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Blake-King v. McDermott

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 23, 2014

THOMAS M. McDERMOTT, JR., individually and as the Mayor of City of Hammond, et al., Defendants.



Plaintiff Carlotta Blake-King has sued Defendant Phillip Taillon, individually and as the president of the board of directors of Defendant United Neighborhoods Inc. ("UNI") and executive director of planning and development for the city of Hammond, along with five other defendants. She alleges in her second amended complaint ("complaint") that they were members of a conspiracy to terminate her position as executive director of UNI, an Indiana not-for-profit corporation, because of her exercise of her First Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also alleges state law claims against Taillon for violation of Indiana's Open Door Law, breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference with a contractual relationship and tortious interference with a business relationship.[1] Taillon has filed a motion to dismiss the claims against him pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim (DE 41).

A. Standard for Evaluating a Motion to Dismiss

The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim is to test the sufficiency of the pleadings, not to decide the merits of the case. See Gibson v. Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). Rule 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." However, "recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).[2] As the Supreme Court has stated, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. Rather, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint is facially plausible if a court can reasonably infer from factual content in the pleading that the defendant is liable for the alleged wrongdoing. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Seventh Circuit has synthesized the standard into three requirements. See Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). "First, a plaintiff must provide notice to defendants of her claims. Second, courts must accept a plaintiff's factual allegations as true, but some factual allegations will be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice to defendants of the plaintiff's claim. Third, in considering the plaintiff's factual allegations, courts should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id.

B. Background

According to Plaintiff's complaint, she was hired as executive director of UNI in February 2005. Defendant McDermott told her about the position and recommended her to UNI's board of Directors. In October 2010, she announced her candidacy for the Hammond Third District city council seat against the incumbent, Defendant Anthony Higgs. McDermott was angry with her because he was supporting Higgs and also wanted Plaintiff's help with his mayoral reelection campaign. In February 2011, McDermott held a campaign meeting with most of the city departments heads and party captains. At the meeting, McDermott stated that he had gotten Plaintiff her job at UNI and that by running for city council she would not be able to adequately help and support his campaign. He announced he was upset with her and didn't care who knew it. Taillon was also upset with Plaintiff for running against McDermott's candidate.

At a city council meeting on February 14, 2011, Higgs moved for a letter to be sent to UNI questioning the legality of Plaintiff running for public office while serving as the director of a not for profit agency. Higgs sent a letter to Plaintiff and various members of UNI's board of directors dated February 15, 2011.

In 2010 and 2011 Defendant Phillip Taillon was president of the board of directors of UNI as well as executive director of the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Hammond. On February 16, 2011, Taillon and two other members of the UNI board met with Plaintiff and told her it was a conflict of interest for her to run for city council and that if she didn't remove herself from the race, she would be terminated as executive director of UNI.

Taillon called a special meeting of the board of directors of UNI that was held on March 11, 2011. Contrary to the usual practice, the meeting was not recorded and Plaintiff was excluded from it. At the meeting, UNI's board of directors voted to terminate Plaintiff's employment.

UNI receives substantial funding from the Department of Planning and Development and from McDermott's discretionary gaming fund. Its board of directors is composed of one-third government, one-third business, and one-third low income members. The government and business members are often recommended by McDermott and his recommendations have always been accepted and approved by UNI. He claims credit for creating UNI and getting people jobs there.

In Count I of the Complaint Plaintiff alleges that Taillon conspired with the other defendants in this case to get Plaintiff fired in retaliation against her for exercising her First Amendment right to freedom of political speech and action. In Count III she claims Taillon and other Defendants violated various provisions of the Indiana Open Door Law with respect to the March 11, 2011, UNI board meeting at which the decision to terminate her was made. In Count IV she alleges a breach of contract claim against Taillon and UNI based on UNI bylaw provisions regarding the requirements for notice for board meetings and minute-taking. In Count V she alleges Taillon defamed her at the March 11 meeting by falsely attacking her character, integrity, and work performance. In Count VII Plaintiff alleges Taillon and other Defendants induced UNI to terminate her by providing false information about her that led to her termination. In Count VIII she alleges Taillon and other Defendants interfered with her business relationship with UNI.

C. Discussion

(1) Open Door Law

Taillon argues that Plaintiff's claims for violations of the Indiana Open Door Law ("ODL") must be dismissed as time-barred. In her response brief Plaintiff withdraws her requests for all but a declaratory judgment under the ODL and maintains that its thirty-day statute of limitations does not apply to the relief she seeks. Indiana Code § 5-14-1.5-7(a) provides that any person may file an action to (1) obtain a declaratory judgment, (2) enjoin violations of the ODL, or (3) declare void any policy, decision, or final action taken in violation of the ODL. Section 5-14-1.5-7(b) provides that any action to declare void any policy, decision, or final action void or to enter an injunction that would invalidate any policy, decision, or final action on the basis of violations of the ODL must be commenced within thirty days of the date of the act complained of or within thirty days of the date the plaintiff knew or should have known that the act complained of had occurred. The Court ...

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