Summary of Kyle v. Morton High School, U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit (1998)
Cause of action: The following is a civil rights cause of action, for deprivation of rights pursuant to § 1983, § 1985(3) (1st and 14th amendment claims), and for wrongful termination (due process) and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Procedural History: DF school district, school and school board filed motion 12(b)(6) for dismissal, which was granted. B/c of the 12(b)(6) motion, the court refused to take up SMJ on PL’s part as well. After an independent review, this court affirms.
Facts: PL probationary teacher informed by board members without notice of any process being taken to such effect, and contends he was not given any due process rights, and was fired for what a board member said were “political and advocacy reasons.” He also alleges a conspiracy theory in general and various civil rights and torts violations which stem from the firing and lack of a chance to be heard by the board before such action was taken.
Issue(s): Under FRCP 12(b)(6), did PL properly state any claims for which he is entitled to take his suit to trial court when he filed for being fired for the wrong reasons as well as for a violation of various civil rights and tort violations?
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Scope of review is de novo: to consider the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint to be true. Court makes permissible inferences in PL’s favor. This is the same standard applied to all cases, civil rights or non-civil rights.
Count one: the due process claim. PL claims he was entitled written notice, and a chance to be heard after being fired, referring to the Open Meetings Act. But PL had no due process claim b/c he had no property interest in his job, thus it is irrelevant to state a due process claim. There are no facts stated in his complaint which state that under IL law, a probationary teacher can be fired for misconduct, so it is true about no property interest. Additionally, there was no analysis to the claim.
The “political and advocacy reasons” 1st and 14th amendments claim. All there is in the complaint is the quoted statement, but no actions in the complaint support or reasonably connect it to anything. All PL had to do was show (1) the speech in which PL did was speech which was 1st amendment protected, and (2) DF’s retaliated against him b/c of the speech. No acts or statements, other than the allegation, are submitted as support for the claim.
Again, PL needed to not be so conclusory and should have given some notice as to the basis for the claim, not just the claim itself, for the pleading to be successful in getting past a 12(b)(6) motion. If there are no specifics alleged, how can DF be expected to go back and investigate the claims?
DF’s could’ve filed a 12(e) motion to obtain a more definite statement as to why he alleges the accusations set forth, but it is not their job, nor the court’s job to order such a motion. In essence, PL had the who, when, and to some degree the what, but never even cam close to establishing a how and why, and therefore his claim fails for 12(b)(6) reasons.
Rule: It is not enough to allege mere retaliation due to an improper motive; there must be an allegation of protected conduct.
Holding: No. Kyle’s complaint fails to give fair notice to the court and the opposing party of the operational facts of his complaint. Simply reciting a rumor fails to identify any activity on his part for which he would have cause to bring suit for wrongful termination, even in the most general terms.
Concurring/Dissenting: Count II is not followed b/c judge feels the court took a heightened standard to the civil rights count, as there was an allegation which showed a violation of constitutionally-protected conduct. DF’s don’t even argue that there was a failure to allege a claim on the civil rights count, they just file a motion as well. They cite no case law to their contention. DF’s claim FRCP 11 entitles them to facts to give them notice of the claim, again, without argument. The Court has said in the past that FRCP 11 neither modifies the notice pleading approach of federal rules, nor requires counsel to prove the case in advance of discovery. Rule 8 does not require PL to plead all the facts the majority requires either.
This judge also alleges they got some of the scope of their review wrong on the second, count, as all they should have been required to do was make a reasonable inference, which this judge feels, could have been made. In addition, the court’s adoption of a fact pleading requirement prevents some meritorious claims for slipping underneath the radar at the pleading stage. The court has never in the past denied a first amendment claim for failure to state facts, as this would intimate that the public employee was speaking on a matter of public concern, if the complaint involved such matters.