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Beth-El All Nations Church v. City of Chicago

March 17, 2006

BETH-EL ALL NATIONS CHURCH, BEYTHEL OUTCAST CHURCH, AND BISHOP EDGAR JACKSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Plaintiffs Beth-El All Nations Church's, Beythel Outcast Church's, and Bishop Edgar Jackson's (collectively referred to as "Church") motion for a preliminary injunction. For the reasons stated below, we grant the motion for a preliminary injunction.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs claim that Beth-El All Nations Church is a place of worship and is an organization that performs good works throughout its community and offers valuable assistance to the poor and troubled persons in the community. The Church contends that the Defendant City of Chicago ("City") has unjustifiably obtained title to the Church property due to unpaid taxes that were not actually owed. The Church has come before this court pleading for the court to preserve the status quo during the pendency of these proceedings. The Church claims that such relief is necessary to prevent the City from making a rash attempt to evict the Church Bishop and the parishioners from the Church in which they have worshiped for the last several decades.

The Church alleges that it purchased the property located at 1534 West 63rd Street in Chicago, Illinois in 1976 and thereafter rehabilitated the property. In 1984 the Church began operating on the property. The Church states that it is located in a poor community that is plagued with violent crimes and that a variety of activities occur at the Church, which include: 1) weekly religious worship, 2) preaching on religious, moral, and political issues, 3) pastoral counseling for young men involved in gangs and illegal drugs, 4) pastoral counseling for the disturbed, lonely, and bereaved, 5) daily prayer meetings, 6) singing and musical performances, 7) baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, 8) Bible studies, 9) games and sport activities, 10) church dinners, 11) service projects for the poor, homeless and elderly, and 12) evangelistic lectures.

The Church contends that the area surrounding the Church was targeted for redevelopment and that "[a]t some point in or before January 1998 the [City of Chicago] came to desire to own" the Church property. (A. Compl. Par. 12). According to the Plaintiffs, the Church was a tax exempt entity and did not owe real estate taxes. The City has agreed that the Church was a tax exempt entity, but the City has alleged that the church owed taxes because the Church had conducted some sort of resale activities on the Church property and that the Church did not have tax exemption for such resale activity. The Church has denied the City's allegations and has stated that the Church merely conducts fund-raising activities on the Church property. The City has not specified what resale activities occurred at the Church or whether they consisted of nothing more than, for example, the selling of baked goods by parishioners.

According to the Church, the City never informed the Church representatives of the Church's obligation to pay real estate taxes and in 1998, the City brought an action in state court to obtain a tax deed for the Church property due to unpaid real estate taxes. The City admits that the notice of the tax deed hearing had the wrong address and that the Church never received prior notice of the tax deed proceedings. In fact, a summons document by the Sheriff's Office indicates that the tax deed hearing notice was not served on the Church because the address on the notice did not exist. We also note that the incorrect address appears on several documents prepared by the City or its attorneys such as the affidavit attached to the application for the tax deed and the title search company's report. The state court entered a tax deed for the City in a hearing in which the Church was not represented due to the improper notification by the City. The Church contends that after the hearing, despite the fact that its representative was not present at the tax deed hearing, the City never bothered to properly advise the Church of the tax deed or give proper notice of the running of the redemption period. The Church claims that in April 2003, they first learned about the tax deed case and that the Church immediately demanded that the City return the title to the Church property. In June 2003, the Church filed a petition seeking to collaterally attack the tax deed and have the tax deed order vacated. Even though the Church had never been properly notified of the tax deed case prior to the hearing or of the running of the redemption period, the state trial court judge denied the petition because the petition was not filed within the applicable limitations period. The state appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling based upon the appellate court's conclusion that the petition was time-barred and the Illinois Supreme court denied the Church's leave to appeal.

The Church also claims that in 2003, when it demanded that the City return the title to the Church property, it was referred by the City to Charles Bowens ("Bowens") who is the City's liaison to African-American churches. According to the Church, Bowens admitted that the tax deed possessed by the City was wrongfully obtained and that Bowens would attempt to have the City return title to the property to the Church. Bowens allegedly told Church representatives that the process would take a long time and asked for the Church to be patient. From April 2003 to September 2005, Bowens and other City officials allegedly gave encouragement to the Church, indicating that the title to the property would be returned to the Church. However, in January 2006, the City told the Church that there was no chance that the title would be returned to the Church.

In January 2006, the City filed a motion seeking an order of possession of the Church property. On January 27, 2006, a state trial court judge granted possession of the property to the City and gave the Church seven days to vacate the property. The Church, having only seven days to avoid eviction, states that it was desperate for more time to determine the proper course of action, and thus signed an agreement with the City stating that the Church would vacate the property by February 28, 2006. On February 28, 2006, the Church and its Bishop brought the instant action seeking damages and injunctive relief for state law and constitutional violations. On March 1, 2006, we entered a temporary restraining order. The Church now seeks a preliminary injunction arguing that the Church not only is a place of worship, but also performs a vast array of services that are valuable to the community, all of which will be in jeopardy if the City is allowed to evict the Bishop and his parishioners before they are given an opportunity to have their day in court.

LEGAL STANDARD

A preliminary injunction "should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion." Goodman v. Illinois Dept. of Financial and Professional Regulation, 430 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2005)(stating that "[a]s the Supreme Court has observed, "[a] preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy")(quoting Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997)). In order to obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must show that: "(1) [the plaintiff] ha[s] a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits; (2) no adequate remedy at law exists; (3) [the plaintiff] will suffer irreparable harm which, absent injunctive relief, outweighs the irreparable harm the respondent will suffer if the injunction is granted; and (4) the injunction will not harm the public interest." Goodman, 430 F.3d at 437.

DISCUSSION

I. Reasonable Likelihood of Success on the Merits

To determine whether a plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, the court must assess whether the plaintiff has "a greater than negligible chance of winning . . . ." AM General Corp. v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 311 F.3d 796, 804 (7th Cir. 2002). In addition, the required showing by the plaintiff for the likelihood of success on the merits can be lessened if there is "a greater predominance of the balance of harms." Id. The City argues that the Church has no likelihood of success on the merits because ...


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