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George Willborn, et al v. Daniel Sabbia

May 19, 2011

GEORGE WILLBORN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DANIEL SABBIA, 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 Defendant Jeffrey Lowe's (Lowe) and Defendant The Lowe Group Chicago, Inc.'s (Lowe Group) (collectively referred to as "Lowe Defendants") motion to dismiss. This matter is also before the court on Defendant Midwest Realty Ventures, LLC d/b/a Prudential Rubloff Properties' (Midwest) motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the court denies the motions to dismiss in their entirety.

BACKGROUND

In January 2008, Defendant Daniel Sabbia and Defendant Adrienne Sabbia (Sabbias) allegedly retained the services of Lowe, a licensed real estate agent. Lowe is allegedly the sole officer, director, and shareholder of Lowe Group. Midwest is allegedly a real estate brokerage firm, and Lowe and Lowe Group allegedly act as agents of Midwest.

The Sabbias allegedly instructed Lowe to list, market, and sell a property in Chicago, Illinois with a five bedroom, 8,000 square foot single-family home on it (Property), and the Sabbias allegedly told Lowe that they would prefer not to sell the Property to an African-American. The Property was allegedly listed and then taken off the market for a short period. The Sabbias allegedly re-listed the Property with Lowe in April 2009 at a reduced price of 1.799 million dollars.

In January 2010, Plaintiff George Willborn, his wife, Plaintiff Peytyn Willborn, and their two children (collectively referred to as "Willborns"), allegedly hired Dylcia Cornelious (Cornelious) to act as their real estate agent and assist them in purchasing a home. On January 2, 2010, the Willborns allegedly viewed the Property and, according to the Government, Defendant Daniel Sabbia was sitting in his car as the Willborns left the Property and he waived to the Willborns. On the same day, the Willborns allegedly extended an offer on the Property for 1.5 million dollars, and after negotiations back and forth between the parties, the Sabbias allegedly extended a final counteroffer of 1.7 million dollars. On January 4, 2010, the Willborns allegedly accepted the counteroffer, and Cornelious prepared a sales contract (Contract). That same day when Cornelious and Lowe were discussing the transaction, Cornelious allegedly informed Lowe that George Willborn was a radio personality. According to the Willborns, Lowe indicated that the Sabbias had researched George Willborn on the internet. The Willborns contend that such internet searches would have led to photographs of George Willborn, clearly indicating that he is an African-American.

On January 5, 2010, Lowe allegedly forwarded the Contract, which contained the terms that they had agreed to during the negotiations, to the Sabbias for their signature. For several days, there was allegedly no response from the Sabbias, and on January 11, 2010, Lowe indicated that the Sabbias would not sign the Contract and that they were taking the Property off the market. Lowe allegedly indicated that the Sabbias had decided not to sell because they had changed their mind about moving. The Sabbias also allegedly indicated that they could not find a suitable new home and that they wanted to keep their children in their current schools, but did not explain why the Property had been on the market or why they had been negotiating the sale of the Property.

On January 12, 2010, the Property was allegedly taken off the market. On January 28, 2010, George Willborn, Peytyn Willborn, and Cornelious filed a verified complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging that Defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (HUD Complaint). In February 2010, the Sabbias and Lowe allegedly received notice of the HUD Complaint. Shortly after receiving the HUD Complaint, the Sabbias allegedly directed Lowe to offer the Willborns the opportunity to buy the Property for 1.799 million dollars. The Willborns allegedly rejected the offer, and in March 2010, Lowe allegedly re-listed the Property at 1.799 million dollars. The Willborns contend that, prior to the filing of the HUD Complaint, the Sabbias refused to sell the Property to the Willborns because they are African-Americans.

On March 19, 2010 and July 14, 2010, the Willborns filed amended complaints with HUD. The HUD Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice occurred, and on August 9, 2010, the General Counsel of HUD brought charges against Defendants. In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 3612(a), the Willborns elected to have their HUD claims decided in a civil action instead of in an administrative hearing, and on August 26, 2010, the Willborns brought an action in federal court (Case Number 10 C 5382)(Willborn Action). The Willborns included in their complaint FHA claims, claims alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1982 (Section 1982), claims alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Section 1981), and claims alleging violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), 775 ILCS 5/3-301 et seq.

On September 20, 2010, the United States (Government) brought an action against Defendants on behalf of the Willborns for violations of the FHA, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3612(o), which authorizes the Attorney General to commence a civil action for violations of the FHA (Case Number 10 C 5967)(Government Action). This court found that the Government Action was related to the instant action and on January 14, 2011, the Government Action was reassigned to the undersigned judge based on a finding of relatedness. The Lowe Defendants and Midwest have filed motions to dismiss the claims in the Willborn Action and the Government Action.

LEGAL STANDARD

In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Rule 12(b)(6)), a court must "accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint" and make reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(stating that the tenet is "inapplicable to legal conclusions"); Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002). To defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted)(quoting in part Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint that contains factual allegations that are "merely consistent with a defendant's liability . . . stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (internal quotations omitted).

DISCUSSION

Lowe Defendants and Midwest move to dismiss all claims brought against them in the Willborn Action and the Government Action.

I. Lowe Defendants

Lowe Defendants contend that there are not sufficient allegations in the complaint in the Willborn Action or the complaint in the Government Action (collectively referred to as "Complaints") to indicate any ...


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