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Brad W. Bradley, et al v. County of Will

April 14, 2011

BRAD W. BRADLEY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF WILL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the court grants the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Brad W. Bradley and Sheri L. Bianchin are allegedly married homeowners, residing in Defendant Will County, Illinois (County). Plaintiffs claim that in 1997, before purchasing their home and property (Property), they contacted the County regarding the planting of native wetland prairie plants on the Property. Plaintiffs allegedly contacted the County again in 1998, described a drainage easement on the Property (Easement), and expressed their desire to place native wetland prairie plantings on the Easement. Plaintiffs contend that, at that time, the County encouraged Plaintiffs to restore the Easement to a wetland prairie and did not advise Plaintiffs that the Easement plantings could not include plants greater than 10 inches in height. The County also allegedly encouraged Plaintiffs to check with their immediate neighbors regarding the planting of native plants on the Easement. Two neighbors allegedly agreed that Plaintiffs could plant native plants and one other was silent on the issue.

Plaintiffs claim that, in reliance on the representations made by the County, they expended substantial time and funds to purchase the Property, acquire native wetland prairie plants, and grow and nurture the plants on the Easement. In August 2009, Plaintiffs allegedly received a letter from the County stating that Plaintiffs were in violation of PM 302.4 of the County Weed Code (Weed Code) due to the plants on the Easement and in violation of PM 302.1 of the County Sanitation Code (Sanitation Code) due to junk and debris on the Property. Plaintiffs allegedly contacted Defendant Jennie Locasto (Locasto), a County inspector, and Locasto inspected the Property. After the junk and debris had been removed, Locasto allegedly closed the Sanitation Code violation case. Plaintiffs then allegedly contacted various individuals working for the County to inquire about an amendment to the Weed Code to allow for native plants. In September 2009, Plaintiffs allegedly received another letter from the County informing them that they were still in violation of the Weed Code. The letter also required Plaintiffs to submit a plantings maintenance plan. Plaintiffs allegedly submitted a proposed plan, and the County then requested several modifications of the plan.

Plaintiffs contend that over the next year, they worked with County officials to resolve the Weed Code violation. Plaintiffs contend that, despite their efforts to satisfy the demands of the County, in September 2010, Plaintiffs were charged by the County State's Attorney with violating the Weed Code. Plaintiffs contend that a trial is scheduled in state court on April 26, 2011 to address the alleged Weed Code violations (State Court Proceedings). Plaintiffs include in their amended complaint First Amendment claims (Count I), a claim contending that the Weed Code is unconstitutionally vague (Count II), equal protection claims (Count III), due process claims (Count IV), trespass claims (Count V), conspiracy claims (Count VI), and Illinois Freedom of Information Act (IFOIA), 5 ILCS 140/1, claims (Count VII). Defendants move to dismiss the instant action.

DISCUSSION

Defendants argue that this court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction in this case under the Younger abstention doctrine, since this action would interfere with ongoing state court proceedings. Defendants also argue, in the alternative, that the court should dismiss the claims for failure to state any valid claims for relief. We initially note that Defendants have objected to the two briefs filed by Plaintiffs in response to the instant motion. Plaintiffs have filed a 13 page "Memorandum in Opposition" to the motion and a 27 page "Response" to the motion. The filing of multiple briefs is improper and is not in accordance with the court's minute order providing the briefing schedule on the motion to dismiss. Also, the briefs exceed the page limitations provided under Local Rules. See LR 7.1. Regardless, even when considering the entirety of such filings, as is explained below, abstention is warranted in this action.

Under the Younger abstention doctrine, a federal court is required "to abstain from taking jurisdiction over federal constitutional claims that seek to interfere with or interrupt ongoing state proceedings." SKS & Associates, Inc. v. Dart, 619 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2010). The Younger abstention doctrine is intended "'to permit state courts to try state cases free from interference by federal courts. . . .'" Stroman Realty, Inc. v. Martinez, 505 F.3d 658, 662 (7th Cir. 2007)(quoting Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43 (1971)); see also Village of DePue, Ill. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 537 F.3d 775, 783 (7th Cir. 2008)(stating that the Younger abstention doctrine is "designed to permit state courts to try state cases free from interference by the federal courts," to "protect[] the principles of equity, comity, and federalism," and to "prevent[] duplicative legal proceedings")(internal quotations omitted). The Younger abstention doctrine prohibits federal courts "from enjoining or otherwise interfering in ongoing state court proceedings that are (1) judicial in nature, (2) involve important state interests, and (3) provide an adequate opportunity to raise the federal claims, as long as (4) no exceptional circumstances exist that would make abstention inappropriate." Stroman Realty, Inc., 505 F.3d at 662.

A. Judicial Nature of Proceedings and Interference

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs are improperly asking this court to interfere in the State Court Proceedings that are addressing Plaintiffs' alleged Weed Code violations. The State Court Proceedings are judicial in nature. They are quasi-criminal proceedings being tried in a state court. It is also clear that the relief sought by Plaintiffs in the instant action would interfere with the State Court Proceedings. For example, as a form of relief in the amended complaint, Plaintiffs specifically request that this court enjoin Defendants from pursuing the charges in the State Court Proceedings and from attempting to enforce any judgment obtained in the State Court Proceedings. (A Compl. 63).

B. Important State Interests

Defendants contend that the issues in the State Court Proceedings involve important state interests. Although the Younger abstention doctrine usually comes into play in regard to important state court interests in state criminal proceedings, "[t]he Supreme Court has applied the Younger doctrine to state proceedings that though not criminal enforce other important state interests. . . ." Sweeney v. Bartow, 612 F.3d 571, 573 (7th Cir. 2010). The Younger abstention doctrine applies in the civil context "to a federal suit filed by a party that is the target of state court or administrative proceedings in which the state's interests are so important that exercise of federal judicial power over those proceedings would disregard the comity between the states and federal government." SKS, 619 F.3d at 678.

Plaintiffs argue that the Weed Code relates to "minor aesthetic violations." (Opp. Mot. 6). However, Defendants have shown that the purpose of the Weed Code is, at least in part, to protect the health and welfare of County residents. (Reply 4). Also, the Younger abstention doctrine has been applied in similar quasi-criminal ordinance enforcement proceedings. See, e.g., Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 607 (1975)(indicating that the Younger abstention doctrine could be applied in a civil nuisance proceeding); Mannheim Video, Inc. v. County of Cook, 884 F.2d 1043, 1043 (7th Cir. 1989)(affirming district court's abstention from case interfering with state court case addressing zoning ordinance violations); Ciotti v. Cook County, 712 F.2d 312, 312 (7th Cir. 1983)(affirming district court's abstention from case impacting state court case addressing zoning ordinance violations). There is a definite need for comity in ...


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