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Wozniak v. Zielinski

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

September 26, 2016

Amanda Wozniak, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Jan Zielinski, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN ROBERT BLAKEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Amanda Wozniak, Robert Wozniak Jr., and their four minor children (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) allege that their eviction from an apartment in the Village of Justice gave rise to: (1) various unconstitutional deprivations of their civil rights (Counts 1-4); (2) precipitated a series of common law torts, including conversion, trespass, and negligence (Counts 9-13); (3) constituted a breach of their contract with their landlord, Defendant Jan Zielinski (“Zielinski”) (Count 14); and (4) created a claim for promissory estoppel (Count 15). First Am. Compl. [24] ¶¶ 39-105. Plaintiffs further allege that the Village of Justice is ultimately responsible for any ostensible constitutional violations (Counts 5-8). Id. ¶¶ 65-70. Federal jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because Plaintiffs have multiple claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”); and this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

         Defendants William R. Conrad, Barclay Murphy, Joseph Bonkowski (collectively, the “Officer Defendants”), the Justice Police Department, and the Village of Justice (collectively, with the Officer Defendants, the “Village Defendants”) move for summary judgment on all counts pending against them. Village Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [79]. Zielinski moves for summary judgment and to join the summary judgment motion filed by the Village Defendants. Zielinski Mot. To Join and Summ. J. [83].[1] Plaintiffs also filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts, excepting their claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel. Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. [84].

         These respective motions are granted in part and denied in part. As explained below, the claims over which this Court is empowered to exercise original jurisdiction are dismissed with prejudice. In light of the nature of the remaining state law claims, their ease of resolution, and the procedural posture of this case, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the same; accordingly, Plaintiffs' state law claims are dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Background[2]

         The Plaintiffs began renting an apartment (the “Apartment”) from Zielinski on or around September 1, 2012. PSOF ¶ 7. Around April 23, 2013, Zielinski filed an eviction suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County against Mr. and Mrs. Wozniak. Id. ¶ 24. The state court in that case entered an Agreed Order for Possession (the “Order”), signed by Robert Wozniak, on May 7, 2013. Id. In that Order, the court found that Zielinski was “entitled to the possession of” the Apartment, and ordered that he “have and recover” the Apartment from Robert and Amanda Wozniak. DSOF Ex. 2. The court stayed the enforcement of the Order until May 27, 2013, and Plaintiffs agreed to leave the apartment by that time. Id.; PSOF ¶ 24.

         At some point prior to May 28, 2013, Amanda Wozniak and her children left the Apartment and began to stay with her mother. DSOF Ex. 3 at 19-20. During this time, Amanda would periodically return to the Apartment to gather their belongings in order to bring them to her mother's home. Id. Additionally, there is some dispute regarding a conversation that allegedly occurred prior to May 27, 2013, between some combination of Robert Wozniak, Amanda Wozniak and Zielinski. According to Robert, he spoke with Zielinski in the basement of the Apartment, and Zielinski said the Wozniaks could have a little more time to move out-but no more than two weeks. PSOF Ex. C at 20-21. Robert did not remember, however, if that conversation occurred before or after May 23, 2013. Id. at 21. Amanda described a similar conversation in her deposition, but claimed that it took place in the laundry room, between herself and Zielinski. PSOF Ex. B at 75-76. In that conversation, which Amanda said happened at some time “before the date [they] were supposed to get out” of the Apartment, Amanda told Zielinski they needed “more time, ” and he said “only two more weeks.” Id.

         A. The Events of June 2, 2013

         On June 2, 2013, at approximately 2:46 PM, Frank Zielinski (Defendant Zielinski's son) contacted the Justice Police Department (“JPD”) concerning the Apartment. PSOF ¶ 27. Officers Conrad and Bonkowski responded to the call, and were met by both Zielenskis upon arriving at the Apartment. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Frank Zielinski showed the officers the Agreed Order for Possession, and asked that they do a premises check to determine if the Plaintiffs were still living at the property. Id. ¶ 28. Defendant Zielinski provided a key to the Apartment, but it is unclear who exactly opened the door. Compare PSOF Ex. E at 27 (“We [ambiguous in original] cracked the door open.”) with DSOF ¶ 21 “([T]he Landlord and his son then opened the door with their key.”). Before entering, the officers knocked twice on the door and announced “Police Department. Is anyone home?” Id. ¶¶ 19-20. After the door was opened, the officers announced “Justice Police Department, is anybody home? Answer now if there's anybody home and let us know.” Id. ¶ 22. After once again getting no response to their calls, the officers entered the unit. Id. ¶ 23.

         Upon entry, it was discovered that no one was present in the Apartment. PSOF ¶ 30; DSOF ¶ 24. According to a contemporaneous police report, the officers “observed the apartment uninhabitable due to the extremely deplorable conditions . . . observed dirty clothes, garbage, old food, dirty dishes, broken furniture, broken toys and doors off hinges, throughout the living room, kitchen, kitchen table, kitchen counter, both bedrooms, hallway and bathroom, as if the apartment had been abandoned . . . no clean linens on the mattresses which were cluttered with clothes and closet doors, and clothes and toys in the crib . . . two dogs in a cage in the kitchen and a guinea pig in a cage in a rear bedroom. The dogs did not have tags, food, or water, but the guinea pig did.” PSOF Ex. I at 1-2. Further, both Conrad and Bonkowski testified that the Apartment smelled of urine or feces. PSOF Ex. E at 29-30; Ex. G at 40.

