A U.S. District Court Judge in Illinois denied a motion to dismiss a case against Racine director of planning Amy Connolly after she argued that she was immune from being sued by her previous employer.
Connolly is being sued in federal court by the Village of Tinley Park over a stalled affordable housing project that they say she misrepresented to the Board. She worked for the Village of Tinley Park from 2007 to 2016. The City of Racine hired Connolly in May 2016.
Alleging that Connolly “breached her fiduciary duties to the Village,” it is suing her for $75,000 plus punitive damages to “punish Connolly for her wrongful conduct and deter others from such conduct…” Patrick Walsh, Connolly’s lawyer, said the denial on the motion to dismiss the case is “a bump in the road.”
“She (Amy) did absolutely nothing wrong,” Walsh said. “This opinion and order are not saying the case is meritorious, it’s just not dismissed at this stage.”
Calls made to the Village’s attorney were not returned. An assistant to the mayor of Tinley Park stated he would not comment on the matter.
Opinion reached on motion to dismiss
Earlier this year, Connolly’s attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed because “she is immune to liability” under the state’s common-law doctrine of legislative immunity. But U.S. District Court Judge Sara L. Ellis denied Connolly’s motion to dismiss the case because the law is not clear whether the protection extends to municipal employees “who participate in the legislative process.”
“Because Illinois courts have not previously applied the common law doctrine of legislative immunity to non-legislators and Connolly has not shown that it should be extended to reach such persons, the Court denies the motion to dismiss,” according to the opinion and order filed Nov. 28.
Ellis points to how a former circuit court judge had suggested that the Supreme Court of Illinois should take up the question. But because it had not taken up the question, “this Court should not expand an otherwise narrow immunity.”
“This is the first time this has happened in Illinois history,” Walsh said.
How Connolly got pulled into the lawsuit
The rift over the development started between the Village Board and Connolly after a number of residents opposed a multi-family low-income housing project known as The Reserve, a project presented by Ohio-based developer Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.
But the complaint against Connolly alleges that she “acted dishonestly and made numerous misrepresentations to Village and its employees regarding changes to the Legacy Code.”
Walsh told the Racine County Eye earlier this year that after citizens learned about the project, the Village backtracked on the project when those citizens filed a lawsuit of their own against Village. But that citizen-led lawsuit was dismissed in a Cook County Court.
At the time, the Village Board tabled the development and sent it back to Connolly for review. That’s when the Village began to use Connolly as a scapegoat, Walsh said.
“While Amy was the planning director for Tinley Park, she approached this development, along with others, the right way. She followed the letter of the law throughout approval process,” he said.
Slew of Lawsuits Filed
The stalled project triggered a number of court filings: Buckeye sued the Village of Tinley Park and the Department of Justice sued the Village of Tinley Park in 2016, Connolly filed a complaint against the Village of Tinley Park in January 2017 and now the Village is suing Connolly.
The Village filed the federal case against Connolly on May 1, just weeks after the Village of Tinley Park reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit of its own after Buckeye sued them — and won — a sum of $2.45 million, according to a story by Tinley Park Patch.
Federal Judge Milton Shadur, who heard the Buckeye case against the Village, found that the defense relied heavily on framing Connolly’s conduct as unprofessional, but in reviewing the case he found “nothing to suggest that she was doing anything other than a professional job” in handling the development.
The Illinois Department of Justice then filed its own case in November against the Village of Tinley Park, claiming that it violated the Fair Housing Act because it did not approve Buckeye’s project. That case has not been settled, but Shadur is expected to preside over the case, according to a story by the Chicago Tribune.
The case against Connolly, however, will now move forward. Her attorneys are expected to answer the complaint by Dec. 22.