MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Honorable Edmond E. Chang, United States District Judge.
Claudia and Noel Manley believe that Hinsdale Township High School District 86 and Bruce Law, the District's Superintendent, subjected Claudia to a "vigilante" campaign when they investigated complaints that Claudia — a member of the District's School Board — inappropriately confronted two individuals on school property. (For convenience, the Opinion will refer to the Defendants collectively as "the District.") After launching a grievance procedure to address the complaints, the Manleys filed a state-court suit, unsuccessfully seeking a temporary restraining order against the investigation. The District eventually concluded that Claudia was "mean spirited and rude" during the confrontation, but took no other formal action against her. After the Manleys amended the state-court complaint to refer to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the District removed the case to federal court. The Manleys allege that the grievance procedure violated their procedural due process rights, and also assert two state-law declaratory judgment claims asking the Court to interpret two School Board policies.
Both parties have moved for summary judgment, so in evaluating the Manleys' motion the Court must draw reasonable inferences in the District's favor, and vice versa on the District's motion. But the relevant facts are largely undisputed. Claudia and Noel Manley are a married couple residing in Darien, Illinois. PSOF ¶ 3; R. 8, Defs.' Answer ¶¶ 1-2.
The March 12 incident quickly gained a lot of publicity; for example, a petition demanding Claudia's resignation from the School Board circulated online, and several newspapers reported on the incident. PSOF ¶ 22; R. 24-1, Pls.' Exh. A to Davidson Aff., 4/6/15 Chicago Tribune Article; R. 24-1, Pls.' Exh. B to Davidson Aff., Online Posting; R. 24-1, Pls.' Exh. D to Davidson Aff., 7/21/15 Chicago Tribune Article; R. 24-2, Pls.' Exh. A to C. Manley Aff., 3/15/15 Dupont Email; R. 24-2, Pls.' Exh. A-1 to C. Manley Aff., 3/15/15 Gallo Email. A number of individuals also complained to the District about the incident. PSOF ¶ 30; Defs.' Answer ¶ 13. In response, the District initiated the Uniform Grievance Procedure outlined in Board Policy 2:260, which governs the process when "[s]tudents, parents/guardians, employees, or community members ... believe that the Board of Education, its employees, or agents have violated their rights," or if an aggrieved party otherwise has a complaint about a list of enumerated issues. Id.; R. 36-9, Defs.' Exh. 9, Board Policy 2:260.
Bruce Law, the District Superintendent, appointed Jeffrey Litman as a "complaint manager" or "independent reviewer" to supervise Claudia's grievance process; Litman had previously worked as a hearing officer for the District. PSOF ¶¶ 31-32; R. 36-12, Defs.' Exh. 12, 3/17/15 Law Email. The School Board was scheduled to discuss the investigation during a meeting on April 27, 2015, but the Board could not take
A few days after the Circuit Court denied the TRO, Litman's investigation continued. PSOF ¶ 39; Defs.' Answer ¶¶ 22-23. On May 12, 2015, Litman completed a 16-page report, concluding that "there was not enough time [during the March 12 encounter] for Mrs. Manley's remarks to rise to the level that would establish a pattern of harassment or bullying" against the student leafleter, but that Claudia's comments were nonetheless "mean-spirited and rude." PSOF ¶ 46; Litman Report at 15-16. Litman also concluded that Claudia had violated District Policy 8:30, which requires "mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct among all individuals on school property or at a school event." Litman Report at 16 (quotation marks omitted); R. 36-11, Defs.' Exh. 11, Board Policy 8:30 at 1.
On May 18, 2015, the Board held an open meeting to appoint a "[Uniform Grievance Procedure] Investigative Committee," which consisted of the full Board except for Claudia, and then held a closed session to approve the Litman Report. PSOF ¶¶ 49-50; Defs.' Answer ¶ 35. Later that evening, the full Board — including Claudia — reconvened in an open session and voted 4-2 to adopt the Litman Report with minor changes. R. 36-4, Defs.' Exh. 4, 5/18/15 Committee Recommendation; R. 36-2, Defs.' Exh. 2, Law Aff. ¶ 3; Defs.' Answer ¶¶ 37-38. A little less than a month later, on June 9, 2015, the Board sent Claudia a letter formalizing its conclusions — namely, that on March 12, Claudia had "over-stepped [her] authority" by confronting the leafleters about a perceived Board Policy violation, because individual board members "do not have the authority to police behaviors on campus," but "have authority only at a publically-noticed open meeting during a vote." PSOF ¶ 58; R. 36-5, Defs.' Exh. 5, 6/9/15 Board Letter. The Board explained that although Claudia did not bully or harass the leafleters, her comments were "mean-spirited and rude," so she had violated District Policy 8:30 requiring respect and civility on school property. 6/9/15 Board Letter. After issuing the letter, the Board closed its investigation of the March 12 incident. Law Aff. ¶¶ 4-5.
