledge of
it. (ECF No. 3 at 24). Soon thereafter, Plaintiff also
reported Campbell's conduct in the Boswell case,
along with Defendant Barnes' knowledge of it, to the
Bloomington Police Department and the Illinois State Police.
(ECF No. 3 at 25). On or about September 30, 2014, Defendant
Wasson met with Plaintiff to discuss what she knew of
Campbell's conduct in both her “questionable use of
public funds” and her “involvement in the
Boswell case.” (ECF No. 3 at 26). In that same
month, Plaintiff signed an affidavit for the defense attorney
handling Boswell's post-conviction proceedings regarding
the murder trial and included in that affidavit that she
reported the incident to Defendant Barnes. (ECF No. 3 at 28).
On or about March 2016, The Pantagraph, a daily
newspaper that serves the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois area,
ran a story about the alleged misconduct in the
Boswell trial and detailed the affidavit Plaintiff
signed. (ECF No. 3 at 34). Defendant Barnes spoke to
Plaintiff after the story was published and allegedly
expressed concern that it might negatively impact her
political future. (ECF No. 3 at 34). After that conversation,
Plaintiff contends she began experiencing adverse employment
actions including: 1) Defendant Barnes stopped speaking to
Plaintiff both in and out of the office; 2) Defendant Barnes
stopped inviting Plaintiff to attend meetings and seminars
that she previously would have attended as part of her
employment duties; 3) Defendant Barnes changed
Plaintiff's job duties and informed her she would no
longer conduct investigations in the field or serve
subpoenas; 4) Defendant Barnes began taking away
Plaintiff's cases and reassigning them, and 5) after
taking away cases from Plaintiff, Defendant Barnes then
informed other employees in the office that Plaintiff's
numbers were low. (ECF No. 3 at 35). Plaintiff began to worry
that her job was in jeopardy. (ECF No. 3 at 36). Plaintiff
also signed a second affidavit dated August 31, 2017
regarding the murder trial, and shortly thereafter, Defendant
Barnes allegedly told Plaintiff that she was unhappy
Plaintiff was spending so much time assisting Boswell's
new criminal defense lawyer. (ECF No. 3 at 30, 31).
September 2017, Defendant Wasson began to express concerns
over the budget for the Fiscal Year 2018 due to the recent
passing of the budget by the Illinois General Assembly and
the State of Illinois. (ECF No. 17 at 2-3; 17-1 at 1-2). As a
result, Defendant Wasson and the McLean County Board members
explored methods to scale down expenses, including reductions
in the workforce. (ECF No. 17-1 at 1-6). Defendant Wasson was
directed by the Board to work with department heads across
the county to evaluate staffing levels. (ECF No. 17 at 2;
17-1 at 1-2). While evaluating full-time staffing levels at
the Public Defender's Office, Defendant Barnes
recommended to Defendant Wasson that Plaintiff's position
be included in the workforce reduction. (ECF No. 17 at 2). On
November 21, 2017, the Board adopted the budget for the
Fiscal Year 2018, which eliminated several positions,
including Plaintiff's position. (ECF No. 3 at 40).
Plaintiff claims that thereafter another individual with less
experience was offered a contract investigator position. (ECF
No. 3 at 42).
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is proper if a
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to
dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
which when accepted as true, states a claim for relief that
is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Plausibility means alleging factual
content that allows a court to reasonably infer that the
defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). A
plaintiff's claim must “give enough details about
the subject matter of the case to present a story that holds
together” to be plausible. Swanson v. Citibank,
N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010). A court must
draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party.
Bontkowski v. First Nat'l Bank of Cicero, 998
F.2d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1993).
evaluating a motion to dismiss, courts must accept as true
all factual allegations in the complaint. Ashcroft,
556 U.S. at 678. However, the court need not accept as true
the complaint's legal conclusions; “[t]hreadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”
Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S.
at 555). Conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be
assumed true.” Id.
in ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a
court may not consider extrinsic evidence. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). If a court considers matters outside of
the pleadings, “the motion must be treated as one for
summary judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (12)(d). However, a
court may “take judicial notice of matters of public
record, ” United States v. Wood, 925 F.2d
1580, 1582 (7th Cir. 1991), and it may do so without
converting a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.
Ennenga v. Starns, 677 F.3d 766, 774 (7th Cir.
2012); Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution
Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997); Henson
v. CSC Credit Servs. 29 F.3d 280, 284 (7th Cir. 1994).
This exception has allowed courts to avoid unnecessary
proceedings when an undisputed fact in the public record
establishes that the plaintiff cannot satisfy the 12(b)(6)
standard. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. 128 F.3d at 1081.
Here, Defendants have introduced minutes and agendas from the
McLean County Board meetings, ordinances from the McLean
County Code, and the McClean County budget worksheets for
Fiscal Year 2018, as an Exhibit (ECF No. 17-1) to their
Motion to Dismiss. Given these are documents that are part of
public record, the Court will take judicial notice and
consider them without converting the present motion to a
motion for summary judgment.