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Robert R. Rasmussen v. the City of Lake Forest

January 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Robert R. Rasmussen (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Rasmussen") purchased property within the City of Lake Forest (hereinafter "Lake Forest" or "Defendant") in 1963 and built a residence there. In this suit, Rasmussen claims Defendant violated his rights by allowing construction on neighboring property that impeded the natural drainage of rainwater and runoff, resulting in pooling of water and flooding on Rasmussen's property. He seeks recovery under theories of denial of equal protection of the law and an unconstitutional taking of property without just compensation, and seeks a mandamus, mandatory injunction, and damages. Defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint and, for the reasons explained here, the motion is granted.


Rasmussen is an Illinois resident who resides in the City of Lake Forest in Lake County, Illinois. (Compl. ¶ 1.) In 1963, Rasmussen purchased property at 1120 South Grandview Lane in Lake Forest (the "Rasmussen Property") in 1963, and shortly thereafter built a residence. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) At the time Rasmussen acquired his property, a natural drainage course ran across it, directing rainwater and other run-off through the Rasmussen property and then to the property directly south at 1144 South Grandview Lane. From there, the rainwater and runoff emptied into the North Branch of the Chicago River. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.)

At some point after Rasmussen built his residence (he does not say when), the City of Lake Forest "participated in and allowed the erection of fill and structures" on the property south of Plaintiff's land. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that a "substantial part of the fill" came from dirt and soil that had been removed during the construction of improvements on South Grandview Lane. (Id. ¶ 11.) He alleges that the obstruction blocked the drainage course that had existed and effectively created a dam on the neighboring property, causing surface waters to back up and pool onto the Rasmussen property. (Id. ¶ 12.) According to Rasmussen, the City of Lake Forest knew at the time the obstruction was built that a natural drainage course existed and would be destroyed, resulting in harm to the Rasmussen property. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Rasmussen alleges that this pooling of water, occurring as recently as May 13, 2010, has resulted in serious damage to the lower level of his residence. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.)

In 2002, Rasmussen filed a complaint in state court against the City of Lake Forest, seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages for the injury caused by the obstruction to the natural water flow. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Resp.") at 2.) In that 2002 lawsuit, in which Rasmussen alleged that the City's negligence resulted in flooding of his property, he prevailed and won an award of damages. (Id. at p. 1.) Rasmussen asserts that in the course of that earlier court action, he advised the City of Lake Forest that unless the dam was "breach[ed]" and "culverts or other channels of adequate size" were installed, water would again pool and collect on his property and he would suffer further property damage. (Compl. ¶ 19.) On May 13, 2010, as he predicted, Rasmussen's property was again damaged when surface waters ponded as result of the obstruction. This lawsuit, filed in federal court on May 11, 2011, followed.

Rasmussen's complaint alleges violations of the U.S. Constitution: denial of equal protection of the law (Count I) and a taking of his property without just compensation (Count II). He asks the court for an order of mandamus requiring Defendant to restore that natural drainage course from his property, for mandatory injunctive relief in the form of removing the obstruction and installing a drainage system, and for monetary damages (Counts III, IV, and V, respectively).


I. Res Judicata Bar to Equal Protection Claim

In its brief supporting its motion to dismiss, Defendant argues that the Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed because they are barred by res judicata. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (hereinafter "Def.'s Mem.") at 3.) In determining whether a previous proceeding raises a res judicata bar, this court applies the preclusion law of Illinois, the state that rendered the judgment. Arlin-Golf, LLC v. Vill. of Arlington Heights, 631 F.3d 818, 821 (7th Cir. 2011); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1738. In Illinois, a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction constitutes "an absolute bar to a subsequent action involving the same claim, demand or cause of action." Nowak v. St. Rita High Sch., 197 Ill. 2d 381, 389, 757 N.E. 2d 471, 477 (2001). In order for res judicata to apply, there must be (1) a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) an identity of cause of action; and (3) an identity of the parties or their privies. Id.; see also Licari v. City of Chicago, 298 F.3d 664, 666 (7th Cir. 2002). This bar precludes further litigation not only of every matter that was offered to sustain or defeat the claim in the first instance, but also any other matter that might have been offered as well. Nowak, 197 Ill. 2d at 389, 757 N.E.2d at 477 (citing Housing Auth. v. Young Men's Christian Ass'n, 101 Ill. 2d 246, 251-52, 461 N.E.2d 959, 962 (1984)).

The parties in this case disagree on whether the second prong of this test-identity of the cause of action-has been satisfied. To make this determination under Illinois law, the court uses a "transactional test," and will find that separate claims in fact constitute part of the same cause of action, for res judicata purposes, "if they arise from a single group of operative facts, regardless of whether they assert different theories of relief." River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 184 Ill. 2d 290, 311, 703 N.E.2d 883, 893 (1998).

Rasmussen alleges that the City denied him equal protection by intentionally treating him differently from other owners of similar property, with no rational basis for this unfavorable treatment. (Compl. ¶¶ 27-29.) He argues that the City's actions were "intentional and geared towards 'getting' at [him]," (Pl.'s Resp. at 2), and that the City has not treated similarly situated individuals in the same manner. (Id. at 3.) On numerous occasions, he asserts, the City of Lake Forest prohibited the erection of structures that would block natural drainage courses on other properties similar to his, pursuant to ordinances regulating this activity. (Compl. ¶¶ 23-26.)

In other words, the alleged cause of action for this equal protection claim is Lake Forest's failure to stop the obstruction from being built on the neighboring property. This cause of action not only "arises from the same group of operative facts" as Rasmussen's first suit, but rests on the very same facts he presented in that earlier action. Thus, in his state court complaint, Plaintiff alleged that the City of Lake Forest had damaged his property by "deposit[ing] fill on the neighboring property . . . thereby obstructing the natural flow of water." (Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp. at 2.) Nothing prevented Plaintiff from pursuing an equal protection claim in 2002 when he filed his first suit against the City, another factor relevant to the res judicata analysis. See River Park, 184 Ill. 2d at 318, 703 N.E.2d at 896 (plaintiffs' unsuccessful federal court due process challenge to a zoning decision barred their state law claims challenging that same decision); cf. Nowak, 197 Ill. 2d at 388-89, 757 N.E.2d at 476-77 (previous federal court decision dismissing plaintiff's federal claim and relinquishing jurisdiction over his state law claims does not bar relitigation of state law claims in state court).

In sum, Plaintiff's equal protection claim must be dismissed because it arises from the same group of operative facts as his first lawsuit and is not dependent on any action taken by the Defendant subsequent to the first judgment. Here, Rasmussen claims that the City violated his rights by allowing the obstruction to be built in the first place.*fn1 Because Rasmussen challenged that action in his original case and could have presented his equal ...

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