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Beyer v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

December 27, 2019

MICHAEL BEYER, THEA KACHORIS-FLORES, DEBORA LAND, CHRISTOPHER MCCABE, JEZAIL JACKSON, and SIMEON HENDERSON, Plaintiffs
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, JANICE JACKSON, in Her Official Capacity as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, MARY ERNESTI, in Her Official Capacity as Director of Employment Engagement for Chicago Public Schools, and JENNIFER REGER, in Her Official Capacity as Hearing Officer in the Office of Employee Engagement for Chicago Public Schools, Defendants-Appellees Michael Beyer, Christopher McCabe, and Jezail Jackson, Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 18 CH 14198 Honorable Anna M. Loftus, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: William J. Quinlan, Lisa H. Quinlan, Kenneth M. Sullivan, David E. Hutchinson, and Kamil Z. Merchant, of Quinlan Law Firm, LLC, of Chicago, for appellants.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Ruth F. Masters, of MastersLaw, of Oak Park, for appellees.

          JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cunningham and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CONNORS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiffs Michael Beyer, Christopher McCabe, and Jezail Jackson appeal the circuit court's denial of injunctive and declaratory relief and a writ of mandamus related to the process used by defendants, the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board), Janice Jackson, Mary Ernesti, and Jennifer Reger, to suspend Beyer without pay from his position as principal of Ogden Elementary School and Ogden International High School. On appeal, plaintiffs contend that (1) the circuit court should have enjoined Beyer's unlawful suspension, (2) Defendant Jackson, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools (CEO Jackson), unlawfully conducted a rehearing of Beyer's presuspension hearing, and (3) coplaintiffs Christopher McCabe and Jezail Jackson[1] have standing as members of Ogden's local school council (LSC) and as parents of children who attend Ogden. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 II. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Beyer had been a teacher and administrator in Chicago Public Schools since 2003 and became Ogden's principal in July 2015. In August 2018, Ogden's LSC voted to extend Beyer's contract through June 2023. Approximately two months earlier, in June 2018, the Board's inspector general issued a report concluding that Ogden staff improperly unenrolled students who took extended absences from school, which altered the school's attendance rate. The Board acted on the report and initiated termination proceedings against Beyer in November 2018. The substance of the report's allegations, which Beyer disputes, are not at issue in this appeal. Instead, this appeal concerns the process surrounding Beyer's termination-specifically, that Beyer participated in two presuspension hearings. The first hearing took place in November and December 2018, and the second hearing took place in January 2019.

         ¶ 4 On November 1, 2018, the Board sent Beyer a letter titled, "Re: Notice of Reassignment," stating that, effective that same day, Beyer was "removed from all duties and responsibilities as the principal of Ogden Elementary School and Ogden International High School." Beyer's reassignment was based on findings that he condoned or encouraged falsification of attendance records. Beyer was "reassigned home," where he would continue to receive his normal pay and benefits. Beyer was directed not to return to Ogden without written authorization and was required to immediately turn over all Board property, "such as school keys, laptops, cellular phone and other equipment." The Board also notified Beyer that CEO Jackson was considering a recommendation to terminate his employment. A presuspension hearing, which could result in a suspension without pay, was scheduled for November 15, 2018.

         ¶ 5 On November 14, 2018, plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, requesting that the court enjoin defendants from conducting the presuspension hearing. Plaintiffs cited a section of the Illinois Administrative Code that stated that a principal could be suspended without pay "in accordance with rules prescribed by the Board." 23 Ill. Adm. Code 51.35(b) (2012). However, defendants had not promulgated any written rules or procedures. As relief, plaintiffs requested an order enjoining defendants from: (1) terminating Beyer's employment without adequate due process of law, (2) suspending Beyer's pay without adequate due process of law, (3) conducting or holding any hearing until defendants established and promulgated rules to govern the conduct of the proceedings, and (4) conducting or holding any hearing until defendants provided Beyer with certain evidence and information. After a hearing, the court entered an order that any finding made by the presuspension hearing officer would be stayed for 10 business days.

