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Robin v. City of Zion

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

June 29, 2017

Richard Robin, Plaintiff,
City of Zion, et al., Defendants.


          Ronald A. Guzmán, United States District Judge

         For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. The assault claim, Count IX, is dismissed without prejudice. Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, X, and XI is granted, and the Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendants on those counts. All other pending motions are denied as moot. Civil case terminated.


         Richard Robin brings an eleven-count complaint alleging various constitutional and state law violations in what apparently has been a long-running dispute with the City of Zion (“the City”) as to the enforcement of its municipal code with respect to rental properties owned by Robin.


         General Background

         Plaintiff owns twenty rental units in the City: five adjacent buildings with each containing four residential units. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 103-5, ¶ 8.) The parties dispute whether the units are deemed townhomes or apartments for purposes of the City building code. (Id.)

         Defendant Richard Ianson is the Director of Building and Zoning (also referred to as the “Director of Building Inspections”) for the City. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 103-5, ¶ 8.) Ianson is responsible for the overall supervision of the City Building Department, enforcement of all ordinance provisions relating to buildings and zoning, ensuring all buildings and structures are in compliance with the City code, and performing other duties in the building codes. (Id.) Water meters fall within the building and zoning ordinances. (Id.) From 2011 to March 2015, the Building Department employed two property maintenance inspectors (also referred to as code enforcement or compliance officers) - defendants Robert Miller and Robert Surano. (Id. ¶ 10.) The Building Department issues citations for all City code violations, including violations involving water. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Between 2008 and 2013, Plaintiff received the following building code violation notices or citations from the City: failure to have a work permit for a unit under construction (which was dismissed pursuant to settlement); four notices of violations for overflowing dumpsters and damaged dumpster enclosures (which Plaintiff corrected and for which he did not receive a citation or fine); a notice of violation for an unlicensed/inoperable vehicle on the property (which Plaintiff corrected and for which he did not receive a citation or fine); and a notice of violation that one of his properties was uninhabitable due to unfit living conditions (which he corrected and for which he did not receive a citation or fine). (Id. ¶¶ 19-26.) In addition, in March 2010, Plaintiff received a notice from the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (“IWCC”) that he was required to carry workers compensation insurance. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff believes a City employee contacted the IWCC to report his failure to carry workers compensation insurance. (Id.) No adverse action was taken against Plaintiff by the IWCC. (Id.)

         In 2013 and 2014, Plaintiff received several notices for violations of the City's vacancy code provision (§ 10-179) requiring owners to register property as vacant within 14 days of its becoming vacant and paying a registration fee of $175.00. (Id. ¶¶ 30-33.) Plaintiff also received several notices for violation of the City ordinance (§ 10-178) requiring that vacant buildings with damaged doors or windows be boarded up. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) A city hearing officer found that Plaintiff had committed certain of the violations and issued fines. (Id. ¶ 34.) The procedural history of these proceedings is set forth in more detail in the analysis section.

         In 2015, Plaintiff also received several citations for having disconnected and removed water meters in several of the units he owned. (Id. ¶ 60). On October 22, 2015, the City voluntarily dismissed the water meter citation violations pursuant to an agreement with Plaintiff under which he would replace the water meters he removed. (Id. ¶ 61.)

         Plantiff Takes Photos of City Employees' Homes

         On April 17, 2014, Plaintiff was taking photos of City officials' homes, including Inspector Surano's, to use at the administrative hearing on the vacancy violations to show that the City did not enforce the Building Code against City employees. (Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 103-5, ¶ 65.) The parties' accounts of the events leading up to the arrest differ. Plaintiff testified that he pulled over to the side of a street and exited his car in order to take a photo of Surano's house. (Id. ¶ 66.) Plaintiff described his confrontation with Surano as follows:

After I exited my vehicle, I took that first picture. Mr. Surano came flying around the corner. He stopped. When I say stopped, you know, a jerking motion of the truck so it wasn't a nice graceful stop. I had waited for him to pass. He didn't move. He was already stopped. So I proceeded to walk in front of the truck across the street to the sidewalk.
I took a picture of his northern side of the property. I turned around. I was making an attempt to walk back across the street because I didn't even want to walk on the sidewalk in front of his house. So I wanted to make sure I was walking in the street. I gave him an opportunity to pass and he didn't.
So I started to walk back to my truck, again, a good ten, 15 feet in front of him, and that's when he started to pull forward at me, literally scared the crap out of me, and we had some verbal exchange. I proceeded then to tell him I'm there just to take some pictures, and I'm out of there. I mean he continued with verbal abuse. And that was both ways.
So I went back to my truck. I walked to the back of my truck, and now he was almost - you know, his truck, my truck. We were - basically, the trucks were side by side. I attempted to walk back across the street in front of him to the north side - or south side of his property. He inched forward again, more verbal exchange.
That's when he got out of the truck. . . . He was on the phone when he got out of the truck. So he was calling 911, got out of the truck, came walking over to me, was talking on the phone at that time to 911. I went back to my truck, and I called 911.

(Defs.' Ex. 2, Robin Dep., at 97-99.)

