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Labella Winnetka, Inc. v. Village of Winnetka

March 13, 2008

LABELLA WINNETKA, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF WINNETKA AND DOUGLAS WILLIAMS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff LaBella Winnetka, Inc. ("LaBella" or "Plaintiff") filed suit against Defendants Village of Winnetka (the "Village") and Douglas Williams ("Williams") (collectively "Defendants") alleging various claims related to the enforcement of Village ordinances and codes in Winnetka. This Action involves two federal claims (Counts I-II) and two state claims (Counts III-IV): (1) violation of its equal protection rights under 42 U.S.C § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) deprivation of substantive due process under 42 U.S.C § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) breach of duty; and (4) intentional interference with a lease and prospective business expectancy. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted.

PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

The following facts are taken as true, as the Court is required to do at the motion to dismiss stage. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). LaBella is a corporation that operates an Italian restaurant in Winnetka, Illinois. (Compl. ¶ 2.) The Village is municipal corporation located in Cook County, Illinois that is governed by the Village Council of Winnetka.

(Compl. ¶ 3.) Williams, the Village Manager of Winnetka, directs and controls the business affairs of the Village regarding the enforcement of Village ordinances and building codes. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Williams manages the Village pursuant to authority granted to him by the Village Council, State statutes, and Village ordinances. (Compl. ¶ 4.)

Since 1993, LaBella has leased property in Winnetka from a private party ("the Landlord") pursuant to an agreement that remains in effect until July 31, 2008 (the "Lease"). (Compl. ¶ 8.) Through its fourteen years of operation, LaBella has fostered a broad customer base, earned a reputation for excellent Italian dining, and expended large sums of money for its kitchen and dining areas as well as its operating equipment. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.) In addition, LaBella has continued to obtain and maintain a restaurant license, liquor license, and other appropriate licenses and permits for its restaurant. (Compl. ¶ 13.)

On numerous occasions beginning in 2006, LaBella informed the Defendants of a defective condition of the restaurant's roof as well as the failure of the Landlord to maintain the roof of LaBella's restaurant in compliance with the Village's code. (Compl. ¶ 18.) Defendants did not require the Landlord to repair the roof or comply with the Village's building codes and ordinances. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Ultimately, the Landlord attempted to repair the roof using hot tar, torches, and other flammable materials. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-17.) Although Defendants knew or should have known that the roof work involved such materials, they did not require the Landlord to obtain work or building permits mandated by the Village's building codes. Defendants further failed to enforce compliance with the Village's building code and safety requirements, or stop the Landlord from performing roof work that created the potential for fire hazards in spite of LaBella's complaints. (Compl. ¶¶16-17.) Nor did they inspect the work performed by the roofers. (Compl. ¶ 17.)

On February 28, 2007, LaBella again informed Defendants of the unsupervised roof work, the roofers use of flammable materials, and the Landlord's failure to obtain a building permit. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Neither the Village nor Williams responded to the complaint. (Compl. ¶ 21.) That same day, the roof work caused a fire on the roof of the building. As a result, LaBella was forced to close its restaurant. (Compl. ¶ 22.)

When LaBella submitted permit applications to the Village to conduct minor repair work within the restaurant after the fire, Defendants refused to process the permits. (Compl. ¶ 22.) In addition, Defendants refused to allow Labella to partially reopen the restaurant until and unless the Landlord repaired and replaced the roof above the restaurant to comply with the Village code. (Compl. ¶ 22.) Defendants knew or should have known that the Landlord did not attempt to replace the roof and, as a result, LaBella was forced to remain closed without income or any projected date of reopening. (Compl. ¶ 24.)

Defendants engaged in selective enforcement of the Village's ordinances and codes to deprive LaBella of its "right" to keep its restaurant business and to force it out of business while simultaneously favoring other restaurants and businesses. (Compl. ¶¶ 26-27, 37.) Defendants enforced Village ordinances, building codes, health and sanitation standards, liquor license requirements, and safety requirements to the benefit of certain favored restaurants, including Corner Cooks, Jerry's Restaurant, O'Neils Restaurant, and Little Ricky's. (Compl. ¶ 27.) Village employees referred to these favored restaurants as "Friends of Doug." (Compl. ¶ 27.)

With respect to "selective enforcement" of village ordinances and building codes, Defendants: (1) allowed Corner Cooks, a restaurant located in the same building as LaBella, to violate sign ordinances when it placed oversized vinyl banners in its window, but cited LaBella and gave it 24-hours to remove a string of Christmas lights from its restaurant, (Compl. ¶ 28(B)(i)); (2) intentionally ignored Corner Cooks' non-compliance with exhaust system requirements, (Compl. ¶ 27(B)(iii)-(v)); and (3) permitted Corner Cooks to open Jerry's Restaurant and approved permits and designs that would allow Corner Cooks and Jerry's Restaurant to occupy a portion of LaBella's leased premises (Compl. ¶ 27(B)(vi)). With respect to health and sanitation standards, LaBella alleges that: (1) Williams instructed a sanitation official to issue a citation to LaBella's maitre d' because he was sitting outside the restaurant with a broken leg, (Compl. ¶ 27(C)(iii)), and (2) Williams ordered a sanitation official to withdraw and/or revoke numerous sanitation citations and a restaurant closing order against O'Neil's/Little Ricky's that were issued for health and safety violations related to storage and handling of food (Compl. ¶ 27(C)(i)). In addition, LaBella alleges that, while Defendants overlooked violations of the Village sanitation requirements committed by certain Winnetka restaurants, Defendants threatened LaBella with the loss of its various licenses if LaBella did not correct minor sanitation violations. (Compl. ¶ 27(D).) Finally, with respect to liquor license requirements, Defendants: (1) issued liquor licenses and special use ordinances to Corner Cooks to accommodate its non-compliant activities and failed to require the customary evaluation that LaBella was required to and did comply with, (Compl. ¶ 27 B(ii)), and (2) allowed O'Neils and/or Little Ricky's to remain open, despite the issuance of multiple citations for liquor ordinance violations (Compl. ¶ 27(C)(ii)).

STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Murphy, 51 F.3d at 717. To state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not allege all facts involved in the claim. See Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994). However, in order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the claim must be supported by facts that, if taken as true, at least plausibly suggest that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). Such a set of facts must "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of illegality. Id. at 1965.

DISCUSSION

I. Equal Protection Clause (Count I)

In Count I, LaBella alleges that Defendants violated its equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. "The purpose of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is to 'secure every person within the State's jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether occasioned by express terms of a statute or by its improper execution through duly ...


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