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Messner v. Calderone

September 23, 2009

WILLIAM MESSNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANTHONY CALDERONE; MICHAEL STURINO; VANESSA MORITZ; THERESA STEINBACH; SALLY CODY; MICHAEL BOYLE; LAURA FALBO; REICH & BECKER AGENCY; INC.; THE OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS OF REICH & BECKER AGENCY, INC., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS OFFICERS OF REICH & BECKER AGENCY, INC.; AND THE VILLAGE OF FOREST PARK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION. DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff William Messner ("Messner") originally brought this action against Defendants the Village of Forest Park (the "Village"), Anthony Calderone ("Mayor Calderone"), the Mayor of Forest Park, Michael Sturino ("Sturino"), the Village Manager, Vanessa Moritz ("Moritz"), the Village Clerk, Theresa Steinbach ("Steinbach"), a Village Commissioner, Sally Cody ("Cody"), a Deputy Village Clerk, Michael Boyle ("Boyle"), a Village Inspector and Head of the Department of Health and Safety, Laura Falbo ("Falbo"), a Village staff member (collectively the "Employees") and Richard Gray ("Gray"), an agent who managed properties on behalf of the Village, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 alleging that Defendants violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. This Court dismissed Messner's equal protection claims and his municipal liability claims without prejudice and dismissed his claims against Gray and his claims against the Employees in their official capacity with prejudice in its order of June 25, 2007.

Messner filed his First Amended Complaint against the Village, the Employees and the Reich & Becker Agency, Inc. and its officers and directors ("Reich & Becker"), both individually and in their official capacity pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that Defendants violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause as well as state law claims of retaliatory eviction and failure to prosecute building code violations. The Village and the Employees moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint. This Court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice as to Messner's claims of retaliatory eviction and failure to prosecute building code violations but denied it as to Messner's equal protection and municipal liability claims under Section 1983.

The Court held that Messner's allegations that he was treated differently than "all other residents, property owners, and business licensees" and that "no other Forest Park Home Business Licensee was required to have an inspection prior to the receipt of their Renewal Notice" nor were they "denied the renewal of their license by failing to submit to an unlawful inspection" were adequate at that stage to allege an equal protection violation under a "class of one" theory and that Messner's allegation that all the actions against him were taken at the behest of Mayor Calderone was sufficient at that stage to state a claim of municipal liability. The Court also reiterated that it had previously dismissed Messner's claims against the employees in their official capacity with prejudice.

Messner and the Defendants now bring cross-motions for summary judgment on the surviving claims under Section 1983. For the reasons stated below, Messner's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied in its entirety and the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in its entirety.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Disputes Related to Messner's Original Leasehold

The Village purchased property located at 7608 Adams in the Village in 2001 in order to use the property for an expansion of the Village Hall. Def. 56.1 at 4.*fn1 Messner lived and ran a home business in an apartment building located on the property and the Village was Messner's landlord. Def. 56.1 at 3. The Village did not allow any of the tenants, including Messner, to renew their leases once it purchased the property because it intended to use the property to expand Village Hall. Id. at 3, 5. In January of 2005, at Mayor Calderone's suggestion, Messner negotiated a short extension of his lease with Steinbach. Pl. 56.1 at 104. At some point, however, Messner, the only holdover tenant, refused to leave the property and the Village instituted an eviction proceeding against him. Def. 56.1 at 6, 8.*fn2

On March 5, 2005, the Village instituted a forcible detainer action against Messner. Pl. 56.1 at 109. The Village alleged that Messner had failed to make rent payments on his leasehold and that he had failed to surrender the premises within thirty days of a thirty-day notice of termination of tenancy. Id. The state court entered judgment against Messner. Messner filed a motion to vacate that judgment on April 8, 2005. Id. at 120. Messner included several pictures showing the allegedly poor condition of the property in his motion. Id. at 121.

Messner's lease required that the property be returned "in like condition reasonable wear excepted." Id. at 117. When Messner finally moved out, an individual representing the Village inspected his apartment and told him that it was "okay" and that he could turn in the keys. Pl. 56.1 at 119. On April 1, 2005, Cody sent a letter to Messner notifying him of the Village's intent to charge his security deposit for several cited instances of damage to the apartment. Id. at 115. Messner responded to the letter in writing on April 11, 2005, offering to fix the multiple holes in the walls of the apartment - one of the instances of damage cited in Cody's letter. Id. at 116.

Rather than directing his complaints to Village Hall, on April 14, 2005, Messner personally delivered photos showing the poor condition of the property at 7609 Adams along with a letter to Steinbach's home mailbox. Id. at 126. The letter requested the return of his security deposit and alleged that he had claims for damages against the Village for building code violations. Id. at 126, 139. The letter also accused Sturino and Gray of lying about the status of his tenancy in a court hearing in the eviction proceeding. Id. at 126. Messner wrote a total of three similar letters to Steinbach, each of which he personally delivered to her home mailbox. Id. at 127.

Steinbach felt threatened by Messner' visits to her home and complained to Mayor Calderone. Id. at 132; Def. 56.1 at 54. Calderone filed a police incident report on Steinbach's behalf so that the police would advise Messner to conduct Village business through the proper channels at Village Hall. Def. 56.1 at 54. Mayor Calderone had often served as a complaining witness on behalf of citizens who wished to remain anonymous. Id. at 55.

Forest Park Police Officer Hohl ("Hohl") met with Mayor Calderone at his office to assist with the incident report. Pl. 56.1 at 83. This was the only time Hohl has ever been called into the mayor's office regarding a complaint. Id. at 84. In the resultant police report Hohl cited to statements made to him by Steinbach, Cody and Mayor Calderone. Id. at 74. Steinbach and Cody, however, did not speak directly with police. Id. at 75, 79. When Hohl approached Messner regarding the police report, Messner was surprised and stated that Steinbach had been helpful in dealing with his situation and that he brought the papers to her home in part because she lived close to him. Id. at 87.

Messner Seeks a Home Business License for his New Leasehold

In January of 2005, while Messner was preparing to move his home and home business from 7609 Adams to a new location, he spoke with Joan White ("White") who was at that time the Village Clerk about obtaining a home business license for the new premisses. Id. at 10. Messner filled out an application for the license on or about January 17, 2005, but White lost the application. Id.; Pl. 56.1 at 102. Messner submitted a second application in February of 2005. Def. 56.1 at 10. The application, which Messner signed, stated:

ALL VILLAGE INSPECTIONS, IF APPLICABLE, MUST BE COMPLETED BEFORE RESUMING BUSINESS

I understand the continuation of the license is conditional upon compliance with all Village Ordinances and the result of any inspection of the above premises at this time or any subsequent inspection while this license is in force. A acknowledge that I am signing this information form ...


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