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Johnson v. Orr

December 19, 2007

DAVID JOHNSON PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID D. ORR ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: District Judge Wayne R. Andersen

MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

This matter comes before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

OVERVIEW

On May 14, 2004, the Cook County Treasurer ex-officio County Collector (the "county collector") made a tax sale of land with the Permanent Index Number ("PIN") 15-12-307-023-0000 to Z Financial, LLC ("Z Financial"). The property at issue was sold due to allegedly unpaid 2002 real estate taxes for land in Cook County, Illinois. At some point, the certificate of purchase was sold by Z Financial to the plaintiff, David Johnson, who seeks a tax deed for the property.

The Illinois Property Tax Code gives owners of property subject to a tax sale a right of redemption during which the owner may reclaim the premises by paying the redemption amount. 35 ILCS 200/21-345. The period of redemption for tax sales is at least two years and depends upon the type of premises. 35 ILCS 200/21-350. According to the complaint, the redemption period for the property at issue here expired on September 1, 2006. State law also permits the county collector to file an application in state court to declare a sale in error for a particular property if it meets an exemption provided by law. 35 ILCS 200/21-310. In this case, the county collector made such an application and an Agreed Order was entered by the Circuit Court of Cook County on September 6, 2006. The order stated that the tax sale of the property identified by PIN 15-12-307-023-0000 was a sale in error on the grounds that "the property is owned by the State of Illinois, a Municipality, or Taxing District." Though the order directs Z Financial to surrender the certificate of purchase for cancellation, Johnson signed as "Tax Purchaser." The tax purchaser is entitled to a refund of the principal paid and all costs. Citing Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a), the order further states that it is immediately enforceable and appealable.

In October 2006, the plaintiff filed a motion in the Circuit Court of Cook County for an order directing the issuance of a tax deed by the defendants for the property at issue. According to the complaint, the plaintiff complied with all notice and other procedural steps prior to applying for the tax deed. In November 2006, the Circuit Court granted the plaintiff leave to file instanter an amended application for the issuance of the tax deed. Rather than filing an amended application or commencing an appeal of the September 2006 Order in state court, the plaintiff filed the present action in federal court.

In his complaint, the plaintiff brings six constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seven state law tort claims, a claim under Illinois' Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and a claim for promissory estoppel. Among the constitutional claims, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants' refusal to execute the tax deed violates due process, equal protection, and an unreasonable seizure of private property. The plaintiff's state law claims include fraud, interference with economic advantage (both negligent and intentional), slander, trespass to chattels, and negligent misrepresentation. As noted above, all of plaintiff's claims arise from the dispute over the tax deed sought by the plaintiff.

STANDARD

To decide a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in a light favorable to the plaintiff. Jackson v. E.J. Brach Corp., 176 F.3d 971, 978 (7th Cir. 1999). A complaint must describe the claim with sufficient detail as to give the defendants "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Further, the "allegations must plausibly suggest that the defendant has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a 'speculative level.'" EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

The standard for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction differs from a Rule 12(b)(6) motion only in that the court is not limited to the jurisdictional contentions asserted in the complaint, but may consider other evidence submitted to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir. 1995).

ANALYSIS

The defendants argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case pursuant to, inter alia, the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine and the Tax Injunction Act. We will consider each potential bar in turn.

A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, so-named for Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and D.C. Ct. App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), precludes lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over claims that would require the review of a final judgment of a state court brought by the losing party. Beth-El All Nations Church v. City of Chicago, 486 F.3d 286, 292 (7th Cir. 2007); Rizzo v. Sheahan, 266 F.3d 705, 713 (7th Cir. 2001); Byrd v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 407 F. Supp. 2d 937, 943 (N.D. Ill. 2005). Specifically, the Seventh Circuit has held that Rooker-Feldman "stands for the principle that decisions of state courts may not be challenged in litigation under ยง 1983; instead the ...


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