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UNITED STATES v. VILLAGE OF PALATINE

May 12, 1993

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF PALATINE, ILLINOIS; and, in their official capacities, RITA MULLINS; MATTHEW KLEIN; DICK KOZDRAS; SCOTT BUENING; and JOHN E. CROWCROFT, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARVIN E. ASPEN

 MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge:

 The United States of America, pursuant to § 810(e) of the Fair Housing Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 3610(e), brings this action against the Village of Palatine and, in their official capacities, Rita Mullins (mayor of Palatine), Matthew Klein (Village Attorney), Dick Kozdras (Director of Community Development), Scott Buening (Planning and Zoning Administrator) and John E. Crowcroft (Fire Prevention Officer), seeking injunctive relief to enable the Oxford House-Mallard to operate as it has since August 1, 1992, without regard to specific provisions of the Village of Palatine Code. Defendants now move to dismiss the action pursuant to the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, and the abstention doctrine enunciated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1971), and its progeny. As explained below, the motion is denied.

 I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

 A motion to dismiss should not be granted unless it "appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 102, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957); see also Beam v. IPCO Corp., 838 F.2d 242, 244 (7th Cir. 1988); Ellsworth v. City of Racine 774 F.2d 182, 184 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1047, 106 S. Ct. 1265, 89 L. Ed. 2d 574 (1986). We take the "well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and view them, as well as reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Balabanos v. North Am. Inv. Group, Ltd., 708 F. Supp. 1488, 1491 n.1 (N.D. Ill. 1988) (citing Ellsworth).

 II. Background

 Oxford Houses are intended to provide an environment conducive to the rehabilitative needs of persons recovering from drug and/or alcohol addiction. By congressional mandate and as required under charters issued by Oxford House, Inc. ("OHI"), a non-profit, tax-exempt Delaware Corporation, the houses are required to be democratically run and financially self-supporting. See 42 U.S.C. § 300x-4a. Additionally, any resident found to be using drugs or alcohol is to be expelled. Id. Exhibiting its commitment to combatting drug and alcohol abuse, and in order to meet its obligations in exchange for federal block grant funds, the State of Illinois has contracted with OHI to administer a revolving fund providing start-up loans for group homes to benefit recovering substance abusers. Oxford House-Mallard ("OH-M") is an unincorporated association operated under a charter issued by OHI. The six-bedroom house, located at 913 South Mallard Drive in Palatine, Illinois, has been in use as an Oxford House since August 1, 1992. Currently, OH-M houses eleven residents, one short of its capacity.

 Palatine's zoning ordinance, while permitting any number of related persons to reside together in a dwelling in a single family zone, limits the number of unrelated persons allowed to reside in such a zone to three. The ordinance further provides that up to eight unrelated handicapped persons may live together in a single family residence if the group maintains around-the-clock professional staffing. OH-M is located within a single family residence, and its residents are handicapped within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h).

 On March 22, 1993, OHI filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development a timely complaint pursuant to § 810(e) of the Fair Housing Act, alleging that defendants discriminated against OHI on the basis of handicap by failing to make a reasonable accommodation in Palatine's zoning laws, such that OHI could lease and operate OH-M as a group home for up to twelve persons. Specifically, Palatine has demanded that OHI retain full-time professional staffing for OH-M, receive licensure or certification from the State of Illinois, and limit occupancy of the home to eight persons. OHI previously had requested that these requirements be waived, but Palatine refused.

 On March 30, 1993, the Village of Palatine filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County against OHI, OH-M and William and Laura Grace, the owners of the residence located at 913 South Mallard Drive in Palatine. The state complaint seeks injunctive relief to reduce the number of occupants of OH-M on three grounds. First, Palatine claims that OHI and OH-M failed to obtain a rental dwelling inspection and license for operation of the property as a rental dwelling as required by local ordinance. Second, Palatine contends that the occupancy of the building by eleven unrelated persons violates the local zoning requirement that no ore than three unrelated persons occupy a single family dwelling. Finally, Palatine maintains that the present occupancy coupled with the structure of OH-M, which does not comply with the standards set forth in the Palatine Building and Life Safety Codes for occupancy on a boarding or rooming home basis, present a severe safety hazard. At this time, pending in the Circuit Court is defendants' motion to dismiss based on the Village's failure to make reasonable accommodations as required pursuant to the Federal Fair Housing Act.

 Rather than allow the Circuit Court to address the federal issue as raised by the parties in the state proceeding, on April 9, 1993, the United States filed the instant action in this court, seeking injunctive relief to enable OH-M to operate as it has since August 1, 1992, without regard to the above described provisions of the Palatine Code.

 III. Discussion

 There is no dispute that both this court and the Circuit Court of Cook County possess jurisdiction to consider the respective complaints as presented. Indeed, "federal courts and state courts often find themselves exercising concurrent jurisdiction over the same subject matter, and when that happens a federal court generally need neither abstain (i.e., dismiss the case before it) nor defer to the state court proceedings (i.e., withhold action until the state proceedings have concluded)." Growe v. Emison, 113 S. Ct. 1075, 1080, 122 L. Ed. 2d 388 (1993) (citing McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282, 30 S. Ct. 501, 505, 54 L. Ed. 762 (1910)); see also Deakins v. Monaghan, 484 U.S. 193, 203, 108 S. Ct. 523, 530, 98 L. Ed. 2d 529 (1988); Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813, 96 S. Ct. 1236, 1244, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483 (1976). Nonetheless, both Congress and the United States Supreme Court have recognized that, in some rare classes of cases, "the withholding of authorized equitable relief because of undue interference with state proceedings is 'the normal thing to do.'" New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 359, 109 S. Ct. 2506, 2513, 105 L. Ed. 2d 298 (1989) (quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 45, 91 S. Ct. at 751). From ...


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