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Hopfinger v. City of Nashville

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 2, 2019

MELISSA HOPFINGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NASHVILLE, ILLINOIS, BRIAN FLETCHER, ERIK ROLF, JOSH FARK, SUE FINKE, TERRY KOZUSZEK, DOUG HARGEN, KELLY SHERIDAN, and DENNIS KELLERMAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Count IV of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint filed by Defendant Brian Fletcher (Doc. 24) and a Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim filed by Defendants City of Nashville, Illinois, Erik Rolf, Josh Fark, Sue Finke, Terry Kozuszek, Doug Hargen, Kelly Sheridan, and Dennis Kellerman (Doc. 29). Both motions are opposed by Plaintiff Melissa Hopfinger (“Hopfinger”) (Docs. 35, 36).

         Factual & Procedural Background

         Hopfinger initiated this lawsuit on August 21, 2018 (Doc. 1), and she filed her First Amended Complaint on October 30, 2018[1] (Doc. 17). Hopfinger is a former employee of Defendant City of Nashville, Illinois (“the City”), where she worked as an administrative assistant for the Police Department (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 4). At the time of the events at issue, Defendant Erik Rolf was the mayor of the City, Defendant Brian Fletcher was the Chief of Police, and Defendants Josh Fark, Sue Finke, Terry Kozuszek, Doug Hargen, Kelly Sheridan, and Dennis Kellerman were members of the Nashville, Illinois City Council (Id. at ¶¶ 5-7).

         Hopfinger alleges that in July 2017 she had a serious health condition that required her to undergo a hysterectomy (Id. at ¶ 13). Before having surgery, she notified her supervisors: Police Chief Brian Fletcher and Greg Hopfinger, who is also her husband (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15). Greg Hopfinger notified the City's mayor and other City officials, including City Clerk Teressa Kurwicki (Id. at ¶ 17).

         On July 17, 2017, Hopfinger underwent a hysterectomy (Id. at ¶ 16). She continued to work from home while on leave for part of the time (Id. at ¶ 19). Following her surgery, Hopfinger's doctor determined that she needed continued bed rest (Id. at ¶ 20). Greg Hopfinger notified Fletcher and Kurwicki about the ordered bed rest (Id. at ¶ 21). On August 29, 2017, Hopfinger was released to return to work (Id. at ¶ 22). When she returned the following day, the mayor told her the City was eliminating her position (Id. at ¶ 23). On September 1, 2017, Hopfinger was informed in writing that she was terminated as an employee of the City (Id. at ¶ 24).

         Hopfinger alleges that at the time she was discharged, she was an eligible employee under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D) (Id. at ¶ 25). Under the FMLA, 28 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1), Hopfinger asserts the City was required to but failed to restore her to her position (Id. at ¶ 26). Hopfinger further claims that Defendants discharged her because of her association with her husband, who was fired on August 22, 2017, for opposing certain conduct by Fletcher (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43). Based on these actions, Hopfinger brings seven claims:

Count I: FMLA Interference against the City of Nashville, Illinois;
Count II: FMLA Retaliation against the City of Nashville, Illinois;
Count III: Breach of Contract against the City of Nashville, Illinois;
Count IV: First Amendment Association against the City of Nashville, Illinois, Brian Fletcher, Erik Rolf, Josh Fark, Sue Finke, Terry Kozuszek, Doug Hargen, Kelly Sheridan, and Dennis Kellerman;
Count V: First Amendment Retaliation against the City of Nashville, Illinois, Brian Fletcher, Erik Rolf, Josh Fark, Sue Finke, Terry Kozuszek, Doug Hargen, Kelly Sheridan, and Dennis Kellerman;
Count VI: Illinois Whistleblower Act against the City of Nashville, Illinois; and
Count VII: Retaliatory Discharge against the City of Nashville, Illinois.

(Id. at ¶¶ 8-74).

         On November 21, 2018, Defendant Fletcher filed a motion to dismiss Count IV of the First Amended Complaint, in which Hopfinger alleges a First Amendment Association claim against him (Doc. 24). Fletcher first argues that Count IV fails to plausibly suggest that he denied Hopfinger the right to associate with her husband (Doc. 25 at p. 3). Second, Fletcher asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity (Id. at p. 6) because the law is not clearly established that the termination of an employee under the facts asserted constitutes a deprivation of the right to freedom of association (Id. at p. 7).

         Defendants the City, Rolf, Fark, Finke, Kozuszek, Hargen, Sheridan, and Kellerman also filed a motion to dismiss on November 21, 2018 (Doc. 29). These Defendants seek to dismiss Counts III, IV, and V of the First Amended Complaint (Id. at ¶¶ 3-5). Defendants argue that the breach of contract claim in Count III must be dismissed because the statutory remedies under the FMLA are exclusive (Id. at ¶ 3). Second, Defendants assert that Count IV must be dismissed because Hopfinger's freedom of association claim is a due process claim, and the First Amended Complaint fails to state a plausible claim for such relief. Defendants also contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity on this claim (Id. at ΒΆ 4). Finally, Defendants argue that Count V must be ...


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