On August 26, 2015, the District removed the action to this Court. R. 1, Notice of Removal. After failed settlement negotiations, and after the Court ensured that the parties had conducted all the discovery they wanted, the Manleys moved for summary judgment, R. 23, against which the District cross-moved, R. 34.
II. Legal Standard
Summary judgment must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In evaluating summary judgment motions, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). As noted above, both parties moved for summary judgment in this case, so in evaluating the Manleys' motion the Court must draw reasonable inferences in the District's favor, and vice-versa on the District's motion. The Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, Omnicare, Inc. v. United-Health Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir.2011), and must consider only evidence that can "be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute and that she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Carmichael v. Village of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir.2010); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir.2008). If this burden is met, the adverse party must then "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505.
A. Federal Due Process Claim
1. Claudia Manley
The Court will first address the § 1983 claim as to Claudia Manley, who asserts a Fourteenth Amendment due process violation.
Claudia immediately runs into a problem at step one of the inquiry. She has not alleged or explained, much less offered evidence at this summary judgment stage, that she has been deprived of any constitutionally protected liberty or property interest. It is undisputed that at the end of the District's investigation, the only tangible consequence Claudia suffered was the receipt of a letter stating that she had "over-stepped [her] authority" by confronting the leafleters about a perceived Board Policy violation, because individual board members "do not have the authority to police behaviors on campus," but "have authority only at a publically-noticed open meeting during a vote." 6/9/15 Board Letter. The Board also concluded that Claudia had violated Board Policy 8:30, which requires "mutual respect, civility and orderly conduct among all individuals on school property or at a school event," because she "did not demonstrate respect or civility in [her] interactions with [the two leafleters]." Id. (citing Policy 8:30 at 1). But no legal interest of Claudia's was harmed as a result of this reprimand; she did not lose her seat on the Board, was not suspended, and did not lose any privileges of her office. Claudia fails to explain why the receipt of this letter implicated any constitutionally-protected interest, whether liberty or property.
Claudia does allege, however, that the District participated in "a campaign of character assassination" that was "injurious to [her] reputation and wellbeing." Am. Compl. ¶ 17. As proof, Claudia submits articles and online postings about the March 12 incident, as well as emails from the community calling for her resignation from the Board. See 4/6/15 Chicago Tribune Article; Online Posting; 7/21/15 Chicago Tribune Article; 3/15/15 Dupont Email; 3/15/15 Gallo Email. But that is not enough to transmogrify the situation into a federal constitutional due process claim. No protected liberty interest is at stake; the Supreme Court has held that "interest in reputation alone" is not cognizable under the Due Process Clause. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 711-12, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976). This is true "even when [defamation by the government] causes serious impairment of one's future employment," Hinkle v. White, 793 F.3d 764, 767 (7th Cir.2015) (citation and quotation marks omitted), which did not even happen in Claudia's case. To assert a liberty interest based on reputational loss, a plaintiff must show "stigma plus," or "the alteration of legal status such as government deprivation of a right previously held, which, combined with the injury resulting
Nor has Claudia established the denial of any property interest, which exists when there is "a legitimate claim of entitlement" to a benefit. Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972). This interest comes from an "independent source such as state law," or "rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits." Id. For example, state law could establish a property interest in continued public employment. Id. Here again, Claudia has not articulated or attempted to prove any property interest, although the District agrees that Claudia has a legitimate claim of entitlement to her current term on the School Board. R. 35, Defs.' Br. at 5 (citing 105 ILCS 5/9-5, 10-10 (term of office); 105 ILCS 5/10-11 (identifying limited circumstances that disqualify sitting Board member from office); E. St. Louis Fed'n of Teachers v. E. St. Louis Sch. Dist. No. 189 Fin. Oversight Panel, 178 Ill.2d 399, 417-18, 227 Ill.Dec. 568, 687 N.E.2d 1050 (1997) (school board members had protected property interests in seats on board)). But Claudia does not come close to showing that she has been denied this property interest; as explained above, she received only a letter of reprimand that carried no legal consequences against her Board position. She was not removed or suspended, nor did she lose any privileges of her position. And as the case with liberty interests, "[p]urely dignitary and non-pecuniary interests, such as professional satisfaction, personal relationships, and reputation, do not constitute property" interests and are not actionable under the Due Process Clause. Barrows v. Wiley, 478 F.3d 776, 780 (7th Cir.2007) (citation omitted).
In sum, because the undisputed facts show that Claudia was not denied any protected liberty or property interest, her § 1983 claim fails.
