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Oury v. Ravenna, LLC

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

December 7, 2017

JAMES OURY, ROBERT OURY, AND JR RANCH, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
RAVENNA, LLC, JOHN ARNOLD, AND THE FOREST PRESERVE OF KANE COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Robert Oury is the former owner of Indian Hills Training Center, a horse stable located in Kane County, Illinois.[1] R. 28, Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 10-11.[2] Robert's son, James Oury (also a plaintiff), rented a home on the Indian Hills land. Id. ¶ 10. After a foreclosure, Ravenna became the owner of the land, and eventually sold it to the Kane County Forest Preserve. Id. ¶¶ 15-17, 64. This case involves various state and federal claims arising from the defendants' alleged efforts to (in Plaintiffs' words) “pillage and conquer” the Indian Hills property and James's home after the foreclosure. R. 43, Pl. Cons. Resp. at 1. But the Amended Complaint does not state a viable federal claim, as argued in Defendants' respective dismissal motions, R. 31, 33, 35, and without a federal claim in the case, the Court relinquishes jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.

         I. Background

         For the purpose of deciding the dismissal motions, the Court accepts the factual allegations in the Amended Complaint as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The Indian Hills stable and horse training facility was located on around 280 acres of land in Gilberts, Illinois. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 10. James Oury rented a house on 3.88 acres of the Indian Hills property; he and his family lived in the house. Id. The Oury family had operated the stable since 1986, but lost the land to a foreclosure in February 2014. Id. ¶¶ 10, 15. In March 2014, Defendant Ravenna purchased Indian Hills at a judicial sale. Id. ¶¶ 15-17. Either before or shortly after the judicial sale, the Forest Preserve of Kane County contacted Ravenna about buying the property. Id. ¶ 17.

         But this deal apparently was not finalized for a couple years. During the intervening time, Ravenna hired Defendant Arnold (a rival horse farmer) to manage Indian Hills. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 18. Arnold, acting either on his own or in cahoots with Ravenna, allegedly concocted a scheme to pressure James Oury into giving up the home he rented (which was located on a portion of the Indian Hills property). See id. ¶¶ 21-23, 47-49. The alleged scheme comprised Arnold engaging James Oury to supply horse-farm related services and hay, id. ¶¶ 21-23, but then not paying James in full after James had provided the services and the hay, id. ¶¶ 47-49. This allegedly painted James into a financial corner, giving Arnold and Ravenna the leverage to demand that James agree to an order of possession requiring him to vacate the home. Id. ¶¶ 21, 51.

         The gist of James Oury's federal claim is that Ravenna and the Forest Preserve destroyed personal property, without due process, that James and his family had left inside the house after their eviction. See Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 77-78. James alleges that he and his family were forced to vacate their home at 8:00 a.m. on December 2, 2016. Id. ¶ 51. The Kane County Sheriff directed James and his family to remove their possessions from the home on the day of the eviction. Id. ¶ 52. Four hours later, Ravenna locked the home with many of James's possessions still inside. Id. ¶ 53. James was not allowed to remove any items after noon on December 2, even though Arnold and a Ravenna representative were inside the house and presumably could have allowed James to go inside. Id. ¶ 54. According to James, Ravenna never removed the remaining possessions from the home, and never arranged for James or his family to retrieve the items. Id. ¶ 55. James even asked Arnold to allow him access to the house to remove his property, but Arnold never responded. Id. ¶ 56.

         On December 8, 2016, Ravenna allowed Forest Preserve staff to inspect the now-vacant home. Am. Cmplt. ¶ 57. James alleges that his possessions were still inside the home when the Forest Preserve representative inspected it. Id. ¶ 59. James further alleges that the Forest Preserve and Ravenna had an “understanding” dating from Summer 2016 that the house would be demolished after James was evicted. Id. ¶ 59. After the December 8th inspection, the Forest Preserve confirmed to Ravenna that the house should be demolished. Id. ¶ 60. Ravenna coordinated the demolition of the home, which took place in February 2017. Id. ¶ 61. James's possessions were still inside the house when it was demolished. Id. ¶ 62. After the demolition, the Forest Preserve closed on its purchase of the land. Id. ¶ 64.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule “reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to ‘focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

         “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         III. Analysis

         A. Due Process

         The sole federal claim in this case is that Ravenna and the Forest Preserve violated James's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law when Ravenna demolished the home with James's possessions still inside. See Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 76-77. There is a problem with this theory: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the cause of action under which the constitutional claim is brought) only provides a claim for constitutional violations carried out “under color of state law.” West v. Akins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Ravenna-the entity that actually destroyed the house and the property within-is a private company. The Ourys, however, argue that the Forest Preserve's involvement is enough to deem Ravenna's actions under color of law, either because Ravenna and the Forest Preserve acted together, or because the Forest Preserve “coerced” Ravenna. See Pl. Cons. Resp. at 6.

         It is well established that private conduct can be deemed state action when state and private actors act jointly to deprive a person of constitutional rights. See, e.g., Wilson v. Warren Cty., Ill., 830 F.3d 464, 468 (7th Cir. 2016); Hallinan, 570 F.3d at 815. But it is also well established that “a bare allegation of a conspiracy between private and state entities is insufficient to bring the private entity within the scope of § 1983.” Tom Beu Xiong v. Fischer, 787 F.3d 389, 398 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Messman v. Helmke, 133 F.3d 1042, 1045 (7th Cir. 1998)). In this case, there are no well-pleaded facts-as distinct from conclusions-to support a claim that Ravenna and the Forest Preserve acted together to destroy James's personal property. The closest the complaint comes is the allegation that the Forest Preserve's agent inspected the house in December 2016, saw the personal property inside, and confirmed that Ravenna should demolish the house. See Am. Cmplt. ΒΆΒΆ 57-60. But none of this plausibly implies that the Forest Preserve sought to destroy James's possessions without due process. The Forest Preserve's agent would have no way of knowing, when he inspected the home, that the possessions inside had not simply been abandoned by James and his family when they moved out. The Ourys do not allege that the Forest Preserve knew that Ravenna locked James out of the house and prevented him from retrieving his possessions on the day of the eviction. What's more, there is no allegation that the Forest Preserve knew that the property was still inside the home when it was demolished around three months later: the Forest Preserve inspected the dwelling in December 2016, but the demolition occurred in late February 2017. Am. Cmplt. ...


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