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Zafar Sheikh v. Marc Lichtman

April 19, 2012

ZAFAR SHEIKH PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARC LICHTMAN, 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 County of Lake's (County) motion to dismiss and Defendant Marc Lichtman (Lichtman), Defendant Glen Bernfield (Bernfield), Defendant Bennett Klasky (Klasky), Defendant John Peterson (Peterson), Defendant David Waxman (Waxman), Defendant David Hoffman (Hoffman), Defendant Linda Sloan (Sloan), Defendant Lee Smith (Smith), Defendant Jason Berry (Berry), Defendant Michael Belsky (Belsky), Defendant Nancy Rotering (Rotering), and Defendant City of Highland Park's (City) (collectively referred to as "City Defendants") motion to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the court grants the County's motion to dismiss, and the court grants, in part, and denies, in part, City Defendants' motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Zafar Sheikh (Sheikh) alleges that in early 2006, the County advertised the sale of four adjoining lots (Property) located in the City. According to Sheikh, a County employee indicated to Sheikh that the lots were each 140 feet long and 60 feet wide, making the Property 140 feet long by 240 feet wide. In addition, the County allegedly represented to Sheikh that the Property had a high appraisal value, which reflected the desirability of the Property's location. The County also allegedly indicated that the Property was fully buildable.

Sheikh further alleges that the City also represented to Sheikh that the lots constituting the Property had no problems and that the lots were fully buildable. Smith, who was an official in the City's Department of Community Development, allegedly indicated to Sheikh in writing that the Property could accommodate a 6,150 square foot house. Smith also allegedly verbally told Sheikh at some point that the Property was an interior lot and that therefore additional buildable space would be available to accommodate the home Sheikh intended to build on the Property (Proposed Home) after Sheikh obtained some standard, minimum zoning variances that were commonly allowed by the City.

In addition, Sheikh alleges that he met with Sloan, Berry, and other supervisory officials from the City to discuss the Proposed Home. Sloan and Berry allegedly confirmed Smith's statements, including that the Property was an interior lot and that Sheikh would not likely have to go to the zoning board for any variances. After allegedly receiving assurances regarding the Property from both the County and the City, Sheikh purchased the Property. Sometime later, Sloan allegedly coached City staff to tell Sheikh that the Property was not buildable and that he should abandon his efforts to build in the City.

Upon purchasing the Property, Sheikh submitted an application to the City to consolidate the lots (Consolidation Application) and paid the appropriate fee (Application Fee). City officials allegedly indicated to Sheikh shortly after he submitted the Consolidation Application that it would be "approved shortly." (A. Compl. Par. 21). After his Consolidation Application had been pending for almost a year, the City allegedly required Sheikh to submit a second payment for the Application Fee because his first check for the Application Fee had expired. Sheikh alleges that he submitted a new check and building plans for the Proposed Home during the summer of 2007.

In late 2007 or early 2008, Sheikh allegedly sought building permits to build the Proposed Home and was allegedly told that his Consolidation Application needed to be approved before any building permits could be issued. Sheikh was also allegedly told that the Consolidation Application would only be approved if Sheikh purchased an additional lot that was adjacent to the Property (Adjacent Lot). According to Sheikh, the Adjacent Lot was not for sale but Sheikh nonetheless spent substantial time and money to discover the owner of the lot, which turned out to be a defunct corporation (Corporation) whose officers and owners had long been deceased. Sheikh allegedly notified the City regarding the ownership of the lot, and the City allegedly required Sheikh to locate the heirs of the officers and owners of the Corporation (Heirs) so that Sheikh could purchase the Adjacent Lot. Sheikh alleges that he located the Heirs and engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the Adjacent Lot. At that point, the City allegedly indicated to Sheikh that his efforts were sufficient and that his Consolidation Application would be approved without the purchase of the Adjacent Lot.

