United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
REBECCA R. PALLMEYER, District Judge.
This case stems from a failed real estate transaction. In June 2013, Defendant Richard Easty sold a home to Plaintiff Calvita Frederick for cash, and then allowed her to move in prior to the closing. Ms. Frederick, an attorney, assured Mr. Easty she was about to recover a substantial fee-but the money never materialized and the closing never happened. Instead, Frederick paid use and occupancy charges for a brief period, but then remained in the home for several more months. Ultimately, Easty was required to repair to the state courts to evict her. In the meantime, Frederick appears to have concluded that the best defense is an offense to the judicial system: she sued Easty in this court, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., and common law fraud. Her claims are objectively groundless, and Easty is entitled to summary judgment [16, 21]. For the reasons explained here, his motion for Rule 11 sanctions  must be granted, as well.
I. The Property Sale
Plaintiff Calvita Frederick, an African American woman, is an attorney licensed to practice law in Illinois. (Pl.'s Resp. [44-1] to Def.'s Stat. of Mat. Facts , herein "Def.'s 56.1, " ¶ 1.) Defendant Richard Easty lives in Oak Park, Illinois. (Id. ¶ 2.) Easty at one time owned a single family residential home (the "Property") in Oak Park. (Id. ¶ 4.) The Property, built in 1893, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is sometimes called the "Thomas Gale House." (Id. )
Frederick and Easty first discussed a potential sale of the Property in March 2013. (Def.'s Resp.  to Pl.'s Stat. of Mat. Facts , herein "Pl.'s 56.1, " ¶¶ 1-3.) Easty told Frederick that he had owned the property for "approximately six years" but that he had tired of being a landlord, so he was selling the Property and several others that he owned. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 2.) At least initially, the parties disagreed over the Property's value. Easty suggested that it was worth close to $1 million, while Frederick believed the value was closer to $300, 000. (Id. ¶ 4.) The basis for Frederick's valuation was a report from an on-line website, but Easty discounted the website's valuations as being "notoriously unreliable." (Id. ) Despite the initial spread between the parties' positions, Frederick asked Easty to keep her abreast of any other offers he received so she could consider submitting a competing bid. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 6.) Frederick did not have the cash necessary to buy the house but asserted that she "had several matters in the works" related to her law practice that might generate the necessary funds. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 5.) In her complaint, Frederick repeats this sentiment: she alleges she "repeatedly indicated to Defendant that she did not have the funds to purchase the premises readily available, but expected the settlement of a legal matter she was handling would provide the funds for her to purchase the premises in the near future." (First Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) Easty maintains that Frederick told him that she had "won a seven figure case, " expected to receive the funds "any day, " and would then have the money she needed to purchase the Property. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 5.)
In late May 2013, Easty received another offer for the Property and contacted Frederick, as she had requested. (Id. ¶ 6.) Frederick responded on May 22, making a competing offer of $800, 000 in an e-mail. (Id. ) Easty responded the following day, notifying Frederick that her offer was "essentially the same" as the other one he received and that he would give her a chance to improve it before he made a decision. (Id. ¶ 7.) Frederick alleges that, in fact, "Easty did not have any other offers at the time in April, May or June of 2013 and was instead, requiring Frederick to bid against herself." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 8; First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 68-69.) Frederick offers no evidence in support of this contention, however. Easty, for his part, submitted to the court a copy of a written offer in the amount of $825, 000 from a third party, along with copies of e-mail correspondence concerning the offer with the third-party's attorney. ( See John Harris E-mails & Proposed Contract, Exs. A-B to Easty Supp. Aff. [54-2].) The third-party sweetened his offer a few days later, ultimately offering $836, 000 on May 28. ( See John Harris E-Mails, Ex. A to Easty Supp. Aff.)
Also on May 28, Frederick presented Easty with a written offer to purchase the Property for $822, 000 in cash. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 5-6.) In his affidavit, Easty explained that even though Frederick offered less for the Property, he accepted her proposal because she was offering to pay cash and to close in just two weeks (on June 11). (Easty Supp. Aff. ¶ 13.) The third party's offer was contingent on obtaining mortgage financing and would not close until July 25. (Id. ) On May 28, 2013, Easty signed and accepted Frederick's offer; the signed purchase contract reflects that the parties agreed to a closing "ASAP, approximately June 11, 2013." (Id. ¶¶ 5-6; see Purchase Contract, Ex. A to Easty Aff. [16-1].)
Shortly after the parties signed the contract, Frederick told Easty that she would not have the money to close by June 11. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 8.) She asked Easty to allow her to take possession before the closing, and Easty agreed. (Id. ¶ 9.) According to Frederick, Easty did not ask why she wanted to move in before closing, and she did not give him an explanation. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.) In Easty's account, he agreed to the proposal because Frederick had told him that she had to move out of her previous residence, that her personal property was "already on the truck, " and that she expected to have the funds "in a week." (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 10; Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 8.) Easty's attorney drafted a document called "Possession Agreement, " setting forth terms on which Frederick would be permitted to move into the Property prior to closing. (Id. ¶ 9; Ex. B to Easty Aff., hereinafter "Possession Agreement.") That document, which both parties signed on June 12, included the following terms:
The parties agreed to close the sale of the Property on June 26, 2013.
Frederick agreed to pay Easty $200 per day in "use and occupancy" charges, totaling $2, 800.00 in payments (from June 12 until June 26).
Frederick agreed to pay all utilities for the Property beginning June 12, 2013.
At closing, all prorations for rents, taxes, utilities, fees, and other costs associated with property ownership would be calculated as of June 12, 2013.
Frederick agreed to "be solely responsible for insuring her property."
Frederick agreed to inspect the Property and to accept it "in the condition it is in when she takes possession and will not delay closing because of the condition of the [Property]."
Frederick agreed that taking early possession "does not create a tenancy and agrees to vacate the [Property] immediately upon election of Seller in the event the closing does not take place."
Frederick agreed to "indemnify and hold [Easty] harmless" for lawsuits and other liabilities and expenses "arising out of [Frederick's] possession of the [Property] prior to closing."
(Possession Agreement ¶¶ 1-6.) But the closing did not occur on June 26, presumably because Frederick did not have money to pay the purchase price. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12.) Easty again agreed to extend the closing date, this time to July 10, on the condition that Frederick pay the $200 per day use and occupancy charges in advance. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12.) Frederick paid $2, 800 in use and occupancy charges on July 4, 2013, covering the payments through July 10. (Id. ) The closing did not ...