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Ala Alsherbini v. Village of Worth

March 31, 2011

ALA ALSHERBINI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF WORTH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

For years plaintiff Ala Alsherbini operated a cafe that catered to patrons with Middle Eastern roots. He operated the cafe without incident until defendant Randy Keller took office as mayor of the Village of Worth on January 1, 2009. The cafe then found itself facing dozens of allegations of municipal violations, a total of 45 during Keller's first six months in office. Although the village backed off efforts to revoke the cafe's business license, Alsherbini alleges that the village carried out a policy of harassing his patrons to the point that business dropped so dramatically that he was forced out of business.

Alsherbini contends that he was forced out of business due to the defendants' campaign of ridding Worth of Middle Eastern-owned businesses. He has sued the village, Mayor Keller, the village trustees, and the police chief, alleging violations of his civil rights along with various state law claims. The defendants seek to dismiss Alsherbini's complaint in its entirety. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the complaint, and assumed to be true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000). Alsherbini began operating Friends Cafe in Worth, Illinois beginning in 2005.

Prior to 2009, the only complaint lodged against his business had been a ticket he received for littering, but his trash collector accepted responsibility and paid the ticket.

In November 2008, long-time village trustee Randy Keller was elected to the position of mayor, a job he took over in January 2009. Six months later, Friends Cafe received a second ticket for littering. During a subsequent meeting with Police Chief John Carpino, Alsherbini first learned about allegations of noise complaints. A couple of days after that meeting, Alsherbini heard from Mayor Keller, who called to report finding beer cans in a parking lot shared by the cafe and a liquor store. Mayor Keller insisted that the cafe rather than the liquor store was to blame, even though the cafe neither sells alcohol nor allows its consumption on premises.

Then, on August 27, 2009, Alsherbini received notice to appear for proceedings to revoke Friends Cafe's business license. The complaint detailed more than 45 alleged violations of § 8-3-6(a) of the village code, that had occurred prior to Alsherbini's June 18, 2009, meeting with Police Chief Carpino. The complaint also alleged additional calls after the June 18, 2009, meeting, including nine occasions in which police responded to calls of loud noise or criminal activity at the cafe.

Before the hearing to revoke Friends Cafe's business license, Alsherbini and the village entered into a settlement agreement. Under the agreement, Friends Cafe would close at 10:45 p.m. on weeknights and 11:45 p.m. on weekends, as opposed to 2:00 a.m., in exchange for the village's agreement to end its efforts to revoke the cafe's license and to not deter patrons by dispatching officers to the cafe to enforce the closing hour.

Despite the settlement agreement, Alsherbini alleges that police officers arrived at the cafe to enforce the closing hour, even though it was not yet time to close. In addition, the village attorney accused Friends Cafe of allowing underage drinking. Alsherbini contends that the effect of the village's harassment was a dramatic drop in business. For instance, in October and November 2008, the cafe's receipts were about $6,000, while in October and November of 2009, monthly receipts dropped to just under $3,000. Alsherbini alleges that his business was targeted under a policy of discouraging the operation of Middle-Eastern-owned businesses within the village.

Alsherbini filed a nine-count complaint. It includes the following constitutional claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (a) violation of his substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment (Count I); (b) violation of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count II); (c) a "class of one" claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count III); (d) a conspiracy claim regarding his substantive due process rights (Count IV); and (e) a conspiracy claim regarding his rights under the Equal Protection Clause (Count V). In addition, Alsherbini has alleged claims of discrimination in the formation or execution of a contract in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count VI), and state law claims of tortious interference with business (Count VII), conspiracy (Count VIII)*fn1 , and respondeat superior (Count IX)*fn2 .

The defendants seek to dismiss Alsherbini's complaint in its entirety.

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

A complaint need only contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The Seventh Circuit explained that this "[r]ule reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to focus litigation on the merits of a claim rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted); see also McCormick v. City of Chicago, 230 F.3d 319, 322-24 (7th Cir. 2000) (stating that claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are not subject to a heightened pleading standard, but are only required to set forth sufficient allegations to place the court and the defendants on notice of the gravamen of the complaint).

However, a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and also must state sufficient facts to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court stated that a claim has facial plausibility "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable ...


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