In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a municipality violated its former police chief’s due process rights when it terminated him without providing an opportunity to be heard. Bradley v. Village of University Park,  

In 2014, a municipality hired a new police chief with a two-year written employment contract. The contract provided that if the chief was terminated “without cause,” he would be entitled to severance in the amount of four months’ salary. After the 2015 municipal election, the newly elected mayor and village board placed the chief on administrative leave and ultimately terminated him. The municipality argued that the termination was required by state law because the employment contract between the municipality and chief had a term that extended past the term of the mayor who had appointed him. The municipality asserted that because the termination was by “operation of law,” the municipal board did not need to vote on the termination or provide reasons or a hearing. The chief subsequently requested a hearing before the municipality and subsequently sued the municipality, claiming that he was deprived of his constitutionally protected property interest in his position as police chief without due process of law and that the municipality breached his employment agreement.

The district court dismissed the chief’s due process claim, and the chief appealed to the Seventh Circuit. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court decision, finding that the chief had alleged a violation of his due process rights. The case was then remanded back to the district court, which ruled in favor of the municipality. The chief appealed a second time to the Seventh Circuit.

On the second appeal, the court ruled in favor of the chief on his due process claim.  First, the Seventh Circuit noted that the municipality had already stipulated the chief had a property interest in his position, so had waived any argument to the contrary on that issue. Second, the Seventh Circuit held that the chief successfully established that his due process rights were violated when he was not provided an opportunity to be heard regarding his termination. However, on the chief’s breach of contract claim, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the municipality, finding that the municipality had exceeded its authority under the Illinois Municipal Code when it entered into a contract that extended past the appointing mayor’s term, so the chief lacked a valid and enforceable contract. The Seventh Circuit remanded the case back to the district court on the issue of damages and the mayor’s claim of qualified immunity.

Post Authored by Katie Nagy & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink