Former University Park Mayor Vivian Covington at a University Park Village Board meeting July 10, 2018 | Youtube screenshot
CHICAGO -- A divided federal appeals court has found the former police chief in suburban University Park can sue the village over his firing in federal court, even though his complaint could be addressed at the state level.
In a complicated analysis that cited more than three dozen cases, U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judges David Hamilton and Ilana Rovner said on July 16 that, even though former chief Eddie R. Bradley could seek relief from the state courts, he is not prohibited from also seeking justice at the federal level for an alleged violation of his constitutional right to due process.
Bradley sued the village and Mayor Vivian Covington after he allegedly was fired without cause, notice or hearing. According to court documents, Bradley was fired shortly after Covington’s election. He was given no notice of the termination, nor was he allowed a hearing before the board of fire and police commissioners. The village said he was terminated because his contract outlasted the tenure of the village officials who had appointed him, and the new administration wanted a change.
Under both his contract and the law, Bradley alleged he should first have been notified that his termination was pending and should have been provided some sort of hearing at which to make his case before being fired.
According to the majority opinion written by Hamilton, both sides agree Bradley “had a protected property interest in his continued employment,” the decision to terminate him was handed down as a matter of village policy, and he received no pre-termination notice or hearing. Those facts “suffice to prove” a claim of violation of due process, Hamilton wrote.
In a dissenting opinion, Seventh Circuit Judge Daniel A. Manion agreed with the district court that dismissed the federal claim. Manion and U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle agreed with University Park’s argument that the village is not liable under federal law if the plaintiff was deprived due process by a “random, unauthorized act by a state employee, rather than an established state procedure” and if the state provides a “meaningful remedy” for the loss.
In the majority opinion, Hamilton said the village argued "by intentionally violating plaintiff’s federal due process rights in a way that also violated state law, they insulated their actions from federal liability."
The majority said this approach undermines the rights of public employees and conflicts with established case law. There is no reason, Hamilton wrote, that a plaintiff cannot seek federal relief just because state relief is available.
Manion disagreed. Under Seventh Circuit precedent, he wrote, the mayor and village board were “state actors,” acting in a manner that was “random and unauthorized” under the laws of the state.
“Since Illinois provides a post-deprivation remedy through the state’s Administrative Review Act, Bradley must pursue that relief rather than an action in federal court,” Manion wrote.
In his dissent, Manion cited many of the same cases cited by Hamilton in the majority opinion, but interpreted and applied them differently to Bradley’s case.
“[This] decision will create confusion for litigants and the district courts of our circuit, not to mention future panels of this court,” he wrote.
The case has been remanded to the district court for further review.