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

August 2, 2012

SATKAR HOSPITALITY INC., SHARAD K. DANI, AND HARISH DANI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COOK COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Satkar Hospitality, Inc., Sharad K. Dani, and Harish Dani have sued the Cook County Board of Review. Plaintiffs claim that the Board revoked their property tax reduction without providing due process and in violation of other constitutional prohibitions. The Board has moved for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion.

Background

The present decision assumes familiarity with the Court's previous decisions in this case [docket nos. 98, 114, 118, and 143]. For purposes of resolving a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court "view[s] the facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009).

The Danis own and operate Satkar, which owns a hotel in Schaumburg, Illinois. Satkar appealed the hotel's 2007 property tax assessment to the Board, which considers appeals of real estate valuations made by the Cook County Assessor for property tax purposes. The Board lowered the assessment, saving Satkar $40,000 annually in property taxes.

In 2009, the local Fox Television affiliate ran several news stories suggesting that plaintiffs had received the lowered assessment corruptly. The news story stated that plaintiffs had given large campaign contributions to Illinois State Representative Paul Froehlich in exchange for his promise to arrange the lower assessment. Similar stories appeared on the Illinois Review blog.Plaintiffs deny that they ever engaged in corrupt or improper dealings with Froehlich.

Plaintiffs allege that in response to the media reports, the Board required them to appear on June 18, 2009 to discuss their assessment. Instead of asking questions about the assessment or the value of the property, however, plaintiffs allege that the Board only asked questions about their relationship with Froehlich. The Board then rescinded the reduction in property taxes it had awarded shortly before. Plaintiffs allege that the chief deputy commissioner of the Board stated that the reason plaintiffs lost the reduced assessment was because of their relationship with Froehlich and that the new assessment did not reflect the value of the hotel property. Plaintiffs appealed to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB), but they allege that any review of their case will take many years and will be, in any event, essentially meaningless.

Plaintiffs also allege that they brought another appeal before the Board in 2010, but it was first delayed and then denied. Plaintiffs allege that a commissioner for the Board told their attorney that the second appeal was also denied because of plaintiffs' relationship with Froehlich and not because of the merits of their appeal. The commissioner also allegedly stated that the Board would not grant any appeal by plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs allege that they do not have any effective means of appeal from the decisions of the Board, because of the significant length of time before any PTAB decision and the fact that the Board has "red-flagged their case with PTAB." Am. Compl. ¶ 53. Plaintiffs acknowledge that they have the right to seek review in the Cook County Circuit Court, but allege that they could not receive any meaningful review there because many of the Circuit Court judges are politically beholden to politically influential members of the Board. The Board does not challenge these allegations for purposes of the present motion.

On October 17, 2010, plaintiffs sued the Board, its three commissioners, and three other employees of the Board for violations of their rights to due process, equal protection, and freedom of speech. They also sued the Fox television station, the Illinois Review, and individuals associated with each for defamation and false light under state law.

On May 20, 2011, the Court dismissed the claims against the Board commissioners and employees, holding that they had absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook Cnty. Bd. of Review, 819 F. Supp. 2d 727, 732--33 (N.D. Ill. 2011); see Heyde v. Pittenger, 633 F.3d 512, 522 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court noted, however, that the Board had not sought to dismiss the claims against it on the grounds of quasi-judicial immunity. Satkar Hospitality, 819 F. Supp. 2d at 733. On September 21, 2011, the Court dismissed the claims against Fox, Illinois Review, and the remaining individual defendants, finding that they were barred by the Illinois Citizen Participation Act. Satkar Hospitality Inc. v. Cook Cnty. Bd. of Review, No. 10 C 6682, 2011 WL 4431029, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2011). That decision is currently on appeal. The only remaining defendant is the Board.

Discussion

When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court "view[s] the facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and will grant the motion only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief." Buchanan-Moore, 570 F.3d at 827 (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Board contends that it is entitled to judgment on the pleadings for two reasons. First, it claims that, like its commissioners and employees, it is protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Second, the Board claims that it is ...


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