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Teran v. Village of Wheeling

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.

June 30, 2014

TERAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
VILLAGE OF WHEELING, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit against the Village of Wheeling, Illinois ("Wheeling") for violating: Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"); 42 U.S.C § 1983; 42 U.S.C. §1982, commonly known as the Civil Rights Act of 1866; and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1966, 42 U.S.C. § 601. Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint or stay the case pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971) and Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND

In their First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Plaintiffs allege that Wheeling and its agents are seeking to force them from their mobile homes by enforcing its property maintenance code in a discriminatory manner. The Court accepts the following allegations as true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiffs (collectively, the "Homeowners") own mobile homes in the Fox Point Mobile Home Park located in the Village of Wheeling along the banks of the Des Plaines River. The Homeowners of Fox Point own their mobile homes and pay rent for the lot on which the mobile homes are located. All but five, or approximately 88 %, of Fox Point households include people of Hispanic national origin, color, and race. Fox Point is located on the banks of the Des Plaines River in a federally regulated flood-way. Wheeling is a municipal corporation located in Cook County, Illinois, and is governed by Dean Argiris, the Village President. Authority for the daily operation of Wheeling's government is delegated to Village Manager Jon A. Sfondilis, and Mark Janeck serves as its Director of Community Development. Homeowners allege that Wheeling's population is 24.2 % Hispanic and 56.7 % White.[1]

The Homeowners experienced flooding of their homes on April 17-18, 2013 due to heavy rains and flooding of the Des Plaines River. In most cases, flood water did not rise above the mobile home's skirting, which is a decorative cover for the open space between the ground and the bottom of the mobile home. Wheeling, nevertheless, effectively condemned the mobile homes by citing the owners with multiple code violations. Plaintiffs contend that many of these alleged violations are "baseless" and that when the Homeowners tried to remediate the alleged violations, Wheeling denied them building permits and failed to provide necessary information, such as the nature of the alleged violation.

I. Comprehensive Plan and Property Maintenance Code

Wheeling created a "Comprehensive Plan, " which was approved in 2003 and updated in 2004, 2010, and 2013. The Comprehensive Plan serves as "a guide for the elected and appointed officials of the Village of Wheeling as they initiate new development activities or review proposals before them." A section of the Comprehensive Plan addressing "Residential Neighborhoods" states "[s]ince Wheeling has relatively little single-family housing for upper income buyers, what land is available for new housing should be reserved for this market."

The Comprehensive Plan singles out Fox Point as a problem area. It includes a map of the area where Fox Point is located with a caption stating, "existing used car lot, trailer part and other uses should be replaced by Park District open space. Floodplain conditions limit development opportunities in this area." The Comprehensive Plan also states:

The portion of the Milwaukee Avenue corridor between Manchester Avenue and Palwaukee Municipal Airport at the south end of the Village is one of Wheeling's biggest challenges in terms of future land use. The current land use mix includes single-family houses, a mobile home park, old and new multi-family developments, and a variety of commercial, industrial and airport uses. The Village's corporate boundaries are irregular along this portion of the corridor, which limits Wheeling's ability to control the future development and ensure that the existing developments are properly maintained. The Future Land Use Plan calls for a more consistent land use pattern with commercial uses along the west side of Milwaukee Avenue, except for property along Industrial Drive, where industrial and airport related uses are recommended.

The Homeowners contend that the map and text, when read together, call for the elimination of the mobile park home. They also allege that the Comprehensive Plan does not provide sufficient replacement housing within the redevelopment areas to allow the displaced Hispanic and Latino residents to remain in Wheeling.

The Homeowners allege that since 2011, Village President Argiris has contemplated removal of Fox Point, and they cite to Meeting Minutes from a Village Board of Trustees meeting on May 9, 2011. Those minutes indicate that Argiris suggested researching public housing options so the Fox Point residents could be relocated to where it is safer and healthier for them.

In 2012, Wheeling adopted the International Building Code, which included a provision that "if a building or other structure is damaged or destroyed by any means to the extent of 50 percent (50%) or more of its replacement value at that time, the building or other structure can be rebuilt thereafter only for a conforming use and in compliance with the provisions of this code." The Homeowners contend that this provision unfairly targets them because a mobile home reaches the 50 percent damage limitation more easily than a conventional home because it is worth less and the relatively minor repair costs will preclude the homeowner from making the repairs. The Homeowners also allege that this Code is "selectively enforced against Hispanic and Latino homeowners based on their color, race, and national origin, to eliminate their mobile-home community."

II. Selective Enforcement

The Homeowners allege that the revised property maintenance code is selectively enforced against Homeowners. In support, they assert that a predominantly white community along the Des Plaines River was also flooded in April 2013 and at other times, and that rather than issue citations and violations, Wheeling provided pumps and worked to mitigate the losses of this predominantly white community.

The Homeowners allege that after the April 2013 flooding, they have tried to (1) assess the extent of the damage to their homes, (2) discover the reasons Wheeling issued code violations so they could make repairs, and (3) obtain building permits. When they have tried to communicate with Wheeling about these issues, Wheeling has refused to provide any materials in Spanish and has refused to provide clarification in Spanish or English about the nature of the property violations mentioned in various Notices of Violation sent to the homeowners.[2]

III. Notices of Violation

Wheeling issued these Notices of Violation in English and the Homeowners allege that they did not specify the nature of the alleged code violation. Wheeling issued the Notices on May 15 and May 23, 2013. The May 15 Notices informed the recipients that the premises have "been determined as UNINHABITABLE, due to present non-compliance with" a number of International Property Maintenance Code ("IPMC") sections. The Notice then went on to describe the violations:[3]

Electrical Service disconnect panels providing service from transformers contain substantial rust and signs of deterioration on interior panel conduit connections and electrical elements. Direct service connection plug conduits from mobile homes to disconnect panels are missing plug mechanisms, have been manually altered to provide a "hard wire" connection to disconnect panels, and show indications of rust and corrosion. Interior electrical outlets appear compromised by dirt in many cases, outlets were observed within 6" of the floor elevation.
Flooring has been negatively affected by water, visual existence of subfloor deterioration and decay in numerous locations in the mobile home. Floor is deteriorated to the point that it is unable to safely support daily homeowner use. Floor covering throughout unit has become disengaged from the wooden subfloor. Carpeting in many cases covers deteriorating subfloor.
Exterior structural supports for home not connected to structure, mobile home exterior tie-downs either loose or not in existence, structural supports sinking into the ground. Existing earth underneath the mobile home does not have the proper bearing capacity required to safely support this type of structure. Soil bearing capacity located beneath support elements for the mobile home have been further compromised due to floodwaters. Structural support elements are sinking into the soil and allowing the structure to settle and shift from its intended location. Shifting and sinking of the home has been visually recorded. Shifting and sinking of the home compromises the safety of gas and electrical piping and wiring that accesses the home.
Waste water connection from trailer unit to site sewer not properly connected. Noncompliant materials (rubber hoses/plastic tubing) used throughout inside and out for domestic potable water connections.
Forced air duct work and structural support joists appear to be compromised by floodwaters. Ducts and air outlets contain substantial amounts of dirt and the extensive appearance of mold. Water was visually observed standing in the ductwork. Mechanical elements within the structure reflect numerous life/safety violations of the municipal code.
Sanitation conditions in the unit do not meet the standards of the municipal code relative to the safety ...

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