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Allen v. Irmco Management Co.

June 15, 2010

BARBARA ANN ALLEN PLAINTIFF,
v.
IRMCO MANAGEMENT COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Barbara Ann Allen, has filed a second amended complaint against defendant, Irmco Management Company, alleging that defendant evicted her from her apartment in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(1) and (f)(2). Defendant has moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P, 12(b)(1), arguing that the complaint is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and res judicata, andfor failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted.

FACTS

The facts alleged in the second amended complaint are taken as true for purposes of the instant motion. Bontkowski v. First Nat'l Bank of Cicero, 998 F.2d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1993). Since at least July 2005 plaintiff has suffered from a condition that affects her mental health and causes disconnected thinking and memory loss. In July 2005, plaintiff signed a two year lease agreement with defendant to run from September 2005 through August 2007. Plaintiff and defendant's employee agreed that plaintiff would prepay the first year of rent and then pay again in September 2006. On July 26, 2005, plaintiff tendered a check, which defendant cashed, for $19,783.00 as payment for rent from September 2005 through August 31, 2006.

In June 2006, Defendant's employee, Sue Saunders ("Saunders"), informed plaintiff that she was late on rent payments. Plaintiff informed Saunders and another employee of defendant that she had prepaid her entire first year of rent. Plaintiff offered to meet Saunders in the office of the Belden Stratford - the complex in which she lived - to discuss the lease agreement, but Saunders refused. In late spring 2006, plaintiff made several phone calls to defendant's employee Lynn Tipton to resolve the situation regarding her lease agreement. On September 13, 2006, Saunders contacted plaintiff's mother, Marian Allen, and informed her that plaintiff owed unpaid rent. The next day, September 14, 2006, Saunders told Marian Allen that plaintiff "seemed out of it" and had mental issues. On September 17, 2006, Marian Allen began making rent payments on plaintiff's apartment without plaintiff's knowledge or consent. Defendant accepted these payments. On October 24, 2006, Marian Allen informed Saunders that plaintiff had an appointment to see a psychiatrist. In February 2007, Marian Allen stopped making rent payments on plaintiff's apartment.

In February 2007 defendant replaced the keys to the apartments in the Belden Stratford building and failed to provide plaintiff with the new digital keys. Plaintiff was unable to enter the private residential area of the building without asking the doorman to let her in. In spring of 2007, defendant blocked the entrance to plaintiff's apartment with furniture and refused to perform repairs on the apartment. In March 2007, Saunders came to the plaintiff's door and told plaintiff she was again late on her rent payments. Saunders refused to meet with plaintiff in the office of the Belden Stratford to discuss the situation.

On March 28, 2007, in an action for forcible entry and detainer brought by defendant against plaintiff, the Circuit Court of Cook County found that plaintiff had failed to pay rent and defendant had properly terminated her tenancy. Enforcement was stayed until April 4, 2007.

In April 2007, plaintiff gave two blank checks to one of defendant's employees at the front desk of the Belden Stratford in an attempt to pay back the rent they claimed she owed. Defendant never cashed these checks or informed plaintiff of how much money she owed. Following the expiration of the stay, defendant placed the Circuit Court's Order for Possession with the Sheriff of Cook County for enforcement. On May 4, 2007, police officers entered plaintiff's apartment and removed all of plaintiff's personal property and evicted plaintiff pursuant to an eviction order obtained by defendant. During the eviction, plaintiff's cats were taken to a pound, one of which died within two weeks of the eviction from stress-related causes. Also during the eviction, plaintiff's personal property, valued at over $125,000, was thrown in a trash bin or otherwise destroyed.

After the eviction, plaintiff's lawyer moved the Circuit Court to quash service of process. The Circuit Court denied the motion and certified the matter for appeal. The Illinois Appellate Court denied plaintiff's petition. The Illinois Supreme Court also denied plaintiff leave to appeal.

DISCUSSION

The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

Defendant argues that plaintiff's complaint is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which precludes lower federal courts from reviewing claims that were raised in, as well as "inextricably intertwined" with, state-court decisions. Dist. Of Columbia Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-83 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923). In the Seventh Circuit, the test for whether a claim is "inextricably intertwined" with a state court judgment is whether the alleged injury resulted from the judgment itself or is distinct from that judgment. Garry v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362, 1365 (7th Cir. 1996); see Long v. Shorebank Development Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 555 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding that plaintiff's claims were not inextricably intertwined with the state court judgment, because the injuries occurred prior to and independent of the state court judgment). If the former, the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, even if the state court judgment was erroneous or unconstitutional. Edwards v. Illinois Board of Admissions, 261 F.3d 723, 728-29 (7th Cir. 2001).

Recently, in Exxon Mobil v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005), the Supreme Court clarified that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine "precludes federal subject matter jurisdiction only when, after state proceedings have ended, a losing party in state court files suit in federal court complaining of an injury caused by the state court judgment and seeking review and rejection of that judgment." Holt v. Lake County Bd. Of Com'rs, 408 F.3d 335 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 281-82 (2005)). In the instant case, unlike in Long, plaintiff complains of injuries that took place after the state court issued its judgment and which arose from carrying out that judgment.

In addition, Exxon Mobil reiterated the "independent claim" exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. 544 U.S. at 293 (2005). "If a federal plaintiff 'presents some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party ..., then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion.'" Id. (quoting GASH Assocs. v. Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir. 1993)). A claim is considered "independent," however, only when there was no "reasonable opportunity" to raise the claim in the state court proceeding. Long, 182 F.3d at 558 (7th Cir. 1999). For example, no "reasonable opportunity" exists where "either some action ...


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