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Geraci v. Union Square Condominium Association

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

January 26, 2017

HOLLY GERACI, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION SQUARE CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge

         Holly Geraci filed suit against Union Square Condominium Association, alleging that Union Square denied her request for accommodations and retaliated against her in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Union Square has moved for summary judgment.

         Background

         Geraci owns a condominium unit on the north side of Chicago in a building managed by Union Square. Union Square's primary responsibility is to maintain the common areas of the building. Geraci's unit is situated on the top floor of the building, and she has lived there since the year 2000. Union Square permits its residents to own dogs and to bring their dogs into common areas of the building, with the caveat that "[p]et owners should be aware that some people might have a fear [of] animals" and should "acquiesce to their concerns and requests" when sharing confined spaces such as elevators. Pl.'s Ex. 147 at 25.

         1. Geraci's experiences with dogs and her accommodation requests

         Geraci says that she has a fear of dogs. She has had claustrophobia from a young age, but her claustrophobia became more severe after she had a traumatic experience with a dog in a confined space. Def.'s Ex. 11 (Geraci Dep.) at 49:18-23, 61:21-62:24. Geraci described, "I was in the back seat of my dad's two-door [car and] a huge German Shepherd jumped into the car and bit me from head to toe and nobody could get the dog off of me." Id. at 52:19-53:5. She suffered over forty bites and had to be taken to a local hospital. Id. at 53:6-24. After that incident, Geraci developed a fear of medium-to-large dogs. Id. at 54:13-22. And although Geraci owned a Cairn terrier from 1985 to early 2000 that she says weighed ten pounds, she contends that her fear of larger dogs did not dissipate during that period. Id. at 56:16-61:6. In fact, she testified that she tried to avoid situations in which she and her dog would be exposed to other dogs. Id.

         Upon moving into her unit, however, Geraci had several negative encounters with dogs and their owners. She attributed these occurrences to Union Square's alleged non-enforcement of its pet policy. From 2004 to 2013, Geraci filed several incident reports with Union Square alleging that residents violated the building's pet policy. For example, on June 23, 2004, Geraci reported that a dog walker came into the building with four dogs at one time, which she said created a "dangerous" situation. Pl.'s Ex. 149 at 0596. On July 6, 2004, Geraci wrote, "please . . . inform [the dog walkers] not to get on elevators when asked not to." Id. at 0602. And on August 11, 2013, Geraci reported that a dog walker, Robin DiBuono, "tried to board the elevator without asking." Id. at 0826. Union Square did not act on any of Geraci's reports. On August 27, 2013, Geraci had an altercation with DiBuono in an elevator-an incident that Geraci would later describe as an attack in which she received a "beating" from DiBuono. Geraci Dep. at 83:15-23.

         In October 2013, Geraci was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She testified during her deposition that she now lives in a perpetual state of fear that prevents her from being able to sleep or to leave her home. Id. at 82:3-21, 83:1-20; Pl.'s Resp. at 11-12. On October 29, 2014, Geraci, through her husband Peter Geraci, submitted to Union Square a request for an accommodation under the FHA. Def.'s Ex. 12. Geraci asked Union Square to "modify an elevator in each building to provide [her] with a key to provide ability to ride non-stop, so she is not forced to ride with dogs." Id. The letter stated that Geraci "is very afraid of being in an enclosed space with dogs, due to a history of being attacked." Id. In response to her request, Union Square asked Geraci to provide a physician's certificate. Def.'s Ex. 15. Geraci sent Union Square a letter from her psychologist, Dr. Kathy Goggin, dated November 25, 2014. Dr. Goggin wrote, Geraci's "diagnosis is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; DSM-IV 309.81) . . . . Accommodations which would address repeated and unexpected re-exposure to fearful stimulus situations would be beneficial to her well-being and efforts to resolve the PTSD." Def.'s Ex. 16. On December 5, 2014, Union Square informed Geraci that it would evaluate her request but reserved the right to ask for further documentation if necessary. Def.'s Ex. 17. On February 3, 2015, Geraci supplemented her accommodation request to include a request that Union Square enforce its pet policy and install cameras in the building's hallways and elevators. Def.'s Ex. 18. On March 5, 2015, Union Square informed Geraci that "based on [her] failure and refusal to provide information as requested [the physician's certificate] . . . it is difficult to ascertain certain information as to whether or not an accommodation is required or if there is a nexus between the complained of condition and the request." Def.'s Ex. 20.

         2. Litigation initiated by Geraci

         In addition to this case, Geraci has filed three other lawsuits against Union Square. The Court discusses these in detail because Union Square contends that her failure to assert her FHA claim in the other cases bars the present federal suit under the doctrine of claim preclusion.

         a. The personal injury suit

         On January 2, 2014, Geraci filed suit in state court against DiBuono, Union Square, and others seeking to recover for injuries she said she had received from her August 2013 altercation with DiBuono. She asserted claims against DiBuono for assault and battery and alleged that DiBuono "intentionally, willfully and maliciously intended to cause physical and mental injury to [Geraci] by her attack" on August 27, 2013. Id. ¶ 149. DiBuono filed a cross-claim alleging that Geraci had committed a battery against her.

         In the same suit, Geraci asserted claims against Union Square to recover for the same injuries, alleging that the association breached a duty of care in failing to enforce its pet policy and that this caused the August 27, 2013 attack to occur. Pl.'s Ex. 112 at 4. On August 6, 2014, the state court dismissed Geraci's claims against Union Square, concluding that it had a duty to maintain the elevators but no duty "to avoid Injuries by a third party's criminal conduct." Pl.'s Ex. 108 at 4. Geraci moved for leave to amend her complaint to include a claim against Union Square for breach of fiduciary duty. The court granted the motion in October 2014 but ultimately, in June 2015, dismissed Geraci's claims against Union Square. The court stated that "[w]hile it is true that [Union Square] w[as] required by Section 18.4 of the Condominium Act to exercise the 'care required of a fiduciary' in performing [its] duties (735 ILCS 604/ 18.4), " Union Square had "no duty under Section 18.4 to protect [Geraci] from attacks by third parties, whether that duty consisted of policing the common elements of the building or enacting a Pet Rule more to [Geraci's] liking." Pl.'s Ex. 112 at 5-6.

         The case proceeded to trial in 2016 on Geraci's and DiBuono's claims against each other. On July 13, 2016, a jury found in favor of DiBuono on Geraci's battery claim and on DiBuono's battery counterclaim and awarded her $150, 000 in compensatory damages and $125, 000 in punitive damages. Def's Ex. 21.

         b. The roof deck fiduciary duty suit

         On January 21, 2014-shortly after Geraci filed the personal injury suit-she and her husband filed a second state court suit, this one against Union Square and its board members. She claimed breaches of fiduciary duty in relation to decisions that Union Square made regarding her roof deck that she said violated the association's bylaws. Pl.'s Ex. 123 at 12. Geraci also alleged that Union Square had constructively evicted her from her unit because contractors it hired caused damage to her roof deck, the association prevented Geraci from repairing the deck, and it improperly refused to repay her for the damage caused by the contractors. Id. On May 18, 2015, the court dismissed the fiduciary duty suit, finding that ...


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