         The descriptions given by Conrad and Bonkowski match the photographs of the Apartment submitted by the Defendants as part of Exhibit 10 to the DSOF. Those photographs show:

• A dining table and kitchen counter piled high with garbage and miscellaneous personal items, such that the surface is barely visible.
• A crib in the second bedroom overflowing with plastic bags, stuffed animals, and miscellaneous belongings. In that same bedroom the floor is covered with clothes and personal belongings, and the closet was missing its doors.
• In the first bedroom there is a bunk bed frame with no mattresses, and the floor is completely covered by garbage bags, toys, a cage and other possessions. Both closet doors are off the tracks, and propped up haphazardly throughout the room.
• The living room has no furniture, and there is debris scattered across the floor.
• The bathroom has towels, clothes and miscellaneous items scattered on the floor, across the back of the toilet, and on top of the vanity.

         Meanwhile, in the kitchen there were two dogs in the same cage. DSOF ¶ 29. The dogs had no collars, tags, food, or water. Id. Officer Conrad testified, however, that he did not observe any urine or feces in the dog cage. PSOF Ex. E at 29:16-23. When asked if the animals appeared to be uncared for, Conrad testified “Yes, ” given the lack of food or water. PSOF Ex. E at 49. He also said, however, that the dogs did not appear to be sick. Id. at 48:23-49:1.

         Based upon the condition of the Apartment and their determination that the Apartment was abandoned, the officers decided that the two dogs and guinea pig should be taken to animal welfare. DSOF ¶ 41; DSOF Ex. 13 at 44-45. The officers did not take any other property from the Apartment. DSOF ¶ 42. While attempting to load the dogs into their cruiser, one of the dogs escaped. Id. ¶ 43. After trying to catch the dog for 5-10 minutes, the officers lost sight of the dog. Id. ¶ 44. Officer Bonkowski then went back on patrol while Officer Conrad transported the second dog and guinea pig to animal welfare. DSOF ¶ 45. Due to the condition of the Apartment, Officer Conrad put the animals on confiscated hold, which required the owners to contact him before retrieval was permitted. Id. ¶ 46. Upon intake, the second dog's condition was listed as “normal.” PSOF ¶ 38.

         At around 5:00 p.m. Officers Bonkowski and Conrad returned to the Apartment. DSOF ¶ 48. The officers were approached by the Wozniaks, who were upset that their dogs were missing and asked to speak to a supervisor. Id. ¶ 49. It is unclear from the record what exactly Mrs. Wozniak told the officers regarding her living situation during this encounter. According to Mrs. Wozniak, she told the officers “they couldn't do that, they had no right to do that, we still lived there.” PSOF Ex. B at 61:1-3. According to Officer Conrad, Mrs. Wozniak “advised that they were in the process of moving out despite the-it was apparent that there was no moving equipment, no moving boxes or trucks or vans that would lead me to believe they are moving out. She also said they were not-her and the children were not living in the apartment.” PSOF Ex. E at 62:10-16. According to the police report, the tenants “claim they, and their children, were not living in the apartment for ‘several days' and furthermore claimed to be moving out despite no moving boxes or organization to the foulness inside the apartment . . . [they] claimed they had spoken with [the landlord] after [August 27] and supposedly advised him they were moving out this weekend.” PSOF Ex. I at 2.

         After speaking with Amanda Wozniak, Officer Conrad called animal welfare and released the confiscated hold on the animals. DSOF ¶ 50. At that time, around 5:00 p.m., the Wozniaks entered the Apartment. Id. ¶ 53. Corporal Zima also arrived around 5:00 p.m. in response to the Wozniaks' request for a supervisor, and was given permission by the Wozniaks to enter the Apartment. Id. ¶ 54. When he entered, the Apartment smelled like animal feces mixed with rotten food. Id. ¶ 55. Corporal Zima observed dog feces on the floor that had been there for a while, along with the various pieces of personal property previously described. Id. ¶ 56. After touring the Apartment, and hearing what Officers Conrad and Bunkowski had done, Zima informed the officers that they had made the correct decision. PSOF Ex. E. at 67:11-17; Ex. M at 34:16-21.

         Officer Conrad contacted the Department of Child and Family Services regarding the condition of the Apartment, but the Department told him it could not investigate without proof that children were living in the Apartment. DSOF ¶¶ 57-58. The missing dog was found at Davern's Tavern while Corporal Zima was on the premises of the Apartment, so he accompanied Amanda Wozniak to retrieve the dog. PSOF ¶ 48. After the dog was found, Officers Bonkowski and Zima left the scene. DSOF ¶ 59.