         Several officers appeared as Plaintiff was calling 911. (Id. at 105.) Sitting inside his truck, Plaintiff spoke to one of the officers briefly while the other two officers walked toward Surano's truck. (Id. at 118.) Plaintiff “went over everything” with the officer he was speaking to and said he called 911 because he felt threatened by Surano. (Id. at 119.) The officer who spoke with Plaintiff then joined the other two officers who were speaking with Surano. (Id. at 120.) After the officers talked to Surano for approximately five minutes, two of the officers met briefly between themselves, then walked up to Plaintiff's truck, and after asking him to exit the car, handcuffed him. (Id. at 121-22.) Plaintiff asked why he was being arrested, guessing that it was for disorderly conduct, to which the officers responded “yes.” (Id. at 123.) While Plaintiff was in the process of being arrested, he asked to file a complaint against Surano because he felt threatened by him, but the officer told Plaintiff he could not file a complaint because “[t]hey don't arrest both parties.” (Id. at 126.)

         Plaintiff was then driven in the back of a police car to the police station where he was held for approximately 90 minutes. (Id. at 128-29, 133.) During processing, he “tried to explain [his] story again, ” and “brought up the fact that [he] wanted to file a complaint again, ” but Officer Ray, who was processing him, “just went uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” (Id. at 129.) After bringing up the issue of wanting to file complaint a third time, Officer Ray told Plaintiff he could probably talk to a sergeant, to which Plaintiff responded, “Great.” Plaintiff was given a citation for disorderly conduct and released. (Id. at 132-33.) While being released, Plaintiff asked about speaking to the sergeant, and was told the sergeant was unavailable. (Id. at 131.) Plaintiff was then driven back to his car and he went home. (Id. at 133-34.) At no time after being released from custody did Plaintiff attempt to file a complaint against Surano. (Id. at 134.)

         Prior to a court hearing on September 9, 2014, at which Plaintiff, Surano, and the three police officers were present, the City dismissed the disorderly charge against Plaintiff. (Id. at 137-38.) Additional facts will be discussed as necessary in the analysis of the legal issues as set forth below.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court construes all facts and inferences arising from them in favor of the non-moving party. Calumet River Fleeting, Inc. v. Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, Local 150, AFL-CIO, 824 F.3d 645, 647-48 (7th Cir. 2016). Summary judgment is appropriate when the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Brummett v. Sinclair Broadcast Grp., Inc., 414 F.3d 686, 692 (7th Cir. 2005).


         Counts I (against the City and Inspector Miller for vacancy citations) and II (against the City, Director Ianson, and Inspector Ransom for water meter citations) - Equal Protection Individual Liability.

         Plaintiff's class-of-one equal protection claims are based on his allegations that rental buildings he owned were improperly targeted for vacancy and water meter violations by the City and certain of its employees. Defendants contend that these claims are barred by res judicata because Plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claims through the administrative review process and received a final judgment.

         As to the vacancy citations, Plaintiff was cited both for violations of City Code § 10-179 (registration of vacant buildings with the City) and City Code § 10-178 (boarding up doors and windows in vacant buildings). Subsequently, on April 24, 2014, an administrative hearing officer found that Plaintiff violated both sections for his units at 2809 Galilee and 2823 Galilee, and that Plaintiff violated § 10-179 for his units at 2819 Galilee, 2843 Galilee, 2845 Galilee, and 2849 Galilee. The administrative hearing officer imposed a fine of $250.00 per day for each of the violations. (Defs. Ex. 8, Pl.'s Compl. Admin. Review, Dkt. # 99-8, ¶ 28.) Plaintiff appealed the decision by filing a complaint for administrative review in the Lake County Circuit Court, which affirmed all findings of violation and fines under § 10-179, but reversed the findings that the units at 2809 Galilee and 2823 Galilee violated § 10-178. (Defs.' Ex. 9, 3/23/15 Mem. Opinion Order, Robin v. City of Zion, No. 14 MR 0854, (Lake Cty. Cir. Ct.), Dkt. # 99-9, at 12.)

         On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the lower court's order in almost all respects, finding that all but one of Plaintiff's units (2843 Galilee) was a vacant unit, and affirming with that one exception. (Defs'. Ex. 10, Robin v. City of Zion, 2016 Il App (2d) 151122-U, at *19 (July 6, 2016), Dkt. # 99-10.) The penalties affirmed by the appellate court totaled $127, 500.00. (Id.) Plaintiff's Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was denied. (Defs.' Ex. 12, Dkt. # 99-12.)

         “Three requirements must be satisfied for res judicata to apply: (1) a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (2) an identity of cause of action, and (3) an identity of parties or their privies.” Richter v. Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., 53 N.E.3d 1, 8 (Ill.App.Ct. 2016). The doctrine of res judicata bars not only those issues actually decided in the prior suit, but all other issues which could have been decided. Id. Here, Plaintiff “could have raised his § 1983 claim [regarding the vacancy violations] in the circuit court because Illinois permits joining § 1983 claims with actions for review of administrative ...

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