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Sullivan v. Monroe County

April 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


I. Introduction and Procedural Overview

In January, 2008, Charles D. Sullivan, pro se, filed suit in this Court against Monroe County, Illinois, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint alleges as follows.

On April 3, 2007, directors of Sullivan Field, Inc., appeared before the Monroe County Zoning Board of Appeals ("the Board") to obtain a variance and permit to build a hangar to protect recreational aircraft from weather and vandals. The hangar was to be built at a recreational-use airfield that had been located for approximately forty years in the Columbia Drainage and Levee District in Monroe County, Illinois. The Board denied the variance and permit stating, "Members felt they could not approve [the] request because FEMA would not allow it. The request was not accepted as an agricultural use." Sullivan contends that the Board's denial was capricious and that Monroe County's Flood Plain Code, FEMA regulations and the National Flood Insurance Program contain no requirement that flood plains be used exclusively for agricultural purposes. According to Sullivan, both Monroe County's Flood Plain Code and FEMA regulations support recreational use of the Columbia Drainage and Levee District.

Now pending before the Court is Monroe County's motion to dismiss, filed February 11, 2008 (Doc. 4). The motion argues that Sullivan lacks standing to bring this action; the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; Sullivan has failed to exhaust state law remedies; and Sullivan fails to satisfy substantive due process pleading requirements. The motion is fully briefed, and ready for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(6) governs motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true, and construes all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof. Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002). As the Supreme Court recently explained inBell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007), ". . . it is not enough for a complaint to avoid foreclosing possible bases for relief; it must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, id. at 1968-69, by providing allegations that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level,." E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

Under the liberal notice pleading requirements of the federal rules, all that is required to state a claim "is a short statement, in plain . . . English, of the legal claim." Kirksey v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 1039, 1041 (7th Cir. 1999); FED.R.CIV.P.8(a)(2). "A full narrative is unnecessary." Id.; see also, e.g., Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002); McDonald v. Household International, Inc., 425 F.3d 424, 427-28 (7th Cir. 2005); Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1077-78 (7th Cir. 1992). Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal should be denied "if any facts that might be established within [a plaintiff's] allegations would permit a judgment for the plaintiff." Duda v. Board of Education of Franklin Park Public School District No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1057 (7th Cir. 1998).

III. Analysis

The Court will first consider the issue of standing because, if Sullivan lacks standing, this Court lacks jurisdiction over this lawsuit and it must be dismissed. The United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to "cases" and "controversies." U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2. Standing is an essential component of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 559 (1992) (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984). Stated another way, the doctrine of standing identifies "those disputes which are appropriately resolved through the judicial process." Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155 (1990).

In support of Monroe County's motion to dismiss for lack of standing, it advances two arguments. First, Monroe County argues that Sullivan does not own the land that is the subject of the complaint and, therefore, fails to establish a constitutional deprivation of property. Second, Monroe County argues that Sullivan cannot represent Sullivan Field, Inc., pro se.

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State" deprives a person of his federal constitutional or statutory rights shall be liable in an action at law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1996). Stated simply, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts which show that the defendant deprived him of a constitutional right and that the deprivation resulted from the defendant acting under color of law.

Fries v. Helper, 146 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir. 1998). The United States Supreme Court has defined such an action as the "misuse of power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law." Luger v. Edmonson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 929 (1982).

The Court construes Sullivan's pro se complaint liberally. Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 969 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Sullivan contends that Monroe County's failure and refusal to grant him a variance and permit to build a hangar on the subject property constituted a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected interest in the use of his property. If Sullivan can establish such a loss, the Court ...

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