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Ahrendt v. Condocerts.Com, Inc.

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

May 14, 2018



          John Robert Blakey United States District Judge

         In this putative class action, Plaintiff Robert Ahrendt alleges that Defendant violated the Illinois Condominium Property Act (ICPA) and the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act (ICFA) and committed various torts by charging unreasonable fees to obtain real estate documents through its database. Defendant moved to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons explained below, this Court grants Defendant's motion.

         I. The Complaint's Allegations

         In May 2017, Plaintiff contracted to sell his Chicago condominium. [23] ¶ 16. The ICPA requires condominium sellers like Plaintiff to provide certain documents to prospective buyers for review and approval before closing a sale. Id. ¶ 1. When Plaintiff asked his condominium association's property manager for the ICPA documents, the manager told him that he needed to obtain them from Defendant. Id. ¶ 3. Defendant maintains an electronic database of ICPA documents and provides the documents to requesters, such as condominium owners, for a fee. Id. ¶ 2. Typically, property managers-working on behalf of condominium associations- contract Defendant to store and provide access to the pertinent ICPA documents. Id. ¶ 22.

         Plaintiff requested the necessary documents from Defendant's website through multiple transactions. Id. ¶ 35. In total, Plaintiff paid $370 for the documents: $40 in “service fees” and $330 in “document fees.” Id. About one minute after Plaintiff placed his initial order, he received an email from Defendant indicating that the ICPA documents were available for download on its website. Id. ¶ 38. In Plaintiff's view, this speedy transaction indicates that Defendant provided no “actual service” and merely used a “computer generated” process. Id. ¶ 38.

         Plaintiff alleges that he could not have obtained the ICPA documents from any other source, and thus had no choice but to pay Defendant's exorbitant fees so the sale of his condominium could go through. Id. ¶ 45. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant pays “kickbacks” to property managers and does not disclose those kickbacks to condominium sellers who use Defendant's services. Id. ¶ 76.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim” showing that the pleader merits relief, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), so the defendant has “fair notice” of the claim “and the grounds upon which it rests, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint must also contain “sufficient factual matter” to state a facially plausible claim to relief-one that “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference” that the defendant committed the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). This plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2013).

         In evaluating a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, this Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. This Court does not, however, accept legal conclusions as true. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). On a motion to dismiss, this Court may consider the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents central to the complaint and to which the complaint refers, and information properly subject to judicial notice. Williamson, 714 F.3d at 436.

         Generally, fraud claims under the ICFA must meet Rule 9(b)'s heightened pleading requirements. Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014). Rule 9(b) demands that claimants alleging fraud “state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud.” To satisfy Rule 9(b), a plaintiff “ordinarily must describe the who, what, when, where, and how of the fraud.” Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. Retiree Med. Benefits Trust v. Walgreen Co., 631 F.3d 436, 441-42 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Count I: ICPA

         Count I claims that Defendant violated the ICPA by charging unreasonably high fees that lack any connection to Defendant's actual costs for providing documents. [23] ¶¶ 65-85. Defendant argues that this claim fails for several reasons, including that no private right of action for condominium sellers exists under the ICPA. [35] at 12.

         The relevant ICPA provision states: “A reasonable fee covering the direct-out of pocket costs of providing such information and copying may be charged by the association or its Board of Managers to the unit seller for providing” the ICPA documents. 765 ILCS 605/22.1. The ICPA does not expressly authorize a private right of action. See 765 ILCS 605/1 et seq. Illinois courts will imply a statutory private right of action, however, if a plaintiff shows four things: (1) the plaintiff belongs to the class that the legislature intended to protect; (2) a private right of action serves the statute's underlying purpose; (3) the legislature designed the statute to prevent the ...

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