Bicanic v. McDermott, 88-2147

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation867 F.2d 391
Docket NumberNo. 88-2147,88-2147
Parties51 Ed. Law Rep. 795 Michael BICANIC, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Thomas M. McDERMOTT, Individually and as the Mayor of the City of Hammond, Indiana, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date31 January 1989

Michael C. Adley, Hammond, Ind., for plaintiff-appellant.

William J. Moran, Highland, Ind., for defendants-appellees.

Before FLAUM, EASTERBROOK, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge.

We must decide a case that has visited too many courts already. At the end of 1983 the City of Hammond, Indiana, fired Michael Bicanic, its Administrator of Parks and Recreation. He filed suit in August 1984 in the Circuit Court of Lake County, Indiana, contending that the discharge was politically motivated and violated the first amendment to the Constitution, applicable to the states through the fourteenth and implemented by 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The complaint also presented claims based on state law. Concerned that things might not come out to his liking in state court, Bicanic filed this identical action in federal court in January 1986. Bicanic's lawyer (who no longer represents him) did not tell the federal judge that the same claims had been pending in state court for almost two years; neither did the defendants.

Discovery proceeded in both judicial systems. In January 1987 the defendants moved for summary judgment in the federal case, again omitting to mention the state case. Briefing and argument followed, during which the federal judge learned about the state case. Meanwhile the state case went to trial. On January 28, 1988, the jury returned a verdict in Bicanic's favor. No one told the federal judge. The defendants filed a post-judgment motion, asking the court to dismiss Bicanic's complaint because he had not filed a notice of tort claim with the City. The judge did so on May 6, 1988, on the authority of Werblo v. Hamilton Heights School Corp., 519 N.E.2d 185 (Ind.App. 1st Dist.1988), and City of Gary v. Kellogg, 519 N.E.2d 570 (Ind.App. 3d Dist.1988), decided in February. The defendants moved to "dismiss" the federal complaint on the basis of this decision. The district judge ignored this motion and on May 23, 1988, released an opinion--doubtless written in large measure before the motion arrived--granting summary judgment on the merits in defendants' favor on the constitutional claim and relinquishing pendent jurisdiction of the claims based on state law.

While the parties briefed Bicanic's federal appeal, the worm turned in state court. Felder v. Casey, --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 2302, 101 L.Ed.2d 123, decided in June 1988, held that states may not make a notice-of-claim form a condition of Sec. 1983 suits. The Court of Appeals of Indiana then summarily reversed the order dismissing the suit, remanding so that the trial judge could "consider and rule on the other errors set out in the defendants' motion". So far as we can tell, the state courts are unaware of the federal litigation. (Counsel for the City informed us at oral argument that neither side had notified them of the federal case.) The Circuit Court of Lake County has yet to consider the defendants' remaining arguments--which has not prevented Bicanic from arguing on appeal that we should give preclusive force to the verdict in his favor, on the assumption that the Circuit Court will reject the City's remaining arguments.

One judicial system or another has wasted its time. A single adjudication is sufficient; courts are hard pressed to deliver even that much. Duplication of effort on one dispute means that less time remains to give other litigants their first hearing. Had the district judge known of the state case, under way for 18 months before the federal filing, he would have stayed proceedings to await its outcome. As things happened, our case appears to have been caught in a transition between judges. The judge who ultimately granted summary judgment joined the federal bench in March 1988 and may not have had access to the transcripts of arguments in 1987 during which counsel informed his predecessor about the state case.

What's done is done, however. The state court rendered judgment in January 1988, but Bicanic did not then dismiss the federal complaint or plead the state judgment as preclusive. The City attempted to rely on the state's decision in May 1988, but the judgment of May 1988 it has no longer. Bicanic cannot rely on the current state of things--not only because he did not raise the subject in the district court but also because the state court has not re-entered judgment on the jury's verdict and may never do so. The only judgment outstanding at the moment is the one entered by the district court, so we must resolve the appeal on the merits.

The district judge concluded that Bicanic held a politically sensitive position and therefore could be fired for political reasons. See Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 517-20, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 1294-96, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976); Tomczak v. City of Chicago, 765 F.2d 633 (7th Cir.1985); Lindahl v. Bartolomei, 618 F.Supp. 981, 987 (N.D.Ind.1985). After his appointment as Administrator in 1981, Bicanic organized and coordinated the park and recreation program for both the City and its school system. He prepared budgets. After interviewing candidates for employment, he recommended who should be hired. He negotiated and signed contracts for the construction of a new civic center and all other contracts and leases executed by the Park and Recreation Commission, a five-member board with formal powers over these endeavors.

The fall of 1983 saw a mayoral election. Thomas M. McDermott won, replacing Edward J. Raskosky, who had held the office the preceding eight years. McDermott sent Bicanic a letter as "mayor-elect" discharging him effective the last day of Raskosky's term. Bicanic says that the dismissal was politically inspired; the City contends that the dismissal was precipitated by Bicanic's indisposition during 1983 (he concedes that he did not come to work for several months). The City maintains that while on sick leave from his job as Administrator, Bicanic was working full time for Superior Rigging and Erecting Co. of Elkhart, Indiana, which Bicanic denies. The district court concluded that this dispute is not material to the outcome, because the Administrator's job is one in which "party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved." Branti, 445 U.S. at 518, 100 S.Ct. at 1295. That means a job in which there may be "principled disagreement on goals or their implementation", Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164, 1170 (7th Cir.1981). The political officials must be able to count on the support of those who prepare budgets, negotiate and sign contracts, and generally run the show at a substantial component of the government. The Commission had the last formal word on some of these...

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