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FAYYUMI v. CITY OF HICKORY HILLS

August 27, 1998

YOUSEF FAYYUMI and RAIDA KHAMIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF HICKORY HILLS, a municipal corporation, ZEILER MANAGEMENT, INC., an Illinois corporation, SUSAN WADDELL and MARGE PANTALEO, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Plaintiffs Yousef Fayyumi and Raida Khamis ("plaintiffs") filed this action against the defendants as the owners and/or managers of the plaintiffs' former residence, the Parkview Apartments ("Parkview"). The plaintiffs contend that the defendants interfered with the enjoyment of their property and evicted them in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617 and § 3604(a) and (b) of the Fair Housing Act (the "Act"). *fn1"

 Currently before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss. Defendants first argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this Court's consideration of the plaintiffs' complaint, as the complaint improperly attacks a state court's determination that these defendants were entitled to possession of the plaintiffs' apartment. Next, defendants contend that because the plaintiffs could have litigated these claims during the state court forcible entry and detainer proceedings, the plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Finally, defendants assert that the statute of limitations on plaintiffs' claims has run, rendering this suit untimely. For the reasons stated herein, the defendants' motion to dismiss is partially granted and partially denied.

 RELEVANT FACTS

 We begin by presenting the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs and their two children resided at the Parkview Apartments, in Hickory Hills, Illinois. Like many of their former neighbors at Parkview, the plaintiffs are Arab-Americans. Comp., PP 2, 3, and 8. In early March 1994, the City of Hickory Hills ("City") purchased the Parkview. Comp. P 4. The City retained Zeiler Management to manage the property. Defendant Susan Waddell, Zeiler's president, hired Marge Pantaleo as the site agent for Parkview. Compl PP 6, 7.

 The plaintiffs allege that shortly after purchasing the Parkview, the City, through Waddell and Pantaleo, harassed the plaintiffs by interfering with the plaintiffs' enjoyment of their apartment unit. Compl. P 9. The plaintiffs assert that the defendants systematically refused to provide basic maintenance to the buildings, grounds, and apartment units that were occupied by the plaintiffs and other Arab-Americans. Id. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants failed to provide janitorial service, frequently turned off the water without warning, refused to secure mailboxes, and refused to exterminate buildings infested with roaches and mice. Id. Moreover, the defendants allegedly tore up streets, thus preventing the tenants from driving up to the buildings, failed to collect garbage, thereby increasing rodent and roach infestation, and renovated only those apartments in which the tenants were not living. Id. The plaintiffs contend that this rendered their apartment uninhabitable and dangerous, in violation of the Act. Id. The plaintiffs attribute the defendants' conduct to racial animus. Comp. P 10.

 The plaintiffs similarly attribute their eviction to the defendants' discriminatory desire to rid the Parkview of its Arab-American tenants. The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of lulling them into believing they could submit their rent late without penalty, and then evicting the plaintiffs for failing to pay their rent in a timely fashion. Specifically, on July 7, 1994, the defendants served plaintiffs with a Landlord's Five Day Notice, informing plaintiffs that they owed $ 425 in back rent. Defs' Ex. A. The Notice explained that unless the plaintiffs tendered the rent within five days, they would be evicted. The plaintiffs failed to pay the back-rent by the July 12th deadline, but contacted Wadell on approximately July 18, 1994. Wadell allegedly informed the plaintiffs that they could take additional time to pay their rent, consistent with the defendants' practice of allowing such extensions.

 Despite Wadell's assurances, on July 21, 1994, the City filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County seeking judgment against the current plaintiffs for possession and damages under the Illinois Forcible Entry and Detainer Statute. 735 ILCS 5/9-101 et seq. The plaintiffs contend that the defendants assured them that if the unpaid rent was tendered to the City's counsel at the court proceeding, the plaintiffs could remain in the apartment. However, counsel refused to accept this payment when the plaintiffs balked at paying his fees. The plaintiffs appeared in court, but did not raise any affirmative defenses or counterclaims. Comp. PP 14, 16. On August 4, 1994, the court entered judgment for possession and damages in favor of the City.

