890 F.2d 1380 (7th Cir. 1989), 88-2464, Thornton v. Barnes

Docket Nº:88-2464.
Citation:890 F.2d 1380
Party Name:Victor THORNTON, William Washington, Elizabeth Williamson, Individually and in their capacity as Members of the Board of the Gary Municipal Airport Authority District a/k/a The Gary Regional Airport Authority District, and The Gary Municipal Airport Authority District, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Thomas V. BARNES, personally and in his capacity as May
Case Date:December 04, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 1380

890 F.2d 1380 (7th Cir. 1989)

Victor THORNTON, William Washington, Elizabeth Williamson,

Individually and in their capacity as Members of the Board

of the Gary Municipal Airport Authority District a/k/a The

Gary Regional Airport Authority District, and The Gary

Municipal Airport Authority District, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Thomas V. BARNES, personally and in his capacity as Mayor,

City of Gary, Indiana, and City of Gary, Indiana,

Defendants-Appellants.

No. 88-2464.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 4, 1989

Argued Jan. 12, 1989.

Page 1381

Arthur A. Daronatsy, Gary, Ind., Douglas M. Grimes, Gary, Ind., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Gilbert King, Jr., Robert D. Rucker, Corp. Counsel, Office of the Corporation Counsel, MacArthur Drake, Cora M. Vaughn, Vaughn and Associates, Gary, Ind., for defendants-appellants.

Before FLAUM, EASTERBROOK, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

This is an interlocutory appeal from the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction. The district court granted relief to the plaintiffs on the basis that, as board members of the Gary Municipal Airport Authority District, they have a property interest protected by the fourteenth amendment. The City of Gary, Indiana and Mayor Thomas V. Barnes appeal the district court's determination. We reverse the decision of the district court on the authority of our recent decision in Easter House v. Felder, 879 F.2d 1458 (7th Cir.1989) (en banc), petition for cert. filed, 58 U.S.L.W. 3291, (Oct. 10, 1989).

I

BACKGROUND

In March 1988, Victor Thornton, Elizabeth Williamson, and William Washington,

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III (collectively referred to as the Board members or plaintiffs), were three of the four members of the board of the Gary Municipal Airport Authority District (Authority). 1 The Board members allege that they were each appointed to a four-year term on the Authority's board by Richard G. Hatcher, then Mayor of Gary, Indiana. They further allege that Mayor Thomas V. Barnes, Mayor Hatcher's successor, prematurely removed them from their board positions and thus violated their rights under the first and fourteenth amendments. The district court dismissed those counts that alleged a first amendment right of association and a fourteenth amendment liberty interest on the ground that the allegations failed to state a claim. Nevertheless, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction--prohibiting the defendants from attempting to remove them from office through any means other than impeachment--on the ground that the Board members had a property interest in their positions protected by the fourteenth amendment and that they had been denied that interest without due process of law. This court stayed the preliminary injunction on August 15, 1988. The defendants now appeal the district court's decision. 2

  1. The Board Members' Removal from Office

    The Authority was established in 1976 pursuant to Indiana Code Sec. 19-6-3.5-1 (now section 8-22-3-1). Mayor Hatcher appointed the plaintiffs to the Authority's board for a four-year term: Mr. Thornton was appointed on October 9, 1984; Ms. Williamson was appointed on October 9, 1985; and Mr. Washington was appointed on October 9, 1987. 3 In May 1987, Mayor Hatcher lost the Democratic primary election to Thomas V. Barnes. Mr. Barnes won the general election in November 1987 and, on January 1, 1988, assumed office as the Mayor of the City of Gary.

    In late February or early March 1988, the Board members decided to hire James Holland, the former Deputy Mayor of Gary, as a consultant to the Gary Regional Airport. In a letter dated March 22, 1988, Mayor Barnes notified the plaintiffs that they were being removed, effective March 31, 1988, from the Authority's board. He based his authority on Indiana Code Sec. 36-4-11-2(b). 4 The letter stated that the

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    plaintiffs were being removed for one or more of the following reasons: 1) violation of the Indiana Open Door Act in making the decision to hire the former deputy mayor as consultant to the board; 2) failure to provide capable guidance in the redevelopment of the Gary Regional Airport; or 3) inability to disassociate from the prior administration's policies and showing a lack of desire to carry out the current administration's policies. Mayor Barnes, subsequent to sending this letter of removal, appointed three new board members who are not parties to this action.

