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Satkar Hospitality Inc v. Cook County Board of Review

June 2, 2011

SATKAR HOSPITALITY INC.,
SHARAD K. DANI, AND HARISH DANI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COOK COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW, FOX TELEVISION STATIONS, INC., FOX CHICAGO NEWS, NEWS CORP., ILLINOIS REVIEW, FRAN EATON, DENNIS G. LACOMB, DANE PLACKO, MARSHA BARTEL, CAROL FOWLER, PATRICK MULLEN, AND FOX TELEVISION HOLDINGS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Satkar Hospitality, Inc. and its two principals (collectively, Satkar) have sued the local Fox Television station and several affiliates (the Fox defendants); the Illinois Review and several affiliates (the Illinois Review defendants); and the Cook County Board of Review. The Board of Review considers appeals of real estate valuations made by the Cook County Assessor for property tax purposes. Plaintiffs claim that the Fox and Illinois Review defendants defamed plaintiffs and placed them in a false light and that the Board revoked their property tax reduction without providing due process and in violation of other constitutional prohibitions.

All of the defendants previously filed motions to dismiss, which the Court has ruled upon. See Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook County Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 2011486 (N.D. Ill. May 20, 2011); Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook County Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 1303227 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 4, 2011). In this decision, the Court considers a second motion to dismiss filed by the Fox defendants. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion without prejudice to the Fox defendants asserting their arguments in a procedurally appropriate way.

Background

Satkar's claims arise from events surrounding the property tax assessment of a hotel in Schaumburg that Satkar owns and operates. Satkar alleges that when it appealed the hotel's 2007 assessment, the Board of Review lowered the assessment in a way that would have saved Satkar over $40,000 in property taxes. In 2009, Satkar alleges, the Fox defendants broadcast a story alleging that an Illinois state representative had engineered a successful Board of Review appeal for Satkar in return for large campaign contributions. The Illinois Review defendants ran similar stories. Satkar alleges that these stories were false and that the Fox and Illinois Review defendants knew them to be false or published them in reckless disregard for whether they were true or false. As a result of these stories, Satkar claims, the Board of Review precipitously and arbitrarily rescinded Satkar's assessment reduction.*fn1

Satkar asserts state law defamation and "false light" claims against the Fox and Illinois Review defendants. Satkar also asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Board for violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment.

Discussion

I. Introduction

As noted earlier, the Court denied a previous motion to dismiss filed by the Fox defendants. In that motion, filed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), the Fox defendants argued that the Court lacked or should decline supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The Fox defendants also sought dismissal of the claims on the ground that Satkar had failed to identify the particular statements it claims were defamatory or that placed it in a false light.

The Court denied the Fox defendants' first motion to dismiss in a decision dated April 4, 2011. Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook County Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 1303227 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 4, 2011). By operation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(4), the Fox defendants were required to answer the complaint by no later than April 18, 2011.

Rather than answering the complaint, however, the Fox defendants filed a second motion to dismiss. In this motion, they argue that Satkar asserted its claims against them as a "strategic lawsuit against public participation" (SLAPP) and that Illinois's anti-SLAPP statute, the Illinois Citizen Participation Act (ICPA), 735 ILCS 110/1-99, requires dismissal of those claims.

In their motion, the Fox defendants also sought to defer filing of their answer. The Court did not address that request at the time the Fox defendants presented their motion in court. The Court now concludes that as a matter of federal procedure, the Fox defendants' current motion to dismiss constitutes a prohibited second Rule 12(b) motion. The Fox defendants may assert their ICPA arguments by some appropriate procedural vehicle other than a motion to dismiss, but they may do so only after answering the complaint as required by Rule 12(a)(4).

II. The ICPA

The ICPA immunizes acts undertaken in "furtherance of the constitutional rights to petition, speech, association and participation in government . . . , regardless of intent or purpose, except when not genuinely aimed at procuring favorable government action, result, or outcome." 735 ILCS 110/15. To prevail on a motion seeking dismissal under this provision, the Fox defendants must show that Satkar's complaint is "based on, relates to, or is in response to" ...


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