2. Noel Manley
Noel Manley, Claudia's husband, asserts the same procedural due process claim under § 1983. But for the same reasons explained above for Claudia, Noel's claims must be rejected as well, because there is even less of an argument that he has been deprived of a protected interest. Like Claudia, Noel also claims "injury to [his] reputation and well-being," Am. Compl. ¶ 17, but nowhere in the record is there any elaboration or proof of an injury to
For similar reasons, the Court agrees with the District that Noel lacks standing to bring his § 1983 claim. Standing requires that a plaintiff establish, for each claim, "(1) injury in fact, meaning an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized, actual or imminent, and not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, such that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's actions; and (3) that a favorable decision is likely to redress the injury." Tobin for Governor v. Ill. State Bd. of Elections, 268 F.3d 517, 527 (7th Cir.2001) (citations omitted). But because Noel fails
B. State-Law Declaratory Judgment Claims
The Manleys assert two additional state-law declaratory judgment claims. First, they ask the Court to declare that the District improperly subjected Claudia to the Uniform Grievance Procedure in District Policy 2:260, which governs complaints about "the Board of Education, its employees, or agents." Board Policy 2:260; R. 25, Pls.' Br. at 6-14. According to the Manleys, Claudia was not the Board, its employee, or its agent, but rather a member of the community who was not covered by the Policy. Id. Second, the Manleys ask for a declaration that "distribution of political campaign materials on school property is a clear violation of District Policy 4:20." Pls.' Br. at 2. In essence, the Manleys want the Court to say that the leafleters violated district policy on the evening of March 12, which in turn implies that Claudia had reason to confront the leafleters.
The Court, however, declines to address these issues and instead relinquishes jurisdiction over the state-law declaratory judgment claims.
The District also argues that the Court should retain jurisdiction because "[t]he resolution of the state law claims is clear, and it would be pointless to burden the state court with them." Defs.' Br. at 14. But the goals of comity and federalism are better served by relinquishing jurisdiction, because the remaining claims are pure issues of state law, and indeed require interpretation of local school board policies that have the status of local administrative regulations. See 105 ILCS 5/10-20.5 (school boards have the authority "[t]o adopt and enforce all necessary rules for the management and government of the public schools of their district. Rules adopted by the school board shall be filed for public inspection in the administrative office of the district."); Duda v. Bd. of Educ. of Franklin Park Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1061 (7th Cir.1998) ("In Illinois, the School District's Board of Education has full power to manage the schools and to adopt all rules and regulations needed for that broad purpose."). The Circuit Court is especially well-positioned to assess the declaratory-judgment claims because it is familiar with local school board policies and the Manleys' claims. Indeed, it has already considered the challenged policies when it issued the May 2015 order denying the Manleys' TRO. See 5/4/15 Circuit Court Op. Thus, the presumption of relinquishing jurisdiction is not rebutted in this case.
Finally, to be clear, although the Court previously held that Noel Manley has no standing to bring his federal § 1983 claim, see supra Section III.A.2, the Court makes no determination as to standing — for either party — with regards to the declaratory judgment claims. Any procedural or substantive arguments regarding those state-law claims will be decided by the state court.
For the reasons described above, the Manleys' motion for summary judgment, R. 23, is denied as to the § 1983 claims. The District's cross motion for summary judgment, R. 34, is granted as to the § 1983 claims. The Court makes no decision on the remaining state-law declaratory judgment claims, and relinquishes jurisdiction over these claims.
Citations to the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements of Fact are "PSOF" (for the Manleys' Statement of Facts) [R. 24]; "Defs.' Resp. PSOF" (for the District's Response to the Manleys' Statement of Facts) [R. 36]; "DSOAF" (for the District's Statement of Additional Facts) [R. 36 at 23]; "Pls.' Resp. DSOAF" (for the Manleys' Response to the District's Statement of Additional Facts") [R. 37 at 6]; "Pls.' Reply PSOF" (for the Manleys' Reply to the District's Response to their Statement of Facts) [R. 37 at 2]; "PSOAF" (for the Manleys' Statement of Additional Facts) [R. 37 at 10]; "Defs.' Resp. PSOAF" (for the District's Response to the Manleys' Statement of Additional Facts) [R. 39].
Where a fact is admitted, only the asserting party's statement of facts is cited; where an assertion is otherwise challenged, it is so noted.
Even if the Manleys had advanced a First Amendment claim, there would have been, at the very least, a serious obstacle because they have not shown that the letter from the Board, which had no particular legal consequence, deterred their speech or punished them for it. Surita v. Hyde, 665 F.3d 860, 878 (7th Cir.2011) (alleged conduct must be "likely [to] deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in protected activity").