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Friday, November 1, 2013

Court Dismisses 1983 Claims Against School District Relating to Failed Referendum

Defendants sued an Illinois school district alleging the district violated their civil rights in engaging in activities relating to a failed referendum to increase the school district's property tax rate.  Peraica v. Riverside-Brookfield H.S. Dist. 208, 2013 IL App (1st) 122351.  Specifically, the defendants argued that the district engaged in illegal electioneering and that the referendum was misleading and understated the amount of the proposed tax increase.  The circuit court dismissed plaintiff's case, and they appealed. 
On appeal, the appellate court first analyzed the standard for sufficiently alleging a section 1983 claim against a governmental entity, including a requirement that a plaintiff allege that the government (1) had an express policy that, when enforced, causes a constitutional deprivation; (2) had a widespread practice not authorized by law or express policy, but well settled so as to constitute custom or usage; or (3) the plaintiff's injury was caused by a person with final policymaking authority.  The case contains a detailed analysis of the pleading standards for a 1983 case.
The district argued that defendants' complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to support any one of these required allegations.  Plaintiffs conceded that they were not claiming that there was a municipal policy at issue, and the court found that Plaintiffs failed to even attempt to show either widespread practice or that the injury was caused by a final policymaker.  Moreover, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege a violation of their rights under federal law since their complaint focused on violations of the state election code provisions relating to electioneering, and upheld the circuit court's dismissal. 


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