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Satkar Hospitality Inc., Sharad K. Dani, and Harish Dani v. Cook County Board of Review

September 21, 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 CORPORATION, ILLINOIS REVIEW, FRAN EATON, DENNIS G. LACOMB, DANE PLACKO, MARSHA BARTEL, CAROL FOWLER, PATRICK MULLEN, AND FOX TELEVISON HOLDINGS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Satkar Hospitality Inc. and its owners, Sharad Dani and Harish Dani (collectively Satkar) have sued the Cook County Board of Review and several of its personnel; the local Fox television station and several affiliates; and the Illinois Review and several affiliates. Satkar contends that the defendants defamed it and placed it in a false light and as a result, the Board revoked a reduction in Satkar's property tax assessment without due process and in violation of other constitutional provisions. The Court has ruled on multiple motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. See Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook Cnty. Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 2182106 (N.D. Ill. June 2, 2011) (Satkar III); Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook Cnty. Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 2011486 (N.D. Ill. May 20, 2011) (Satkar II); Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook Cnty. Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 1303227 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 4, 2011) (Satkar I). In these decisions, the Court dismissed Satkar's claims against the individual Board defendants but otherwise denied defendants' motions.

The remaining defendants have answered Satkar's complaint. All of the defendants other than the Board have filed motions pursuant to the Illinois Citizen Participation Act (ICPA), 735 ILCS 110/15. Specifically, the Illinois Review, Fran Eaton, and Dennis G. LaComb (the Illinois Review defendants) have filed a "motion to dismiss" Satkar's claims with prejudice. Fox Television Stations, Inc., News Corporation, Dane Placko, Marsha Bartel, Carol Fowler, and Fox Television Holdings, Inc. (the Fox defendants) have filed a "motion for judgment" under the ICPA. The Court considers these motions collectively and, for the reasons stated below, grants them.

Discussion

The Court assumes familiarity with its May 20, 2011 decision, which provided a detailed summary of Satkar's allegations against defendants. See Satkar II, 2011 WL 2011486, at *1-2.

In a previous motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Fox defendants argued that the ICPA immunizes them against liability to Satkar. The Court held that the Fox defendants were not entitled to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), but could re-assert their ICPA argument in a procedurally appropriate post-answer motion. See Satkar III, 2011 WL 2182106 at *5. The Fox defendants and the Illinois Review defendants have now done so by answering Satkar's complaint and filing motions for judgment in their favor. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.").

Motions under Rule 12(c) are analyzed under the same standard that applies to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Buchanan-Moore v. Cnty. of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court takes the facts alleged in the complaint as true, draws all reasonable inferences in favor of Satkar, and will grant the motion unless Satkar's allegations state a plausible claim for relief. See Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court is limited to considering the pleadings, but in this case the pleadings include the contents of defendants' news reports because the reports are central to Satkar's claims and Satkar referred to them in its complaint. See Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Ins. Co., 417 F.3d 727, 731 n.2 (7th Cir. 2005).

1. Constitutionality of the ICPA

Satkar first argues that defendants' motions must be denied because the ICPA is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to Satkar's claims. See Pls.' Resp. at 7-13. Defendants counter that the Court should reject Satkar's constitutional challenge because Satkar failed to bring it to the attention of the Illinois Attorney General. See Fox Defs.' Reply at 10. They also contend that Satkar's arguments fail on their merits. See id. at 10-12; Illinois Review Defs.' Reply at 3-11.

a. Notice

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.1, a party that raises an argument challenging the constitutionality of a state statute must file a notice of constitutional question and serve it on the state's attorney general.*fn1 See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.1(a). The district court must then "certify to the appropriate attorney general that a statute has been questioned." Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.1(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2403(b). The state's attorney general may intervene within sixty days after the party files its notice or the district court certifies the challenge, whichever date comes first. Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.1(c). The district court "may reject the constitutional challenge, but may not enter a final judgment holding the statute unconstitutional" until the time to intervene expires. Id.

Satkar does not appear to have notified the Illinois Attorney General of its constitutional challenge to the ICPA as required by Rule 5.1. Pursuant to Rule 5.1(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 2403(b), the Court will issue a separate order certifying to the Illinois Attorney General that Satkar has questioned the constitutionality of the ICPA. As discussed below, however, the Court finds Satkar's arguments to be without merit. The Court will therefore exercise its authority to reject Satkar's constitutional challenge. If the Attorney General chooses to intervene after receiving notice of Satkar's constitutionality challenge, the Court will reconsider its decision.

b. Merits

Satkar argues that the ICPA is unconstitutional because (1) it infringes plaintiffs' First Amendment right to petition; (2) it is void for vagueness; and (3) it violates Satkar's right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment. ...


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