Bradley v. Village of University Park, 071619 FED7, 16-3456

Docket Nº:16-3456
Opinion Judge:Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Eddie R. Bradley, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Village of University Park, Illinois, an Illinois Home Rule municipality, and Vivian Covington, Mayor, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before Manion, Rovner and Hamilton, Circuit Judges. Manion, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:July 16, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Eddie R. Bradley, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Village of University Park, Illinois, an Illinois Home Rule municipality, and Vivian Covington, Mayor, in her individual and official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 16-3456

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 16, 2019

Argued September 15, 2017

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:15-CV-8489 - Charles R. Norgle, Judge.

Before Manion, Rovner and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

In 2015, the Village of University Park's mayor and board fired police chief Eddie Ray Bradley without any notice of good cause or any form of hearing-i.e., the procedural protections owed to Bradley under the United States Constitution. Bradley sued the village and mayor in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his Fourteenth Amendment rights by depriving him of a property interest in his job without due process of law. He also asserted several state-law claims. The district court dismissed Bradley's federal due process claim on the pleadings. We reverse.

The parties agree that Bradley had a protected property interest in his continued employment. They agree that the mayor and the village board are the policymakers for their municipality on the subject. And everyone agrees that although there was ample opportunity for a hearing, Bradley received no pretermination notice or hearing. Those points of agreement suffice to prove a due process claim under § 1983 against the individual officials and the village itself, where the village acted through high-ranking officials with policymaking authority. See, e.g., Cleveland Bd. of Education v. Louder mill, 470 U.S. 532, 542 (1985); Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 485 (1986); Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).[1]

The defendants seek to avoid this straightforward conclusion. They urge us to follow a line of cases that excuses liability for the absence of predeprivation due process if the deprivation is the result of a "random, unauthorized act by a state employee, rather than an established state procedure," and "if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available." Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 532-33 (1985), citing Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 541 (1981), and Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422 (1982); see also Easter House v. Felder, 910 F.2d 1387 (7th Cir. 1990) (en banc). Defendants reason that because the village's top officials decided as a matter of village policy to deny an employee due process in a way that also violated state law, their policy decision should be treated as a "random and unauthorized act ... beyond the control of the State/' Parratt, 451 U.S. at 541, leaving Bradley to pursue remedies only under state law. In other words, defendants argue that by intentionally violating plaintiff's federal due process rights in a way that also violated state law, they insulated their actions from federal liability.

This argument is foreclosed for several reasons. First, the Supreme Court has never suggested that the pragmatic but narrow rule of Parratt applies to employee due process claims where predeprivation notice and an opportunity to be heard could be provided in a practical way. Public employers' decisions to violate both state and federal procedural requirements have never been treated as grounds to excuse federal due process liability. In addition, in this case, the decision to fire Bradley was made by the top municipal officials. This court has held squarely that "a complaint asserting municipal liability under Monell by definition states a claim to which Parratt is inapposite." Wilson v. Town of Clayton, 839 F.2d 375, 380 (7th Cir. 1988). That holding is consistent with other circuits and accords with common sense. A municipality cannot be held liable under a respondeat superior theory of liability. It can be held liable for a constitutional violation only if the violation resulted from a formal policy, an informal custom, or a decision "made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy." Monell, 436 U.S. at 691, 694 & n.58. In cases alleging due process violations by municipal policymakers, there is no need to inquire separately into whether an employee's actions were "random and unauthorized."

In addition, defendants' expansive interpretation of Parratt, Hudson and Easter House is at odds with the Supreme Court's explication of Parratt and Hudson in Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 124 (1990), which explained that the Court had "rejected the view that § 1983 ... does not reach abuses of state authority that are forbidden by the State's statutes or Constitution or are torts under the State's common law," and that "overlapping remedies are generally irrelevant to the question of the existence of a cause of action under § 1983."

Excusing top municipal officials from federal liability when they violate constitutional due process rights, so long as they also violate state laws and the state provides some post-deprivation recourse, would (1) undermine public employees' due process rights and remedies under Loudermill and its progeny; (2) conflict with Monroe v. Pope, 365 U.S. 167 (1961), and its progeny, which hold that a state or local official may be sued under § 1983 for actions taken "under color of state law" even though the official's actions also violate state or local law and a remedy exists under state law; and (3) conflict with Patsy v. Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 500-01 (1982), which held that § 1983 plaintiffs need not exhaust state-law remedies before asserting their federal rights. There is no indication in Parratt, Hudson, Zinermon, or our en banc decision in Easter House of an intention to undermine or overrule so much bedrock § 1983 law or to intrude on Monell doctrine in cases against municipalities. Those decisions should not be read to provide a defense to Bradley's due process claim.

Where predeprivation procedures are both required and practicable, municipal policymakers expose the municipality and themselves to liability under § 1983 if they deliberately disregard an individual's constitutional due process rights. This is true even when state law also offers postdeprivation remedies. We therefore reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

In 2013, plaintiff Bradley became the police chief of the Village of University Park, Illinois. Soon after a municipal election in 2015, however, the mayor and village board placed Bradley on administrative leave. Thirteen days later, they fired him summarily, without giving him any notice of good cause or any opportunity to be heard.

The letter terminating Bradley did not try to justify his firing based on any sort of good cause. It suggested that he was being ousted by operation of state law because his employment contract extended his tenure beyond the term of the village officeholders who had appointed him, citing 65 Ill.Comp.Stat. 5/3.1-30-5(c) & 5/8-1-7(b), and Millikin v. Edgar County, 142 111. 528 (1892). This meant, according to the village board, that Bradley's appointment as police chief terminated as of May 15, 2015 without needing a board vote, a statement of reasons, or a hearing. Bradley responded with a letter demanding an opportunity to be heard. He received no answer.

These actions did not comply with the termination provisions of Bradley's employment contract, the requirements of state law, or-critical to this case-the Fourteenth Amendment. To effect Bradley's removal, Illinois state law required the village to follow a process set forth in 65 Ill.Comp.Stat. 5/10-2.1-17. See also University Park, 111., Codified Ordinances part 2, title 8, § 271-02(g) (adopting in its entirety 65 Ill.Comp.Stat. 5/10-2.1-17). This process requires a statement of "the reasons for such removal or discharge/' which must be voted on by the village's corporate authorities before the discharge may take effect. Id. The process also includes "a fair and impartial hearing of the charges" in front of the village's board of fire and police commissioners. Id. These procedures would, if followed, satisfy the basic federal constitutional requirement that the village offer its tenured employees notice and an opportunity to be heard before firing them, a right that "does not depend on a demonstration of certain success." Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 542-46; id. at 544, citing Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266 (1978); see also Gilbert v. Homar, 520 U.S. 924, 929 (1997) (explaining that minimum constitutional requirements of "pretermination process need only include oral or written notice of the charges, an explanation of the...

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