         ¶ 6 Beyer's first presuspension hearing was held on November 15 and December 6, 2018. At the hearing, the hearing officer, Mary Ernesti, stated that "there are no written rules for the presuspension procedures." She also stated that the presuspension hearing was not a full evidentiary hearing and the purpose of the presuspension hearing was to demonstrate that there was "a factual basis to move forward with taking Principal Beyer out of paid status while his termination is being sought."

         ¶ 7 A third day of the hearing was scheduled for December 20, 2018, but did not occur. On December 10, 2018, plaintiffs filed a motion to terminate the presuspension hearing, asserting in part that defendants had not identified any rules for the presuspension hearing as required by law. Plaintiffs added that a resulting suspension without pay would be void. Plaintiffs urged the court to terminate the presuspension hearing process "so CPS can attempt to move forward with separate procedures prescribed by law." Plaintiffs also maintained that other aspects of the presuspension hearing deprived Beyer of his due process right to a fair and impartial tribunal. A hearing on plaintiffs' motion was set for January 11, 2019, and the parties agreed to advise the hearing officer to postpone the third date of the hearing.

         ¶ 8 As noted above, the third day of the hearing did not take place. On January 9, 2019, the Board's counsel informed Beyer's counsel that "[t]he prior pre-suspension hearing has come to an end." The Board's counsel further stated that the CEO planned to file amended dismissal charges and guidelines covering the presuspension process, and would "set a new pre-suspension date in the near future."

         ¶ 9 In the meantime, the Board authorized the CEO to establish protocols to suspend a teacher or principal without pay, and CEO Jackson issued "Guidelines Governing Pre-Suspension Hearings for Tenured Teachers and Contract Principals," with an effective date of January 23, 2019. On January 24, 2019, Beyer was notified that a second presuspension hearing was scheduled for January 31, 2019. CEO Jackson also issued amended dismissal charges, which added allegations that Beyer had engaged in an unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.

         ¶ 10 In a letter to the Board's counsel dated January 25, 2019, plaintiffs' counsel maintained that the Board's attempt to rehear and/or modify its previous decision was improper and requested that the Board cancel the second presuspension hearing. On January 30, 2019, plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to enjoin the Board from holding the second presuspension hearing. The circuit court was closed on January 30 and 31 because of extreme weather. The second presuspension hearing went on as scheduled on January 31.

         ¶ 11 The hearing officer, Jennifer Reger, issued a written memorandum of her findings on February 6, 2019. The hearing officer recalled that Beyer's counsel maintained that the second presuspension hearing was unlawful. As for the merits of the matter at hand, the hearing officer found that even without the evidence and testimony about the student attendance allegation, the amended dismissal charges provided cause to suspend Beyer without pay pending the outcome of a dismissal hearing. Subsequently, CPS sent a letter to Beyer informing him that that based on the January 31 presuspension hearing, he would be suspended without pay effective February 22, 2019. Before it could go into effect, the suspension without pay was stayed by the circuit court.

         ¶ 12 On February 7, 2019, plaintiffs filed a "Motion to Declare Re-Hearing of Pre-Suspension Hearing as Unlawful, for Writ of Mandamus, and/or to Enjoin Defendants from Suspending Dr. Beyer Without Pay Pursuant to the Second Pre-Suspension Hearing and February 6, 2019 Notification of Suspension," which this court will refer to as the "motion to declare." Plaintiffs stated that an administrative agency may not hold a rehearing or modify or alter its decisions without express statutory language authorizing it to do so. Neither the School Code nor the Illinois Administrative Code included such language. Plaintiffs requested that the court enjoin defendants from suspending Beyer without pay pursuant to the unlawful rehearing, in addition to declaratory and mandamus relief.

         ¶ 13 Plaintiffs were also given leave to file a six-count second amended complaint. The first three counts of that complaint are not at issue in this appeal, so we only summarize counts IV, V, and VI. Count IV sought a declaratory judgment that the second presuspension hearing was unlawful because the rehearing exceeded defendants' statutory authority. Count V sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to enjoin defendants from terminating Beyer's employment without due process of law, suspending Beyer without pay in violation of Illinois law, and taking any further action in conjunction with the second presuspension hearing or notification of suspension without pay. According to the complaint, plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim because, without express statutory language, an administrative agency does not ...


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