         At approximately 9:30 p.m., Jan and Frank Zielinski returned to check on the Apartment. Id. ¶ 60. The Zielinskis then called the police because they saw a light on in the Apartment and found the front door hanging off its frame, connected by a chain lock. Id. ¶ 60. Officer Lenos, Officer McNamara, and Sergeant Schuerg responded to the Zielinskis' call for a premises check and met Frank Zielinski in the parking lot. Id. ¶ 61. After Zielinski showed them the original Agreed Order for Possession of the Apartment, the officers went up to the Apartment and reported that no one was inside the premises. Id. ¶ 62. After the officers left, Zielinski and his son returned to their home, retrieved a new pair of locks, and installed the same at the Apartment to secure the premises. Id. ¶63. According to Zielinski, this was something the “police” told them to do. PSOF Ex. D at 69:23; 72:12-21; 74:21-23.

         Officer Lenos, Officer McNamara, and Sergeant Schuerg admit to being on the scene on June 2, 2013. PSOAF ¶7. McNamara and Schuerg testified they would not have advised a landlord to change the locks. Id. Regarding whether he informed the Wozniaks about the changed locks, Zielinski said: “No. We didn't call them because at the prior times or earlier days we called and nobody ever answered the phone. We didn't have any contact with them whatsoever. We didn't know if they lived there or not, if they are still there or not. That's why we called the police.” PSOF Ex. D at 73:17-22.

         B. The Events of June 3, 2013

         On June 3, 2013, Plaintiffs returned to the Apartment to attempt to retrieve the rest of their property. PSOF ¶ 54. The Plaintiffs then drove to Zielinski's home where they spoke to Frank Zielinski. Id. ¶ 55. Plaintiffs demanded access to the Apartment to pick up their belongings. Id. Frank Zielinski told Plaintiffs the locks had been changed, and their personal belongings were in the garbage. Id. Defendant Zielinski, through his son Frank, also refused Amanda Wozniak's demand for a key to the new locks. Id.

         C. The Events of June 4, 2013

         On June 4, 2013, Amanda Wozniak returned to the Apartment with her grandmother and two of her children. PSOF ¶ 56. On the ground outside of the apartment building there were several items of personal property which belonged to the Plaintiffs. Id. ¶ 57. Additionally, Amanda Wozniak saw Zielinski's wife and daughter throwing Plaintiffs' property out of the third floor window. Id. ¶ 58. Amanda Wozniak demanded access to the Apartment, and the Zielinski family refused. Id. ¶ 60. Amanda Wozniak then called the Justice Police Department, and Defendant Murphy was sent to the scene for a stand-by “keep the peace” call. PSOF ¶ 61; DSOF ¶ 64.[3] Upon the arrival of Defendant Murphy, Amanda Wozniak complained that the Zielinskis had unlawfully entered the Apartment and removed her belongings. DSOF ¶ 65. Murphy testified, however, that he did not believe that Amanda Wozniak asked for his assistance in going up to the apartment. PSOF Ex. F at 26:21-23. At some point, Amanda Wozniak asked Murphy if he could sign a criminal complaint for trespass to residence by Zielinski. PSOF ¶ 62. Murphy declined, as he thought Zielinski lacked the requisite criminal intent. PSOF Ex. F at 30-32.

         Officer Murphy eventually spoke to Frank Zielinski, who provided the Agreed Order for Possession, signed by Robert Wozniak, stating that the Plaintiffs were to vacate the property by May 27, 2013. DSOF ¶ 66. Officer Murphy then mediated an agreement between Plaintiffs and Zielinski whereby the Wozniaks were allowed to access the Apartment and gather the rest of their belongings. Id. ¶ 67. During this exchange, Officer Murphy never went inside the Apartment, and he left five minutes after the agreement was reached. Id. ¶ 69. Plaintiffs claim that, during this exchange, they asked Officer Murphy to stop Zielinski's wife and daughter from going into the Apartment, but he would not do so. PSOF ¶ 66; PSOF Ex. B at 130:24-131:7. The Defendants deny this assertion, but the evidence they offer does not contradict Plaintiffs' claim. See PSOF Ex. F at 25-26, 29.

         Later that same afternoon (June 4, 2013), Officer Murphy was dispatched back to the Apartment so that the Wozniaks could actually gather their belongings from the Apartment. DSOF ¶ 70. He retrieved the key to the Apartment from Zielinski and gave it to the Wozniaks, who began the process of moving the rest of the belongings out of the residence. Id. ¶ 71. Murphy stood by while the Wozniaks opened the Apartment to grab their belongings. Id. ¶ 72. Officer Murphy stayed for another five minutes after the Wozniaks received access to the Apartment, and then left the scene. Id. ¶ 73. Throughout the entire ordeal, Plaintiffs did not see any Justice Police Department officers remove any property from the Apartment. Id. ¶ 75.

         D. Defendants' Policies & Practices

         None of the Officer Defendants received formal training or instruction regarding the eviction process in Cook County, Illinois. PSOF ¶ 15. The Officer Defendants also have not received formal training “regarding the validity” of court orders; however, the Officer Defendants are generally familiar with court orders through their experience as law enforcement agents. Id. ΒΆ 16. The Village Defendants have no formal policy for handling calls from landlords, nor do the Village Defendants have a formal policy regarding ...


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