PALKA v. SHELTON (October 7, 2010)

Peter Palka's hopes of becoming a Chicago police officer were dashed when he was kicked out of the Police Academy. His father Tadeusz, a 28-year veteran of the Cook County Sheriff's Department, thought the termination was discriminatory and based on the fact that Peter was Polish. The elder Palka tried to convince Matthew Tobias, the official in charge of the Academy, to reinstate his son. Tobias assured Palka that Peter was terminated for cause and refused to reverse the decision. A few months later, the receptionist at his children’s school advised Tobias that an unidentified man with a Polish accent called and asked questions about the children. Tobias suspected Palka and began an investigation. Phone records revealed that someone in the Cook County Building at 69 W. Washington in Chicago had placed a call to the school on the afternoon in question. Tobias was now convinced -- he reported the call to the local police, he opened an incident report and checked Palka for outstanding warrants, he asked senior officers to speak with Palka, and he filed a formal complaint with the Sheriff's Department's Office of Internal Affairs. Palka was suspended with pay. Shortly before a formal disciplinary hearing that would decide his fate, the Department offered Palka full retirement benefits (including badge and firearm credentials) if he resigned. He did resign, but never received his credentials. Palka filed suit pursuant to § 1983, alleging procedural and substantive due process violations, occupational liberty deprivations, and Monell claims. Judge Kendall (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Palka appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Ripple, Kanne, and Sykes affirmed. The Court rejected each of Palka’s contentions in turn. First, the procedural due process claim relating to his suspension fails because a suspension with pay does not trigger due process protection unless there is a claim of indirect economic consequences. Palka makes no such allegation. Second, the procedural due process claim relating to his resignation also fails. Palka was simply given a choice to avail himself of the procedural protections offered by the Merit Board (and risk losing everything) or to resign with retirement benefits. He was not deprived of due process protections -- he traded them away. Third, the substantive due process claim fails. Public employment termination does not give rise to a substantive due process claim unless it is accompanied by an allegation of other constitutional violations or inadequate state remedies, neither of which is present here. To the extent that Palka relied on police misconduct to support the substantive due process claim, the Court stated that it did not meet the high “shocks the conscience” threshold. Fourth, the occupational liberty claim fails. Palka failed to allege public disclosure an essential element of the claim. The County's failure to grant him badge and firearm credentials, on which Palka bases this claim, was not publicly disclosed nor does Palka allege that any potential future employer learned of it. Finally, because there is no constitutional violation, there can be no Monell liability.