Dibble v. Quinn

Decision Date20 July 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14–2328, 14–2746.,14–2328, 14–2746.
Citation793 F.3d 803
PartiesJohn T. DIBBLE, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. Patrick J. QUINN, Governor of Illinois, et al., Defendants–Appellees. Peter Akemann, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. Patrick J. Quinn, Governor of Illinois, et al., Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

793 F.3d 803

John T. DIBBLE, Plaintiff–Appellant
Patrick J. QUINN, Governor of Illinois, et al., Defendants–Appellees.

Peter Akemann, Plaintiff–Appellant
Patrick J. Quinn, Governor of Illinois, et al., Defendants–Appellees.

No. 14–2328, 14–2746.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Argued April 22, 2015.
Decided July 20, 2015.

793 F.3d 805

Brian S. McChesney, McChesney & Ortwerth, St. Louis, MO, for Plaintiff–Appellant.

Richard S. Huszagh, Office of the Attorney General, Chicago, IL, for Defendants–Appellees.

Peter Akemann, Elgin, IL, pro se.

Before FLAUM, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.


HAMILTON, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs John Dibble and Peter Akemann were arbitrators for the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission. They lost their positions after the Illinois legislature passed Public Act 97–18. The law was signed on June 28, 2011 and took effect just three days later, ending the terms of all incumbent arbitrators effective July 1, 2011 and providing that the Governor of Illinois would make new appointments. The new law allowed incumbent arbitrators to serve past July 1 as holdovers until the Governor made new appointments. By July 1, 2012, both Dibble and Akemann had lost their positions.

Plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits raising the same claims. They alleged that by shortening their six-year terms as arbitrators under the prior law, Public Act 97–18 deprived them of a property interest without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Their suits named as defendants

793 F.3d 806

then-Governor of Illinois Patrick Quinn and all members of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, all in both their individual and official capacities. Both district courts entered judgments for defendants.

We affirm both judgments. Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief are moot, and the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiffs' claims for damages. Even if plaintiffs plausibly allege a constitutional violation, the applicable law was not clearly established under the circumstances of these cases, where a statutory amendment eliminated the property interest that a statute had previously conferred.

I. Factual & Procedural Background

Plaintiff John Dibble was first appointed as an arbitrator in 1990 and then reappointed to six-year terms in 1996, 2002, and 2008. His last appointment was set to expire in 2014. Plaintiff Peter Akemann was first appointed in 1994 and then reappointed to six-year terms in 2000 and 2006. His last appointment was set to expire in 2012.

The Illinois Workers' Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq., establishes the power to appoint arbitrators. When plaintiffs were last appointed, the law provided that each arbitrator would be appointed for a term of six years, with the possibility of reappointment. 820 ILCS 305/14, P.A. 94–277 (2005). During terms of service, arbitrators were subject to the provisions of the Illinois Personnel Code, which meant they could be removed from their positions only for cause. Id.; see also 20 ILCS 415/8b.18.

On June 28, 2011 Governor Quinn signed Public Act 97–18. The Act replaced the provision establishing six-year terms for the arbitrators with a provision that set up a one-time appointment procedure. Under the new Act, the terms of all incumbent arbitrators would end just three days later, on July 1, 2011, regardless of when their terms would have ended under the old law. The incumbents would continue to exercise all of their duties until either they were reappointed (all former arbitrators were permitted to apply for new appointments) or their successors were named. The new Act gave Governor Quinn the power to make new appointments, generally for three-year terms. Plaintiffs allege that approximately twenty of the twenty-nine incumbent arbitrators were reappointed to their positions. Dibble was not among them. Akemann was reappointed but only for a transitional one-year term that ended on July 1, 2012.1 The new law also provides that its changes “prevail over any conflict with the Personnel Code,” effectively removing the for-cause protection that arbitrators had enjoyed. See 820 ILCS 305/14, P.A. 97–18 (2011). Other changes made by Public Act 97–18 are not pertinent to these appeals.

Plaintiffs' six-year terms of service were cut short by Public Act 97–18. Each filed a two-count complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was terminated without cause and without notice and an opportunity to be heard in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Plaintiffs also alleged that they were deprived of a liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment when Governor Quinn issued a press release announcing the overhaul of the Commission. The district court in Dibble's case dismissed both claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court in Akemann's case granted defendants summary judgment on both claims under Rule

793 F.3d 807

56. Plaintiffs appeal the dismissals of their property interest claims but not the dismissals of their liberty interest claims.

Plaintiffs sued for money damages and equitable relief in the form of reinstatement to their positions as arbitrators. Plaintiffs concede correctly on appeal, however, that their claims for reinstatement are now moot because the six-year terms they were serving in 2011 have expired. See Medlock v. Trustees of Indiana Univ., 683 F.3d 880, 882 (7th Cir.2012) (dismissing appeal as moot where plaintiff sought to enjoin academic suspension but term of suspension had expired by time of appeal). We are left with only plaintiffs' claims for damages. Because all defendants are current or former state officials sued for their official acts, damages are available against them under § 1983 only in their individual capacities. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989).

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

We review de novo dismissals under both Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 56. E.g., Vinson v. Vermilion County, 776 F.3d 924, 928 (7th Cir.2015) (motion to dismiss); Mintz v. Caterpillar Inc., 788 F.3d 673, 679–80 (7th Cir.2015) (summary judgment). The issues here are pure questions of law: whether plaintiffs had a constitutionally protected property interest in their six-year terms as arbitrators, see Cole v. Milwaukee Area Technical College Dist., 634 F.3d 901, 904 (7th Cir.2011) ; if so, whether the legislative process that produced Public Act 97–18 satisfied federal due process requirements, see Lobzun v. United States, 422 F.3d 503, 507 (7th Cir.2005) ; and if not, whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established that their actions violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights, see Chasensky v. Walker, 740 F.3d 1088, 1093–95 (7th Cir.2014). Because the result is the same despite the differences between Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 56, we have based our decision in both appeals on plaintiffs' complaints alone, accepting as true all factual allegations in the complaints (which are virtually identical) and drawing from the allegations all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor. E.g., Lodholtz v. York Risk Services Group, Inc., 778 F.3d 635, 639 (7th Cir.2015). We can affirm on any ground supported by the record so long as the issue was raised and the losing parties had a fair opportunity to contest the issue in the district court. E.g., Locke v. Haessig, 788 F.3d 662, 666–67 (7th Cir.2015).

B. Qualified Immunity

“Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093, 182 L.Ed.2d 985 (2012). To decide whether government officials are entitled to qualified immunity, courts ask two questions: first, whether the facts or allegations, taken in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, constitute a violation of a statutory or constitutional right, and second, whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. E.g., Weinmann v. McClone, 787 F.3d 444, 448 (7th Cir.2015). We have discretion to decide a case under the second step “without resolving the often more difficult question whether the purported right exists at all.” Reichle, 132 S.Ct. at 2093, citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 227, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). We take that approach here.

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To be “clearly established,” a right must be defined so clearly that every reasonable official would have understood that what he was doing violated that right. Reichle, 132 S.Ct. at 2093. Although “clearly established” does not require a case directly on point, “existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2083, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011). The right allegedly violated must be established “not as a broad general proposition” but in a “particularized” sense so that the “contours” of the right are clear...

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