10 F.3d 492 (7th Cir. 1993), 92-4002, Triad Associates, Inc. v. Robinson

Docket Nº:92-4002.
Citation:10 F.3d 492
Party Name:TRIAD ASSOCIATES, INC., d/b/a Guardian Security, JK Guardian Security Services, Inc., and K & J Management, Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Renault ROBINSON, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:November 24, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 492

10 F.3d 492 (7th Cir. 1993)

TRIAD ASSOCIATES, INC., d/b/a Guardian Security, JK Guardian

Security Services, Inc., and K & J Management,

Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Renault ROBINSON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 92-4002.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

November 24, 1993

Page 493

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Argued Sept. 9, 1993.

Page 494

Scott F. Turow (argued), Matthew D. Tanner, Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, Chicago, IL, John L. Gubbins, Monfort, WI, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Thomas E. Johnson (argued), Phillip H. Snelling, ACC, Johnson, Jones & Snelling, Anthony J. Fusco, Jr., City of Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellant.

Before FLAUM and MANION, Circuit Judges, and REYNOLDS, Senior District Judge. [*]

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

In this appeal, defendant below, Renault Robinson, appeals the district court's refusal to grant a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity. We affirm.

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From 1983 through early 1987 the defendant, Renault Robinson, was the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). The CHA is a municipal corporation that provides housing for low income families in Chicago and is governed by a Board of Commissioners whose members are appointed by the Mayor of Chicago. The plaintiffs (collectively "Triad") are in the business of providing security and guard services, and from 1982 through 1989 the CHA engaged Triad for such security services. All of the shareholders of Triad are white individuals. This litigation centers around allegations that after Robinson's appointment as Chairman of the CHA Board by the late Mayor Harold Washington, he led the CHA in a concerted effort to replace the white owned plaintiff companies with black owned security companies. Triad asserts that this effort was both racially and politically motivated.

Triad originally filed suit in 1987, naming the CHA, Renault Robinson, and five other CHA officials, in their individual capacities, as defendants. In its seven count complaint, Triad set out various theories for relief. Three counts were based upon 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, in which Triad alleged as predicates the infringement of its free association, speech, due process and equal protection rights. In a fourth count, under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985(3), Triad alleged a conspiracy to deprive it of its rights to free association and equal protection. Triad also alleged civil RICO violations, and, in two counts under state law, breach of contract and tortious interference with contract.

The district court dismissed the entire complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On appeal, this Court reversed the dismissal of the Sec. 1985(3) claim and the Sec. 1983 claims that were based on due process and equal protection theories. Triad Assoc., Inc. v. CHA, 892 F.2d 583 (7th Cir.1989), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 845, 111 S.Ct. 129, 112 L.Ed.2d 97 (1990). Thereafter, Triad filed a five count second amended complaint in the district court reasserting the Sec. 1985(3) and state law contract claims against the CHA and the Sec. 1983 equal protection claim against all defendants. An additional count alleged in the alternative a violation of the corporate shareholders' equal protection rights. On a 12(b)(6) motion the district court dismissed the plaintiff shareholders' claims for lack of standing, leaving in the case only the corporate plaintiffs, and extended qualified immunity to all of the individual defendants in the case except Renault Robinson. 1 The court found that with respect to the other defendants the "complaint contains no specific allegations as to how [they] played a specific role in any illegal act." This appeal was then brought by Robinson alone and presents the sole issue of whether the district court erred in refusing to extend qualified immunity to him. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the district court's denial of qualified immunity.


As an initial matter, we note our jurisdiction to immediately review a denial of qualified immunity to the extent it turns on an issue of law. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2817, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985); Elliot v. Thomas, 937 F.2d 338, 340-41 (7th Cir.1991), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 973, 117 L.Ed.2d 138 (1992). Also preliminarily, we observe that because qualified immunity was raised here in a motion to dismiss, we must take the allegations of the plaintiff's complaint as true, construing them liberally and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See McMath v. City of Gary, Indiana, 976 F.2d 1026, 1031 (7th Cir.1992). Furthermore, the allegations from the complaint are the only facts properly before us when considering an appeal of a denial of an immunity defense raised in a motion to dismiss. See McDonald v. Haskins, 966 F.2d 292, 292 (7th Cir.1992). And because this appeal only presents questions of law, our standard of review is de novo. See Apostol v. Landau, 957 F.2d 339, 342 (7th Cir.1992).

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The test for determining whether a public official defendant is entitled to qualified immunity is an objective one. A government official performing discretionary functions can be stripped of his shield from liability for civil damages only if his conduct violated "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known" as of "the time [the] action occurred." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). While the specific conduct in question need not previously have been held unlawful, "[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3039, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). Thus the touchstone of a qualified immunity inquiry is the clarity of the state of the law in relation to the defendant's conduct at the time the conduct occurred.

Robinson presents two basic arguments why he should be entitled to qualified immunity. First, he argues that Triad has failed to plead specific facts that make out an equal protection violation and thus should face outright dismissal. Second, Robinson devotes the bulk of his brief to the position that even if Triad has succeeded in stating a cognizable claim under current law, Triad has failed to surmount the Harlow hurdle by not showing that at the time of Robinson's conduct it was clear that a corporation could sue for discrimination against it based on the skin color of its white shareholders.

In making his first argument Robinson seemingly asserts that the allegations contained within Triad's complaint do not support an inference that Robinson acted with the discriminatory intent necessary to make out an equal protection claim. See Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 238-48, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 2047-51, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976). Although, in light of our limited jurisdiction on an appeal such as this one, it may seem curious to review plaintiff's complaint for its general sufficiency in stating a claim, determining whether a plaintiff has asserted a constitutional violation at all is "[a] necessary concomitant to the determination of [qualified immunity]." Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, ----, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 1793, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). One of the main purposes of immunity and interlocutory review of a denial of immunity is to spare public officials the cost and burden of full litigation every time an accusation of misconduct is leveled against them. Deciding as a threshold matter the "purely legal question" of whether a plaintiff has established the violation of any constitutional...

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