Sheikh alleges that a short time later, when his Consolidation Application had been pending for more than two years, he received notification that his Consolidation Application would be forwarded to the Mayor's Office of the City (Mayor's Office), which would let the City Counsel decide the matter. Belsky was allegedly the Mayor of the City at that time. The Consolidation Application allegedly remained pending with the City Counsel for several months, and after Sheikh made several inquiries with the Mayor's Office, he was allegedly informed that the Mayor's Office planned to refer the Consolidation Application to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

Around this time, Sheikh was also allegedly informed by the City's Department of Community Development that, based on a directive from the Mayor's Office, the Property had been reclassified as a corner lot, which would allegedly prevent Sheikh from building the Proposed Home on the Property without obtaining major zoning variances from the City's ZBA. Sheikh, through an attorney who had been representing him in the matter, allegedly requested to have an informal hearing before the ZBA (Informal Hearing) to discuss the zoning variances that would be required to build the Proposed Home. Lichtman, Bernfield, Klasky, Peterson, Waxman, and Hoffman are allegedly members of the ZBA. At the Informal Hearing, the members of the ZBA allegedly indicated to Sheikh that the plans for the Proposed Home were good and that upon formal presentation to the ZBA, Sheikh would "get quick and speedy approval for his variances and consolidation requests."

(A. Compl. Par. 29).

The first formal hearing allegedly occurred on May 5, 2010 (May 2010 Hearing). At the May 2010 Hearing, the ZBA allegedly requested that several revisions be made to the Proposed Home and indicated that if such revisions were made, "the plans and variances could be approved at the next meeting." (A. Compl. Par. 30). Sheikh alleges that some of the requested revisions fell outside the authority of the ZBA, but that he nonetheless made substantial revisions to the plans for the Proposed Home to meet the requirements articulated by the ZBA. Another formal hearing was held on November 18, 2010 (November 2010 Hearing), at which Sheikh allegedly presented the revised plans. At the November 2010 Hearing, the ZBA allegedly made various new demands relating to the Proposed Home. As part of the new demands, Lichtman, the Chairman of the ZBA, allegedly indicated that, due to the location of the Proposed Home, it would need to be "one of a kind aesthetically, architecturally and otherwise" so that it reflected positively on the City.

(A. Compl. Par. 32).

Sheikh alleges that he revised the plans for the Proposed Home a second time to incorporate the ZBA's new demands and presented the second revised plan to the ZBA at a hearing held on January 6, 2011. After reviewing the second revised plan, the ZBA allegedly issued new demands, including that Sheikh fire his Indian architect and hire an architect from the City and that Sheikh design a home to reflect positively on the City. Sheikh alleges that he refused to fire his Indian architect, but otherwise attempted to satisfy the ZBA's demands. Sheikh also alleges that a fourth hearing was held on February 17, 2011 (February 2011 Hearing), at which Sheikh presented the third revision of the plans for the Proposed Home along with sketches to show the appearance of the Proposed Home. The ZBA allegedly made certain positive comments regarding Sheikh's efforts and the plans for the Proposed Home, but voted to deny every one of Sheikh's requests for zoning variances.

Sheikh alleges that, at some point, one member of the ZBA indicated that the ZBA gets hundreds of variance requests a year, that 80 percent of them relate to corner lots, and that the requests for variances are almost always approved. Sheikh also alleges that various members of the ZBA, including Lichtman, indicated that one of the reasons the ZBA was denying Sheikh's requests for zoning variances was that the Proposed Home would change the character of the neighborhood, and that such statements by the ZBA relate to changing the racial character of the neighborhood. Sheikh further alleges that some members of the ZBA, including Klasky, were inclined to reject any plan for the Proposed Home submitted by Sheikh based on Sheikh's race, religion, and national origin, and that the ZBA's refusal to grant any zoning variances to Sheikh was designed to keep the area segregated. In addition, Sheikh alleges as evidence of the ZBA's racial animosity, that some members of the ZBA even expressed an unwillingness to permit certain aspects of the Proposed Home that conformed to the zoning ordinances, such as that the Proposed Home would be two stories in height.

Sheikh also alleges that on approximately March 23, 2011, there was a unanimous vote to approve his Consolidation Application. Notwithstanding the vote, the City Counsel, including Rotering, decided at a hearing held on April 11, 2011 (April 2011 Hearing) to postpone the final, formal approval of the Consolidation Application for another year, allegedly in retaliation against Sheikh for filing the instant action. In addition, at the April 2011 Hearing, an employee of the City allegedly made libelous and defamatory comments about Sheikh. The City Counsel has also allegedly refused to ...


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