 On October 28, 1994, the plaintiffs filed a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Comp. P 17. Mr. Khamis informed HUD in the complaint that "I believe that I was tricked into becoming evicted from my apartment because I was told that I could be late paying July's rent and two days after my last conversation with the manager I was summoned to eviction court and evicted. I believe I was discriminated against based on my national origin as many others in the building, all of Arabic origin, were either evicted or their leases not renewed." Defs' Rp., Ex. A. The plaintiffs withdrew their complaint from HUD on November 19, 1996, allegedly in order to file this action.

 On March 31, 1998 plaintiffs filed the instant action with the Court. In addition to their allegations that their eviction was racially motivated, the plaintiffs' complaint set forth the allegations detailing the defendants' interference with the plaintiffs' right to live in a safe and inhabitable apartment. The plaintiffs contend that they have suffered economic loss, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment and seek relief through a declaratory judgment, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Comp. PP 19, 20, and 21.

 LEGAL STANDARDS

 The defendants bring this motion pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Under 12(b)(1), the defendants challenge this Court's subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claim. Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendants argue that the plaintiffs' prayer for relief seeking punitive damages should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The standard applied to each motion is similar. Freiburger v. Emery Air Charter, Inc., 795 F. Supp. 253, 256 (N.D. Ill. 1992). Because a motion to dismiss does not test the merits of the suit, all well-pleaded facts are taken as true, all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff, and all ambiguities are resolved in the plaintiff's favor. Dawson v. General Motors-Corp., 977 F.2d 369, 372 (7th Cir. 1992). With these standards in mind, we evaluate the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint.

 DISCUSSION

 The essence of the defendants' motion is that the plaintiffs could have, indeed should have, raised their claims of discrimination as an affirmative defense before the state court in the forcible entry and detainer proceeding. Their failure to do so, defendants argue, bars our consideration of their claims pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, res judicata, and the statute of limitations. Before addressing the defendants' arguments, we will briefly examine the Fair Housing Act.

 A. The Fair Housing Act

 The Fair Housing Act prohibits racial discrimination of all kinds in housing. Tyus v. Urban Search Management, 102 F.3d 256, 260 (7th Cir. 1996). The Act was designed to promote "'open, integrated residential housing patterns and to prevent the increase of segregation, in ghettos, of racial groups whose lack of opportunities the Act was designed to combat.'" Metropolitan Hous. Dev. Corp. v. Village of Arlington Heights, 558 F.2d 1283, 1289 (7th Cir. 1977) (quoting Otero v. New York City Hous. Auth., 484 F.2d 1122, 1134 (2d Cir. 1973)). To achievel this goal, courts apply the Act's terms liberally. Snyder v. Barry Realty, Inc., 953 F. Supp. 217, 219 (N.D. Ill. 1996). Turning to the Act itself, we note that section 3604 of the Act states that it is unlawful:

 
(a) To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race. . . .
 
(b) To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race. . . .

 42 U.S.C. § 3604. Similarly, section 3617 of the Act provides that:

 
It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted . . . by the Act.

 42 U.S.C. § 3617.

 The Act authorizes claimants to bring actions alleging racial discrimination in housing in federal or state court. 42 U.S.C.A. § 3613(a)(1)(A). A court may award a successful civil claimant actual and punitive damages, a permanent or temporary injunction, a temporary restraining order, or other remedies the court deems appropriate. 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(1). Accordingly, a defendant in a forcible entry and detainer action may rely upon the Fair Housing Act to enjoin a violating landlord's attempt to evict him. See, e.g., Valenti v. Salz, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9920, 1995 WL 417547 (N.D. Ill. July 13, 1995); see also Rosewood Corp. v. Fisher, 46 Ill. 2d ...


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