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Word v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 6, 2020

Hosea Word, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued December 4, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 18-cv-00141 - Sharon Johnson Coleman, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Ripple, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          FLAUM, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Hosea Word is a sergeant and aspiring lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Having just missed out on a promotion following the 2006 lieutenants' examination, Word missed the cut again after receiving a lower-ranking score on the 2015 examination. Word alleges that high-ranking members of CPD leadership connived to sneak early test content to their "wives and paramours" prior to the 2015 exam, resulting in those romantic partners acing the test and receiving promotions. The district court dismissed Word's constitutional due process and equal protection claims, as well as his breach of contract claims. Illinois and federal caselaw squarely preclude Word's case. We affirm.

         I. Background

         From time to time, the CPD administered an examination for those sergeants seeking promotion to lieutenant. While the CPD retained discretion over whom to promote, those who scored highest on the exam were generally first in line.

         Word has served with the CPD since 2001. When he took the departmental lieutenants' exam in 2006, he was ranked 150th of all candidates. The sergeants ranked 1 through 149 all received promotions; Word was the highest-scoring sergeant who did not. In 2015, when Word next took the exam, his ranking fell to 280th. He was passed over a second time.

         The three individual defendants served as senior members of CPD leadership: former Superintendent Eddie Johnson, former First Deputy Superintendent Al Wysinger, and former Chief for Bureau of Organizational Development Eugene Williams. According to Word, each of these men's "wives or paramours" were CPD sergeants who took the 2015 exam and then received promotions. Word alleges that defendant Williams had early access to the exam and provided test content to the wives and paramours, who formed a clandestine "study group" and cheated their way to passing scores. For example, Word claims that Wysinger's wife (who, like the other women, is not named as a defendant in the complaint) went from ranking 280th in the 2006 exam results to first in the 2015 results.

         Word filed his complaint in early 2018, suing the City of Chicago, Johnson, Williams, and Wysinger. He alleged two counts: (1) violations of equal protection and due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (2) breach of contract. Defendants moved to dismiss all counts and the district court granted their motion in January 2019. Word timely appealed.

         II. Discussion

         "We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, accepting all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hutchison v. Fitzgerald Equip. Co., Inc., 910 F.3d 1016, 1025 (7th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). Word appeals the dismissal of each of his claims and offers multiple rationales for reversing the district court. He argues that he had a constitutionally protected property interest in a fair lieutenants' examination; that he established an equal protection claim because he was irrationally treated differently than the "wives and paramours" (and further sufficiently alleged Monell liability); and that he has cognizable breach of contract claims based on (1) a "contract" created by his "accepting the city's offer" of a fair examination and (2) purported third-party beneficiary status in a contract between the City and the exam administrator. None of his arguments are persuasive.

         A. Due Process

         According to Word, he and other legitimate test-takers had a constitutionally protected property interest in a fair lieutenants' examination "free of cheating and rigging." Word grounds this claim in the Illinois Municipal Code's language that "[n]o person or officer shall ... wilfully or corruptly furnish to any person any special or secret information for the purpose of either improving or injuring the prospects or chances of any person so examined, or to be examined, being appointed, employed or promoted." 65 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/10-1-26. Word contends this statute ...


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