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Ralph Adams v. the City of Chicago Heights

February 18, 2011

RALPH ADAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO HEIGHTS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND DON GARCIA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS
DIRECTOR OF CODE ENFORCEMENT OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO
HEIGHTS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Feinerman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Ralph Adams filed this action against Defendants City of Chicago Heights and Don Garcia, the Director of the City's Department of Code Enforcement, alleging various claims stemming from the demolition of his house and garage on February 9, 2009. With the procedural due process claims against Chicago Heights having been dismissed, see Doc. 22 (Guzman, J.), the following claims remain: (1) procedural due process claims against Garcia only; (2) a substantive due process claim; and (3) state law claims for trespass to real property and for conversion of personal belongings destroyed in the demolition. Adams sued Garcia in both his individual capacity and his official capacity as the City's Director of Code Enforcement, but the official capacity claims are entirely redundant of claims against the City, see Robinson v. Sappington, 351 F.3d 317, 339-40 (7th Cir. 2003); Jungels v. Pierce, 825 F.2d 1127, 1129 (7th Cir. 1987), so they will be given no separate consideration.

Before the court are Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims and Adams's motion to strike "Group Exhibit G" to Defendants' motion, which contains various photographs of Adams's house prior to its demolition. Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Adams's motion is denied as moot.

Background

The following facts are undisputed or, if disputed, stated with the disputes resolved in Adams's favor. The Chicago Heights Department of Code Enforcement is tasked with ensuring that structures in Chicago Heights are safe and do not pose danger to the community. As Director, Garcia was responsible for the Department's day-to-day management and for supervising twelve inspectors.

Adams resided at and owned 282 West 15th Place in Chicago Heights, working as a self-employed junk dealer and antique repairer. On February 4, 2009, a fire occurred in the living room, which the City's Fire Department extinguished within two hours. The fire re-ignited the next day and once again was extinguished by the Fire Department. Adams asserts that a three-foot area of the living room was burned, and that the living room's wall and ceiling were burned but not burned through; he further asserts that the unattached garage on the property did not suffer damage, and that the garage's walls did not buckle, bow, or bend in any way. The Fire Department's Incident Report indicates that the house sustained no more than "minor damage" and that any damage was confined to the floor of origin.

On February 5, after the second fire, Garcia and Building Inspector Sam Hernandez visited the property. They did not physically enter the living room, where the fire occurred; neither proceeded any further than the rear entrance to Adams's kitchen, which was located at the back of the house and separated from the living room by a wall and a swinging door. Adams avers that an observer from this vantage could not have seen most of the living room.

Garcia verbally informed Adams during the February 5 visit that the house was going to be demolished, and reiterated the point during a later meeting in Garcia's office. Adams objected and, while at Garcia's office, telephoned his attorney. Garcia did not mention the garage either at the house or at his office. The record contains a letter dated February 5, 2009, from Garcia to Adams, regarding "Emergency Demolition Order of 282 West 15th Place, Chicago Heights," which informed Adams that the City intended "to start demolition of the above-referenced structure immediately because of unsafe conditions." Adams avers that the letter was never given to him. Garcia sent a letter on February 5, 2009, to Alliance Demolition to arrange for the demolition.

Hernandez issued a half-page Fire Inspection Report dated February 6, 2009. By contrast to the Fire Department's Incident Report, Hernandez's report states that there was "extreme fire damage to the floor joists, support beams and large openings in the foundation," that "the floor of the first floor had collapsed due to the weight of all the accumulation of rubbish throughout the house," and that the "floors, walls and ceiling" of the first floor "were damaged beyond repair." The report concludes with Hernandez's "opinion [that] this property posed a hazard and is a unsafe structure to the community and should be demolished immediately." The report does not mention Adams's garage. Defendants do not claim, and no record evidence indicates, that any notice was affixed to the property to warn passersby of the dangers allegedly posed.

After the meeting in Garcia's office, Garcia allowed Adams to remove personal belongings from the premises. Adams retrieved personal property from his house, but did not take anything from the garage because (he claims) he did not know that the garage would be demolished along with the house. On February 9, 2009, Alliance Demolition demolished Adams's house and garage, destroying all personal property that remained in those structures.

Section 22-7 of the Chicago Heights Code provides that a structure may be demolished "[w]here there is a dangerous, unsafe building or structure or a building or structure which is imminently dangerous to the health, morals, safety or general welfare of the occupants or the public." Section 22-7 requires that the owner be given at least twenty days' notice and the opportunity to challenge the proposed demolition at a hearing. Section 22-9 of the Code authorizes "the immediate . demolition" of an "unsafe building or structure" "where it reasonably appears that there is immediate danger to the life, health or safety of any person unless [the building or structure] is immediately . demolished." Section 22-10 provides that when a city officer determines that emergency measures will be taken under Section 22-9, the officer "shall affix a notice on the building or structure, in a conspicuous place on the exterior wall thereof[,] informing all persons to keep out of said building or structure." As noted above, there is no record evidence that such notice was posted to Adams's home or garage.

Discussion

A. Counts I-II: Procedural Due Process Claims Against Garcia

Garcia contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Adams's claim that the demolition of his house and garage without written notice and a pre-deprivation hearing violated the procedural component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages when their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." McAllister v. Price, 615 F.3d 877, 881 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009)). "When confronted with a claim for qualified immunity, [the court] must address two questions: whether ...


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