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Cosgriff v. County of Winnebago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 1, 2017

Kelly J. Cosgriff and Anita Cosgriff, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
County of Winnebago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 27, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 16 C 50037 - Frederick J. Kapala, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

          Kanne, Circuit Judge.

         A dog bit a Roscoe Township employee on Kelly and Anita Cosgriff s property. After the employee and the township sued the Cosgriffs, the Cosgriffs started a petition campaign encouraging taxpayers to notify the township that its employees should not trespass on private property.

         The Cosgriffs' next property assessment set by the township was significantly higher than their last. The Cosgriffs challenged the increased assessment through a hearing before the Winnebago County Board of Review, the Illinois county in which Roscoe Township is located. The Board ruled in favor of the Cosgriffs and substantially reduced the new assessment.

         The Cosgriffs then sued Winnebago County and numerous individual defendants in federal district court. The Cosgriffs principally allege that the defendants acted unconstitutionally when they increased the Cosgriffs' property assessment because the Cosgriffs spoke out against township employees trespassing on private property.

         The district court dismissed the Cosgriffs' § 1983 claims, reasoning that comity principles barred federal courts from hearing these federal claims. The court also relinquished supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. The Cosgriffs appealed the dismissal of their federal claims. We affirm.

         I. Background

         We draw the facts from the complaint and presume them to be true for this appeal. See Bible v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc., 799 F.3d 633, 639 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Kelly and Anita Cosgriff reside in South Beloit, Illinois, which is part of Roscoe Township in Winnebago County. In 2013, they installed a $50, 000 pool at their home. When two township employees came to the home in April 2014 to reassess its property value after the addition of the pool, one of the Cosgriffs' dogs bit one of the employees. That employee and Roscoe Township sued the Cosgriffs, so the Cosgriffs posted a "No Trespass" sign on their property. They also started a petition drive on the website "change.org" that encouraged other Roscoe Township taxpayers to notify the Roscoe Township Assessor and its employees not to trespass on their own property.

         Kelly Cosgriff contacted the Winnebago County Supervisor of Assessments, Thomas Walsh, several times to learn about the property assessment process. Thereafter, Walsh sought the advice of Assistant State's Attorney David Kurlinkus. The Cosgriffs allege that the two men then implemented a strategy to impede the Cosgriffs. In part, Kurlinkus "ghost wrote" a letter in July 2014 from Walsh to Kelly Cosgriff, stating that Kelly needed to direct his inquiries to the Roscoe Township Assessor instead.

         Then, on August 7th, 2014, Walsh issued a "PTAX-228 Notice of Property Assessment" to the Cosgriffs for their home. This new assessment reflected a valuation that was 47.14% higher than the previous year, an increase in fair market value from $357, 000 to $525, 000 even though the Cosgriffs added only a $50, 000 pool. It was the highest increase in Roscoe Township in 2014, a year when 99.17% of properties saw their assessed values reduced from the previous year.

         On August 8th, Kelly Cosgriff emailed Walsh complaining about this assessment. Walsh forwarded the message to David Kurlinkus, who then forwarded it to his son (Josef Kurlinkus, the Roscoe ...


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