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Affordable Recovery Housing v. the City of Blue Island

July 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Before the Court are motions for a preliminary injunction [18, 20] filed by Plaintiff Affordable Recovery Housing ("Plaintiff" or "ARH"), seeking relief against Defendants the City of Blue Island and its Fire Chief, Terry Vrshek, (collectively "Defendants," "the City," or "Blue Island"). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motions [18, 20] are respectfully denied.

I. Background

ARH is a non-profit, faith-based organization which provides recovery and housing

services to adult men in Blue Island, Illinois. According to ARH, its mission is to "help individuals reach their full potential by the power of Grace and God and their active role in recovery with guidance, discipline and direction." In March 2011, ARH moved into a property at 13811 S. Western Avenue in Blue Island, Illinois, which it leases from the Mantellate Sisters of Mary.*fn1 The property is presently zoned R-1, Single Family Residential. The site has five buildings, several of which are connected.

In March 2011, when ARH opened its facility, the City allowed ARH to move fourteen people-ARH staff and their families-into the facility, at least in part to provide security for the Sisters. On March 20, 2011, John Dunleavy, President and CEO of ARH, submitted an "Original Phase Plan" to Dave Minderman, the Building Commissioner for Blue Island at the time. Minderman told Dunleavy to install a fire alarm/smoke detector system through Buildings B, C, D, and E. The Plan also called for ARH to install a sprinkler system at a future date. According to Dunleavy, after ARH installed the fire alarm system, Minderman gave Dunleavy oral permission to move an additional forty men into the facility. The parties dispute whether Dunleavy actually received permission from Minderman or anyone from the City, and Dunleavy acknowledges that he did not received anything in writing in regard to housing any additional people at the facility (beyond the fourteen who it is undisputed have permission to reside there). Plaintiff then moved additional men into the facility, reaching a peak of seventy-two at the time that this controversy erupted. According to Plaintiff, the City has conducted five or six fire inspections of the ARH property over the last year.

On February 28, 2012,*fn2 Blue Island Mayor Donald Peloquin sent Plaintiff a letter advising that the City's building department would not issue additional permits for the property at that time and instructing ARH to submit an application to the Blue Island Zoning Board for a hearing regarding ARH's goals and parameters. On May 9, 2012, representatives from the Mantellate Sisters and ARH appeared before the City Planning Commission. Plaintiff was requesting the Commission to recommend that the Zoning Board of Appeals as well as the City Council grant ARH a special use permit. The Plan Commission asked Plaintiff to continue to improve the proposal and come back to the Commission in June. On May 29, 2012, Plaintiff received a report from its architectural consultant at Yung Architects LLC. Of particular interest to the instant dispute, the architect opined that while the Code requires a sprinkler system, other steps such as hiring a night watchman, installing hard-wired smoke detectors, and emergency escape ladders should be prioritized. As of July 3, 2012, Plaintiff had not returned to the Plan Commission to advance its request for a special use permit.

On May 22, 2012, the Blue Island Fire Chief, Terry Vrshek, received information that Plaintiff chained its doors shut at night. According to Vrshek, he went to the facility that same night and observed that all exit doors-except for the front door-were chained with locks on them. The locks were not in the locked position, but the doors could not be opened without removing the locks and chains. Vrshek informed Plaintiff that he had to remove the chains and locks for safety reasons.

On May 23, Vrshek, as well as Retired Fire Chief and Acting Fire Prevention Officer Copp, Deputy Police Chief Cornell, and Health Inspector Mailhoit, performed a scheduled inspection of ARH's facility. The inspection revealed that the buildings had been converted into sleeping quarters and ARH was now housing more than seventy residents.*fn3 It also revealed that no sprinklers had been installed.

On May 24, 2012, the City served ARH with a letter ordering Plaintiff to cease operations and vacate the premises by June 1, 2012. That letter stated that the City's "primary concern is the sprinkler system" and advised that "the sprinklers should have been installed prior to the residential quarters conversion." The letter also informed Plaintiff that it could appeal the decision to the Mayor or City Council. Plaintiff appealed to the City Council on May 28, 2012

The City Council heard Plaintiff's appeal on June 12, 2012, and affirmed the May 24 Order by a 14-2 vote.

On May 31, 2012, ARH filed its original complaint along with a motion for a temporary restraining order [4]. In the original complaint, ARH alleged that Defendants' attempt to remove Plaintiff's clients and shutdown the ARH facility for failure to adhere to the City's Fire Code and Life Safety Code violates Plaintiffs First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion and freedom of association, Plaintiff's Fifth Amendment due process rights, and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("IRFRA").

On June 1, the Court held a hearing after which Plaintiff's withdrew the TRO motion without prejudice and the parties agreed as an interim measure that: (1) Plaintiff would find alternative housing arrangements for no fewer than 18 residents within 14 days; (2) Defendants would send Plaintiff a letter explaining the basis for the asserted city code violations by 6/6/2012; (3) Defendants would place Plaintiff's administrative appeal on the agenda for the 6/12/2012 city council meeting; (4) Plaintiff would continue to take steps toward obtaining pertinent license(s) and permit(s) to operate in compliance with state and local rules and regulations; (5) if Plaintiff had not demonstrated a right to lawfully operate, Plaintiff would make alternative housing arrangements for all remaining residents--with the exception of the 14 people allowed to remain on the premises by the City of Blue Island--within 30 days; (6) Plaintiff and Defendants would work together cooperatively to resolve legal and administrative issues during the pendency of this case. The parties' agreement was embodied in a minute order [6], and the deadline for Plaintiff to demonstrate its right to lawfully operate or make alternative housing arrangements for its clients subsequently was extended to July 14, 2012 by agreement of the parties [see 25]. At the initial hearing, the Court focused the parties' attention on Plaintiff's due process claim, and especially on the City's obligation to provide Plaintiff with clear notice of the asserted Code violations and how to exercise its appeal rights. Defendants sent correspondence to Plaintiff addressing those points and the appeal proceeded.

After the City Council rejected Plaintiff's appeal, on June 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed two motions for preliminary injunction [18, 20] as well as a motion to file an amended complaint

[22]. On July 3, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to file an amended complaint, which contains six counts, alleging that Defendants infringed on ARH's First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion and association, Fifth Amendment Due Process Rights, Plaintiff's rights under the Illinois Religious Freed Restoration Act ("IRFRA"), and its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). In the two preliminary injunction motions, Plaintiff argues that (1) the ARH facility at 13811 S. Western Avenue is an existing use property, (2) the ARH is not obligated to install a sprinkler system, and (3) the City cannot evict Plaintiff's clients who reside at the facility and shut down its operations. Defendants' filed response briefs [27, 28] and the Court held a preliminary injunction hearing on July 3, 2012 [31], at which it took testimony and heard extensive argument from counsel for both sides.

II. Analysis

Like all forms of injunctive relief, a preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion." Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997) (emphasis in original); see also Goodman v. Ill. Dep't of Financial & Professional Reg., 430 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2005) (same). A party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate as a threshold matter that (1) its case has some likelihood of succeeding on the merits; (2) no adequate remedy at law exists; and (3) it will suffer irreparable harm if preliminary relief is denied. Abbott Labs. v. Mead Johnson & Co., 971 F.2d 6, 11 (7th Cir. 1992). If the moving party meets its initial burden, then the court must consider the irreparable harm that the nonmoving party will suffer if preliminary relief is granted, balancing such harm against the irreparable harm the moving party will ...

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