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Johnson v. City of Kankakee

August 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge


The plaintiff, Brad R. Johnson ("Johnson") has filed this action against the City of Kankakee (the "City"), Karla Freeman ("Freeman"), Jan Bond ("Bond"), and Chris Bohlen ("Bohlen"), asserting various constitutional violations. He brings his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Freeman and Bond are code enforcement officers for the City. Bohlen is the City's appointed corporation counsel.

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment [#56, #59]. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion is granted, and the plaintiff's motion is denied.


Johnson owns a house in Kankakee, Illinois.*fn1 Johnson's wife and child reside in the house. Johnson is employed by Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. When the university is in session, Johnson stays at a campground in North Carolina. Between August 25 and December 7, 2003, he spent five nights at his home in Kankakee. Johnson's wife and child reside at the Kankakee home when he is teaching.

During the relevant time frame, Johnson, his wife and child shared the house with other people - Lonna Cobb, Bobby Tucker, Walter Turner, and Penny Stickney. Johnson asserts that these people did not pay rent. However, he admits that they "share expenses," including a portion of the mortgage and utilities.

The City requires legal owners of residential rental property to obtain operating licences. Chapter 8, Article II, Section 8-14 of the Kankakee City Code (the "Ordinance") states:

No person, corporation or other entity shall rent, lease or allow a person other than the legal owner to occupy any dwelling unit within the City of Kankakee, unless the City of Kankakee has issued a current unrevoked operating license in the name of the legal owner of record for the specific dwelling unit. Kankakee, Ill., Code ch. 8, art. II, § 8-14 (2003).

Freeman handled the geographic area of the City in which Johnson's home was located. On August 15, 2003, she received an anonymous call*fn2 informing her that Johnson's property was being used as a rooming house. Freeman sent a letter to Johnson informing him that the City's records indicated that his house was a rental property, and that the City's Ordinance required rental dwellings to be licensed. The letter stated that the property would need to be inspected before the license could be issued, and that Johnson or a designated manager/agent would need to be present at the inspection. The letter also stated that if Johnson believed the notice was in error, he should contact the City to have the situation reviewed or reevaluated. An "Application for Rental Operating License" was enclosed with the letter.

At this point, the stories diverge. Johnson claims he talked to a woman in Freeman's office who acknowledged that the warning letter was sent in error and promised to correct the mistake. Freeman disputes that this conversation ever took place. The parties agree that Johnson had several conversations with City employees; however, the issue was not resolved.

What happened next is undisputed. On September 30, 2003, after Johnson failed to comply with the letter and inspection, the City issued a Notice of Violation Ticket. The ticket imposed a $50 fine, informed Johnson that payment of the fine would not constitute abatement of the condition, and that if he failed to abate the condition, he could be issued additional violation tickets. Johnson was further informed that failure to pay the fine within thirty days would result in the issuance of a summons to appear at an adjudication hearing and could result in a default finding and a maximum fine of $500 for each violation. Johnson did not apply for a license, allow his house to be inspected, or pay the fine. Two subsequent Notice of Violation Tickets were issued on October 21, 2003 and December 10, 2003, each carrying a maximum penalty of $500.

On January 8, 2004, the city held an adjudication hearing on all three tickets. During the hearing, the City was interested in the narrow question of whether non-family members were living in Johnson's home and paying rent. Johnson was apparently eager to explain that the people in his home were not renters but were part of his household.*fn3 Ultimately, Johnson was found guilty by an Administrative Hearing Officer and ordered to pay $250 per citation plus costs. Johnson did not appeal the determination. Instead, the next day, he commenced this action.

The city contends that the Ordinance in question has a neutral, legitimate objective. Johnson disputes that the city has a neutral purpose for the Ordinance and claims that ...

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