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ERNST v. CITY OF CHICAGO

September 7, 1999

RONALD ERNST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Ronald Ernst ("Ernst") sues the City of Chicago and "various John Does and Jane Does who work for the City of Chicago and were involved in this case" (collectively "City"), asserting a number of claimed constitutional violations resulting from the towing of four motor vehicles belonging to Ernst. City has responded with a motion to dismiss all counts of the Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 12(b)(6). For the reasons set out in this memorandum opinion and order, City's motion is granted.

Facts*fn1

On March 21, 1997, without prior notice to Ernst, City employees towed four of his motor vehicles (a 1970 Ford Maverick, a 1977 Mercury Monarch, a 1977 Chevy van and a 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix) from an open gravel parking lot on private property behind his home. Several days later Ernst received post-tow notices (sent by regular mail) as to two of the four automobiles. Those notices explained his options: (1) to pay towing and storage fees and reclaim the vehicles, (2) to request a hearing to determine the validity of the tow or (3) to pay no fees and sign over the vehicles to City.

Ernst called to request a post-tow hearing, which was held on April 8, 1997 before hearing officer Dolores Barrett ("Barrett"). That hearing was conducted in the entryway of a City building near the receptionist's desk. Barrett made no record of the hearing and refused to let Ernst see any documents concerning the tows. Barrett ultimately found that the tows of Ernst's vehicles were valid because they were "hazardous dilapidated motor vehicle[s]" as defined by Chicago ordinance.

Ernst appealed that finding to the Cook County Circuit Court (Ernst v. City of Chicago Bureau of Parking Enforcement, No. 97 M1 1046), paying $205.29 in filing fees for that administrative review.*fn2 Ernst prevailed in his lawsuit: In November 1997 the judge reversed the hearing officer's determination that the tow was valid and ordered City to return Ernst's automobiles to him. But after City moved for reconsideration on the ground that the judge did not have the authority to grant injunctive relief, the judge vacated the portion of the earlier order that had ordered City to return the vehicles. Thus according to the Circuit Court's final judgment (which was not appealed), Ernst was free to retrieve his cars without paying any charges because the tow was invalid, but City did not have to deliver the cars to him.

While Ernst's administrative review action was pending, City wrongfully sold his cars for scrap. City's Claims Unit then offered to compensate Ernst for the loss of the vehicles, but Ernst allowed the offer to lapse when City did not address Ernst's concerns about the asserted constitutional defects in its procedures.

Rule 12(b)(6) Standards

As indicated in n. 1, on the current motion to dismiss this Court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations of the Complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in Ernst's favor (Sherwin Manor Nursing Ctr., Inc. v. McAuliffe, 37 F.3d 1216, 1219 (7th Cir. 1994)). No claim will be dismissed unless "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations" (Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984), quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).

Claim Preclusion

City first argues that many of Ernst's claims — all except those relating to the sale and destruction of his vehicles — are barred under the doctrine of claim preclusion. Although Ernst also contends here that the towing of his four vehicles and City's notice and hearing procedures violated various municipal, state and federal laws and constitutional provisions, all of those challenges either were raised or could have been raised in Ernst's earlier state court proceeding. Hence under Illinois preclusion law this Court cannot hear them.

River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 184 Ill.2d 290, 302, 234 Ill.Dec. 783, 703 N.E.2d 883, 889 (1998) has set out the well-established Illinois doctrine of claim preclusion*fn3:

  Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final
  judgment on the merits rendered by a court of
  competent jurisdiction acts as a bar to a subsequent
  suit between the parties involving the same cause of
  action. Rein v. David A. Noyes & Co., 172 Ill.2d 325,
  334-35, 216 Ill.Dec. 642, 665 N.E.2d 1199
  (1996); Rodgers v. St. Mary's Hospital, 149 Ill.2d 302,
  311-12, 173 Ill.Dec. 642, 597 N.E.2d 616 (1992).
  The bar extends to what was actually decided in the
  first action, as well as those matters that could
  have been decided in that suit. LaSalle National
  Bank v. County Board of School Trustees, 61 Ill.2d 524,
  529, 337 N.E.2d 19 (1975). For the doctrine of
  res judicata to apply, the following three
  requirements must be satisfied: (1) there was a final
  judgment on the merits rendered by a court of
  competent jurisdiction, (2) there is an identity of
  cause of action, and (3) there is an identity of
  parties or their privies. Downing v. Chicago Transit
  Authority, 162 Ill.2d 70, 73-74, 204 Ill.Dec. 755,
  642 N.E.2d 456 (1994).

Illinois law controls this Court's analysis, of course, because it is an Illinois state court judgment whose preclusive effect is at issue (Rogers v. ...


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