ABCARIAN v. MCDONALD (August 13, 2010)
Dr. Herand Abcarian was a senior surgeon at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago. Over time, he clashed frequently with co-employees over issues like recruitment, compensation, risk management, and benefits. He alleges that several of these co-employees conspired to defame him and deprive him of his constitutional rights. In particular, he alleges: a) they caused the University to settle a malpractice claim against him for almost $1 million, b) the reported the malpractice settlement to federal and state databanks, and c) they caused the malpractice plaintiff's attorney to file suit against Abcarian only to then have it dismissed as a result of the settlement. Abcarian brought suit pursuant to § 1983, alleging constitutional violations of his right to free speech, equal protection, and procedural due process. Judge Der-Yeghiayan (N.D. Ill.) dismissed for failure to state a claim. He also denied Abcarian's requests to amend the judgment and to amend his complaint. Abcarian appeals.
In their opinion, Judges Kanne, Williams, and Hamilton affirmed. The Court first addressed his First Amendment claim that he was retaliated against for his speech. Garcetti dealt with an employer's retaliation and the Court noted that it had already reserved judgment once about whether that rule applied to a co-employee's retaliation. Again, the Court ducked the question whether Garcetti applies to all employees but did conclude that it applies to employees whose actions are advancing the interests of their employer. The Court also concluded that a practical view of the speech, keeping in mind Abcarian's role and the content and context of the speech, lead to the conclusion that he spoke as a public employee under Garcetti, not as a private citizen. His speech was therefore not protected. Abcarian's equal protection claim was a "class-of-one" claim under which a plaintiff need not allege a suspect classification. The plaintiff must, however, allege arbitrary treatment without a rational basis. The basis of Abcarian's claim is that the defendants reported the malpractice settlement. But they had no discretion in the matter. Federal and state law required the report and would have exposed them to punishment had they failed to report. The Court concluded that the lack of discretion precluded an equal protection claim. Abcarian's third constitutional claim was a procedural due process claim based on the defendants' defamation. In order for defamation to rise to the level of a due process violation, a plaintiff must allege that was stigmatized by publicly disclosed information and that he suffered a loss of employment opportunities. The Court concluded that Abcarian could not meet this test because he still maintains his same positions at the Medical Center and College of Medicine. One cannot be thought to have been deprived of something that one still possesses. Finally, the Court concluded that Abcarian could not and did not meet the test for a Rule 59(e) motion. Since a post-judgment amendment would only be allowed if his Rule 59(e) motion was granted and it was clear that the district court had entered a final judgment, Abcarian was also not entitled to amend his complaint.