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Hunter v. Rock Island Housing Authority

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

April 21, 2015

STEPHEN EUGENE HUNTER, Plaintiff,
v.
ROCK ISLAND HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

ORDER

SARA DARROW, District Judge.

Plaintiff Stephen Hunter is suing the Rock Island Housing Authority ("RIHA") under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 3601-3631, [1] alleging that RIHA racially discriminated against him when it evicted him. Before the Court is RIHA's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 19. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND[2]

RIHA provides low income housing to the residents of Rock Island County and surrounding communities. It receives funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hunter was a resident of one of RIHA's housing projects, a high-rise known as Spencer Towers, from October 19, 1992 to November 26, 2007.

On May 19, 2007, Hunter urinated in a Spencer Towers common area. On May 20, 2007, he did so again. On May 26, 2007, RIHA served Hunter at his residence with a 30-Day Notice to Vacate, which cited his two public acts of urination as a violation of his lease agreement. Per RIHA procedures, Hunter requested an informal hearing to contest the Notice. In his request, Hunter stated: "Needlessly [sic] I categolicy [sic] deny this incident happened, and, sure as hell was not me, " May 29, 2007 Hunter Letter, RIHA Supp. Exhibits Ex. D 4, ECF No. 22. He did not mention a racial theory of his eviction. On July 6, 2007, the informal hearing was held. Dr. Melvin Grimes reviewed evidence offered by both sides, which consisted in substantial part of two surveillance videos showing Hunter on the nights in question. Grimes Report, RIHA Supp. Exhibits Ex. E 2. In the videos, Hunter appears to enter a stairwell, look around, unfasten his pants, proceed to a corner, and urinate. Id. Grimes upheld the Notice.

Hunter then requested a formal hearing, per RIHA procedures. In his request for a formal hearing, he mentioned his race-based theory for the first time, claiming that "[RIHA] certainly show racism, and discrimination... Here we have the resident in apt. 813 charged with the same offense, and he likely never went to the second step, before it was reversed." Jul. 10, 2007 Hunter Letter, RIHA Supporting Exhibits Ex. F. He also alleged that "[G]rimes is a racist, beyond belief, " and claimed in support that "[w]hen he came into the bldg. the day of [the] informal hearing, he immediately went over and hugged the ole chicken theif [sic], (627), an african [sic], Yet He NEVER HUGS ANY WHITE WOMAN LIVING HERE! !!!" Id. The formal hearing was held on July 23, 2007. The formal hearing panel upheld the Notice. Hunter then refused to vacate his apartment.

In response, RIHA filed a Forcible Entry and Detainer Complaint against Hunter in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Rock Island County, Illinois. A trial was held. Hunter admitted that he had urinated in the stairwell twice. On October 24, 2007, the Circuit Court found that Hunter had urinated in the stairway twice, and that these actions failed to comply with various portions of his lease agreement listed under "Tenant's Obligations." Circuit Court of Rock Island Opinion and Order, RIHA Supporting Exhibits Ex. B 3. The Circuit Court further found that Hunter had violated 24 C.F.R. 966.4(l)(2)(1)(B). The Circuit Court held that these violations "established grounds for termination of Hunter's tenancy, " entered judgment in favor of RIHA, and granted RIHA possession of the premises. Id. at 5. Hunter did not raise racial discrimination as a defense during these state court proceedings.

On March 20, 2008, Hunter filed a Fair Housing Discrimination Complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"), claiming that RIHA discriminated against him by evicting him for the urinations, and raising the same arguments that he had raised in his letter requesting a formal hearing. On January 28, 2011, IDHR found no evidence that RIHA's articulated, legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for evicting Plaintiff was a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the instant matter on March 5, 2013, alleging that he was made to leave Spencer Towers when other similarly situated African-American tenants were not. Compl. 5-6. Plaintiff requested four times that counsel be appointed to him, and each time the Court denied his motion because he had not explained why he was unable to litigate his case himself. See June 17, 2013 Text Order; October 8, 2013 Order, ECF No. 9; April 4, 2014 Text Order; September 9, 2014 Text Order. RIHA moved for summary judgment on December 18, 2014. Instead of responding, Hunter sent a letter to the Clerk saying: "At this point there isn't much more I can do in this case. The gov gets by with blatant discrim., but oh well." Hunter Letter, ECF No. 24. He continues: "I was under the clear understanding, by the IL dept of human rights, and its review, I could go into a state ct., or fed ct. ASK for an attorney to be appointed and one may.... NOT this Judge Ms. Darrel [sic]." Id. He concludes: "So it goes down. I thank you." Id.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

A court will grant summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). At the summary judgment stage the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial- that is, whether there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Patel v. Allstate Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 365, 370 (7th Cir. 1997). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

The movant in a summary judgment motion bears the initial burden of production- pointing the court to the materials in the record that "demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the nonmovant bears the ultimate burden of persuasion on a particular issue, however the requirements on the movant are "not onerous, " and "may be discharged by showing-that is, point[ing] out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted) . Once the movant discharges her burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. To satisfy this burden, a nonmovant must "go beyond the pleadings... to demonstrate that there is evidence upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict in her favor." Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169 (internal quotation marks omitted). "A plaintiff may not defeat the ...


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