The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES B. MORAN
Plaintiff Neal Wolf (Wolf), as executor of his father's estate, has accused the City of Chicago Heights (Chicago Heights) and six of its employees of violating several federal fair housing and civil rights laws, as well as several state laws, by ordering the demolition of his late father's apartment building (the property).
Defendants now move to dismiss. Their motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Defendants Charles Panici (Panici), Enrico Doggett (Doggett), Philip Russo (Russo), Jerlando Melei (Melei), Jack Cripe (Cripe), and John Hogensen (Hogensen) were all government officials employed by defendant Chicago Heights during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the events at issue took place. Panici served as mayor, Doggett as city administrator, Russo as superintendent of the building department, Melei as a housing code officer, and Cripe and Hogensen as building inspectors.
Wolf alleges that defendants followed a similar course with respect to his father's building. In 1990, he says, they conspired among themselves and "with others unknown" to solicit and encourage acts of vandalism at and theft from the property. On December 24, 1990, they declared the property uninhabitable and ordered the tenants to vacate. However, they continued to solicit conduct against the property into 1991. The property ultimately was demolished in 1992. Plaintiff claims that defendants' actions violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985, and the Fair Housing Act, § 3604 et seq., as well as several common law principles recognized under Illinois law. Defendant Chicago Heights has filed a counterclaim against Wolf, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., on the theory that Wolf's father's failure to maintain the property in conformity with the housing code had an adverse impact on African-American tenants.
Plaintiff brings federal claims under §§ 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985, none of which contains an explicit statute of limitations, and under the Fair Housing Act, which contains an express two-year limitations period, 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A). The Supreme Court has indicated that the applicable statute of limitations for the former claims is the statute of limitations imposed on the most analogous state law claim. See Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 482 U.S. 656, 661, 96 L. Ed. 2d 572, 107 S. Ct. 2617 (1987); Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266-68, 85 L. Ed. 2d 254, 105 S. Ct. 1938 (1985). The Court has regarded claims brought under §§ 1981 and 1983 as the equivalent of personal injury claims, Goodman, 482 U.S. at 661 (§ 1981); Wilson, 471 U.S. at 276 (§ 1983), and because the statute of limitations on personal injury claims in Illinois is two years, 735 ILCS 5/13-202, federal courts sitting in Illinois have applied a two-year statute of limitations to §§ 1981 and 1983 claims. See e.g., Smith v. City of Chicago Heights, 951 F.2d 834, 836-7 n.1 (7th Cir. 1992) (§ 1981); Kalimara v. Illinois Dept. of Corrections, 879 F.2d 276, 277 (7th Cir. 1989) (§ 1983). This court also has applied the two-year limitations period to claims brought under § 1985, Kness v. Grimm, 761 F. Supp. 513, 519 (N.D. Ill. 1990), and it believes that the general personal injury statute of limitations applies to § 1982 as well. Defendants suggest that the presence of a municipal defendant requires the application of the one-year limitations period found in the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/8-101, but their proposal is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's admonition in Goodman to apply a single limitations period to all claims brought under § 1983. Goodman stressed the value of uniformity, and this court's holding that §§ 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985 share the same statute of limitations -- regardless of the status of the defendant -- respects the logic of the Goodman decision.
Defendants argue that plaintiff's cause of action matured as soon as the property was declared uninhabitable on December 24, 1990 (or, if not on that date, then sometime in 1990 when defendant Melei retired). Defendants' statute of limitations attack falters for several reasons. First, the December 24, 1990 declaration of the property's non-inhabitability occurred within the two-year limitations period. Second, plaintiff contends that defendants continued to violate his civil rights for more than a year after the city issued its initial notice of the property's non-inhabitability. The city issued a second notice of non-inhabitability on January 7, 1991, and plaintiff asserts that defendants continued to solicit vandals and thieves to prey on the apartment building during that year. According to Wolf, the December 24, 1990 declaration of the property's non-inhabitability marked not the culmination of defendants' endeavors but an early step in an extended effort. When a continuing civil rights violation is alleged, as in this case, the claim is not barred by the statute of limitations unless none of the allegedly illegal acts occurred within the applicable limitations period. See Malhotra v. Cotter & Co., 885 F.2d 1305, 1310 (7th Cir. 1989). Wolf claims that defendants committed many illegal acts within two years of his filing of the complaint, and he alleges that the ultimate objective of defendants' plan -- to demolish his father's building -- was achieved less than one year before he filed his complaint. Finally, the court would note that the statute of limitations began to run only when Wolf knew or reasonably should have known of the facts supporting his discrimination charge. Kuemmerlein v. Board of Education of Madison Metropolitan School Dist., 894 F.2d 257, 261 (7th Cir. 1990). Defendants never stated publicly that they were trying to exclude African-Americans and Mexicans from the area where the property was located, or that they were conspiring to demolish the Wolf property, and there is no suggestion that plaintiff knew or should have known about defendants' alleged scheme prior to the 1992 trial from which plaintiff's complaint extensively quotes.
The foregoing analysis requires some elaboration with respect to the liability of defendant Melei, who retired from his job with the city on some unspecified date in 1990. At the outset, the court should state that it rejects defendants' argument that Wolf's claims against the city, Panici, Doggett, Russo, Cripe and Hogensen should be dismissed if the court dismisses the claims against Melei. Defendants' position seems to reflect wishful thinking on their part more than a logical analysis of the complaint or the principles underlying the Rules of Civil procedure. Individual claims are severable; one deficient allegation will not doom an entire complaint.
In any event, the claims against Melei need not be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. Even if the statute of limitations had begun to run at the time defendants committed their allegedly illegal acts, as defendants assert, there would be no reason to dismiss the § 1985 conspiracy claim against Melei because a conspirator who participates in a scheme designed to last for many years is regarded as a participant in the scheme throughout its duration, unless he or she affirmatively withdraws. Thus, in United States v. Masters, 924 F.2d 1362, 1368 (7th Cir. 1991), cert. den. 112 S. Ct. 86, 978 F.2d 281, 124 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1991), the Seventh Circuit held that a conspirator whose last conspiratorial act occurred six years prior to the bringing of charges could be held liable for a conspiracy, notwithstanding an applicable five-year statute of limitations, because the conspiracy was still in force less than five years before the indictment. Defendants suggest that Melei's retirement amounted to withdrawal. Perhaps it did, but that is a question of fact and has no bearing on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.