    On March 25, 1988, the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the defendants, the City of Gary and Mayor Barnes (collectively referred to as the municipality). They alleged that the municipality had deprived them of their first amendment right to free association and their liberty and property interests protected by the fourteenth amendment. The complaint sought interim relief in the form of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a preliminary injunction prohibiting their removal during the pendency of the action. On March 31, 1988, the municipality filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and that the Board members had failed to state a claim. That same day, the district court denied the TRO.

    The case was referred to a magistrate, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 636(b)(1)(B), for recommendation on whether a preliminary injunction ought to be granted. On May 12, 1988, the magistrate recommended that such relief be denied. The magistrate concluded that the plaintiffs had failed to establish the first element of their claim for a preliminary injunction, likelihood of success on the merits, and thus found it unnecessary to address the other criteria for the grant of a preliminary injunction. Four days later, the Board members sought to amend their complaint and requested another TRO. The district court denied this request. 5

  2. The District Court Opinion

    The Board members filed objections to the magistrate's recommendation. On July 26, 1988, the district court accepted the recommendation that the claims based on the first amendment right of association and fourteenth amendment liberty interest should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. However, the district court concluded that the Board members were likely to succeed on their claim that they had a property interest entitled to fourteenth amendment protection. Thornton v. Barnes, No. H 88-168 (N.D.Ind. July 26, 1988) [hereinafter Order]. Interpreting Indiana law, the district court concluded that the Board members, once appointed, had a right to hold office for a term of four years. Although the magistrate had found that the mayor's power to remove the members from office at any time, pursuant to Indiana Code Sec. 36-4-11-2(b) (later amended to Sec. 36-4-11-2(d)), 6 negated plaintiffs' claim to a property interest, the district court disagreed. The court noted that section 36-4-11-2(b) empowered the mayor

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    to remove from office only "officers, deputies, or other employees of the city." (emphasis supplied). In the court's view, the Board members, as appointees of an independent municipal corporation, were not employees "of the city" and thus not subject to removal under this statute; impeachment was the only means of removal available.

    Having concluded that the plaintiffs had a likelihood of success in proving the existence of a property interest, the court discussed the other factors necessary to grant a preliminary injunction. The court noted that the plaintiffs had no adequate remedy at law: damages could not be paid because the Board members served without compensation. The plaintiffs' irreparable harm arose because the plaintiffs suffered deprivations under both the United States and the Indiana Constitutions to which "it is difficult to assign a numerical value." Order at 12. The court determined that the public interest would not be harmed because it was in the public interest to have the Authority run by the properly appointed board. Finally, the court found that the balance of harms was "roughly equivalent." Id. at 13.

    The municipality filed a motion to stay the preliminary injunction. The district court denied the motion on August 4, 1988, but, on August 15, 1988, this court issued an order staying the July 26 preliminary injunction pending appeal. We now reverse the order of the district court.

    II

    ANALYSIS

  3. The Applicable Standards

    This case comes to us from the grant of a preliminary injunction by the district court. The appropriate judicial methodology for considering a request for a preliminary injunction has been set forth in numerous opinions of this court. See, e.g., Faheem-el v. Klincar, 841 F.2d 712, 716 (7th Cir.1988) (en banc), Baja Contractors, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 830 F.2d 667, 675 (7th Cir.1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 993, 108 S.Ct. 1301, 99 L.Ed.2d 511 (1988); Brunswick Corp. v. Jones, 784 F.2d 271, 273-74 (7th Cir.1986); Lawson Prods., Inc. v. Avnet, Inc., 782 F.2d 1429, 1432 (7th Cir.1986); American Hosp. Supply Corp. v. Hospital Prods., Ltd., 780 F.2d 589, 593-94 (7th Cir.1986); Roland Mach. Co. v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 749 F.2d 380, 382-83 (7th Cir.1984). While the precise semantical formulation has varied slightly at times, the essence of the methodology has remained constant. Recently, in Ping v. National Education Association, 870 F.2d 1369 (7th Cir.1989), Judge Flaum, writing for the court, summarized the factors that a district court ought to consider in determining whether to grant a preliminary injunction:

    Before a preliminary injunction will issue, the movant must show, as a threshold matter, that: (1) they have no adequate remedy at law; (2) they will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted; and (3) they have some likelihood of success on the merits in the sense that their "chances are better than negligible." Roland Machinery Co. v. Dresser Industries, Inc., ...

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