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Louis Capra v. Cook County Board of Review

May 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman


Plaintiff Louis Capra has filed suit against the Cook Country Board of Review (the "Board"), three commissioners of the Board, ("Rodgers", "Berrios" and "Houlihan"), the Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Board ("Guetzow") and two first assistant commissioner employees of the Board ("Sullivan" and "Jaconetty"), collectively, the "Board defendants" and together with the Board, the "Defendants"). The purpose of the Board is to hear appeals of property tax valuations made by the Cook County Assessor. Plaintiff claims that the Board defendants revoked his property tax reduction without providing him due process and in violation of a number of constitutional provisions.

Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. The Court grants defendants' motion to dismiss.


Plaintiff is a resident and owner of real property in Cook County, IL. Compl. ¶ 6. The Board is a government office of Cook County that considers appeals of real estate valuations made by the Cook County Assessor for property tax purposes. Id. ¶ 11. In 2007, plaintiff appeared before the Board to appeal an advised assessment that had been made on his property. Id. ¶ 17. In response, the Board lowered the property's valuation such that plaintiff would save over $45,000 per year. Id.

In 2009, the news media ran reports that Representative Paul Froehlich, a member of the Illinois General Assembly, held "undue influence" at the Board. Id. ¶ 18. Specifically, the reports suggested that in exchange for campaign contributions, Representative Froehlich would promise constituents a reduction in their property taxes.

Plaintiff alleges that in response to the media reports and for "the appearance of clean hands", the Board required plaintiff to appear in June 2009 to ostensibly discuss his 2007 property assessment. Id. ¶ 20, 26. Instead of discussing the valuation assessment of plaintiff's property, the Board focused the hearing on plaintiff's relationship with Representative Froehlich. Id. ¶ 26. Following the hearing, although plaintiff testified that he did not know Representative Froehlich nor had he engaged in any illegal or improper behavior with him, the Board defendants "arbitrarily rescinded [plaintiff's] reduction in property taxes that it itself granted close to one year prior . . . . simply stating, 'we can do anything we want.'" Id. ¶ 21, 32. Plaintiff contends that his new property assessment did not accurately reflect the property's actual value, as evidenced by the fact that one year prior the Board found that the property was worth significantly less. Id. ¶ 37. Additionally, plaintiff asserts that Chief Deputy Commissioner Guetzow explained that the plaintiff's revocation occurred based upon a "larger issue between the relationship between the people involved." Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiff has interpreted this statement to mean that his property tax reduction was revoked based upon the Board's mistaken belief that he had a suspicious relationship with Representative Froehlich. Id. ¶ 35, 36.

In response to the revocation, plaintiff appealed the Board's decision with the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board ("PTAB"). Id. However, the PTAB has not yet rendered a decision regarding plaintiff's property valuation and plaintiff contends that the PTAB will not do so for an "unconscionably long time, if ever" because the Board has already "red-flagged plaintiff's case with the PTAB." Plaintiff further contends that the PTAB may take as long as seven or eight years to resolve this issue and it may take another two to four years for plaintiff to recoup the money he has lost as a result of the inaccurate increase of his property taxes. Id. ¶ 46. Lastly, plaintiff further alleges that the Board defendants are "powerful members of the Cook County Democratic Party and exert political influence over the State judiciary." Id. ¶ 47. Therefore, the plaintiff "cannot expect justice in this matter in Circuit Court because there are inherent conflicts of interests between many members of the State judiciary and at least two [d]efendants." Id. As a result, plaintiff contends that he has "no plain, adequate and complete state remedy in this matter." Id. ¶ 55.

Consequently, plaintiff brings forth claims in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Board and the Board defendants in their individual capacities for violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment (Counts 1 and 2) and violation of the First Amendment (Count III). Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims.


Initially, plaintiff has acknowledged that he has no viable Fifth Amendment Due Process claim and that he has not sufficiently pled a First Amendment claim. He has also clarified that he is not seeking punitive damages from the Board. Therefore, plaintiff's § 1983 claims based upon the First and Fifth Amendments are dismissed.

The defendants have moved to dismiss all the remaining claims against the individual Board defendants on the grounds that the individual board members qualify for absolute and/or qualified immunity. They also contend that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for violation of his equal protection or due process rights. Lastly, because defendants believe that plaintiff has failed to state any claims against the individual Board defendants, defendants argue that all claims against the Board should be dismissed as well. When considering a motion to dismiss, well-pleaded facts in the complaint are accepted as true and any ambiguities are resolved in favor of the plaintiff. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

The Court will address each of the defendants' ...

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