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Dyson v. The City of Calumet City

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

August 20, 2019



          John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.

         For the reasons set forth in the Statement below, the plaintiffs' first amended complaint [59] is dismissed with prejudice. The Court grants the defendants' motion to dismiss [70] with respect to the plaintiffs' federal claims and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. Civil case terminated.


         Plaintiffs Shaneka Dyson, Jump N' Jam Inflatables, Inc. (“JNJ”), and The Atrium Venue, Inc. (the “Atrium”) brought this lawsuit against the City of Calumet City (the “City”) and a number of its officials. In January 2018, this Court dismissed the plaintiffs' federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims; the dismissal was without prejudice, however, and so the plaintiffs were granted leave to amend. See generally Mem. Op. and Order, ECF No. 58. The plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended complaint. The defendants, in turn, have now moved to dismiss that complaint.

         Dyson is the president and sole shareholder of both JNJ and the Atrium. Pls.' First Am. Civil Compl. (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 59.[1] The present complaint is directed against only three of the eight defendants identified in the original complaint: the City; Michelle Qualkinbush, the City's mayor; and Donna Zwart, the chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals of Calumet City (“ZBA”). See Id. ¶¶ 8-10. This suit is primarily brought as an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for alleged violations of Dyson's federal constitutional rights. In particular, Dyson invokes the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, the guarantees of both substantive and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment (as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment). In addition, Dyson also argues that she is entitled to relief under a § 1983 civil-conspiracy theory, as well as under various Illinois state-law theories.

         The Court assumes familiarity with its previous opinion in this case, see generally Mem. Op. and Order, and recounts only the central facts here.[2] To summarize, Dyson has owned and operated JNJ, which is located in Calumet City, for several years. Am. Compl. ¶ 11. In early 2015, she sought to open a banquet hall called the Atrium. She executed a lease agreement in March 2015 that would allow her to combine the property that housed JNJ with the property next door and renovate both into a banquet hall. See Id. ¶¶ 12-14. The two properties were converted into a single address-1582 Huntington Drive, in Calumet City-and are referred to collectively as “the property” in this opinion. That address is zoned as “SU: Special Use” under Calumet City zoning regulations. See Id. ¶ 15.

         That same month, Dyson applied to the City for a business license to operate a banquet hall, as well as for City approval to renovate the property. See Id. ¶¶ 17-18. In June, she received three building permits: one for plumbing, one for electrical work, and a third for a sprinkler system. Id. ¶¶ 23, 26-27. In reliance on these permits, Dyson began renovating the premises. Id. ¶ 24. Dyson had also inquired as to obtaining a liquor license for the Atrium, which attracted the attention of Mayor Qualkinbush. See Id. ¶ 21. Qualkinbush visited the proposed Atrium site in April 2015 and later informed Dyson that she would bring Dyson's request for a liquor license before the City Council for discussion. See Id. ¶¶ 21, 25.

         Soon thereafter, Dyson's plans began to fall apart. On August 27, 2015, she met with Qualkinbush, who informed her-for the first time-that “the Atrium had outstanding issues regarding zoning.” Id. ¶ 32. The following day, Dyson was visited by Randy Barron, the director of inspectorial services for Calumet City. Barron delivered Dyson a letter from Qualkinbush stating that no further permits would be issued for 1582 Huntington Drive until Dyson obtained approval for her business license. The letter said that “a banquet hall or ‘special venue meeting room' license, which you requested, are not permitted under the current zoning of the property, ” and that “the Zoning Board and City Council must approve a change in the zoning to permit this use.” Id. ¶ 33. Dyson had spent nearly $150, 000 between getting her first permit from the City and the day she received this letter. See Id. ¶ 40.

         In September 2015, Dyson attempted to get her plan back on track. She attended a City Council meeting on September 8, during which she obtained a dry bar (non-alcohol) permit for the property. See Id. ¶ 41. That same month, she filed a petition with the ZBA to allow her banquet hall as a special use. Id. ¶ 44. In November, the ZBA failed to favorably recommend the petition for a special use to the City Council, by a tied vote of two to two. See Id. ¶ 45. The following month, the City Council met and adopted the ZBA's findings, effectively codifying the denial of Dyson's request. Id. ¶ 59. On December 18, 2015, Dyson was informed that she would not be issued a business license or a liquor license to operate a banquet facility. Id. ¶ 60. When she asked if there was a means to appeal the denial, Dyson was told she would have to begin the process anew. Id. ¶ 61.

         In May 2016, Dyson submitted a new business license application with a different proposed business plan. She proposed to open a youth center for teens, to be named The JNJ Spot, Inc. Id. ¶ 62. Dyson followed up on this application several times over the following month, but received no update. She alleges that, as of the time of filing of the amended complaint, she had still not received a resolution or a business license for either of her proposed businesses. Id. ¶ 68.


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, 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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A plaintiff does not need “detailed factual allegations, ” but more than “labels and conclusions” and “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Determining whether a complaint plausibly states a claim for relief is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         The factual allegations in Dyson's amended complaint largely mirror those in the original complaint. By the Court's calculations, 117 of the amended complaint's 146 paragraphs are either identical or virtually identical to paragraphs that appeared in the initial complaint. The Court therefore focuses its analysis in this opinion primarily on the areas where Dyson makes new factual allegations in the amended complaint or new legal arguments in her response in opposition to the defendants' motion.

         Again, all of Dyson's federal claims in this complaint rest on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a cause of action for any individual when that person is deprived of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” and the deprivation takes place “under color” of state law. The federal constitutional theories that Dyson invokes are essentially the same as those in the prior complaint, though there are two minor differences. First, the amended complaint clarifies that it intends to state a claim under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against the City in Counts I (substantive due process), V (procedural due process), and VI (also procedural due process).[3] Second, Count II-dealing with the Takings Clause-is now targeted against “All Defendants” rather than just the “Individual Defendants.” Dyson does not expressly invoke Monell in Count II, but the Court understands her to be making a Monell claim against the City in that count as well. As in the Court's previous opinion, “because Dyson asserts her federal constitutional claims in a collective fashion, the Court assesses each constitutional theory as to all of the defendants at once.” Mem. Op. and Order 7.

         I. Equal Protection: Class of One (Count IV)

         Dyson's Equal Protection Clause count again proceeds under a “class of one” theory. The elements of such a claim have been in flux in this circuit recently, as this Court's previous opinion noted. See Id. at 7-8. Nevertheless, even under the least demanding standard discussed by the Court of Appeals in its en banc decision in Del Marcelle v. Brown Cty. Corp., 680 F.3d 887 (7th Cir. 2012), plaintiffs pressing a class-of-one theory “must allege that state actors lacked a rational basis for singling them out for intentionally discriminatory treatment.” Miller v. City of Monona, 784 F.3d 1113, 1121 (7th Cir. 2015). Under this standard, “a class-of-one plaintiff must, to prevail, negative any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification, ” meaning that even at the pleadings stage, the existence of any conceivable rational basis for the difference in treatment will defeat a class-of-one claim. Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         In its previous opinion, this Court noted that there “plainly was a possible rational basis for the denial of Dyson's business license and special use applications, ” which was that “Dyson's proposed business did not meet the City's existing zoning requirements.” Mem. Op. and Order 10-11. The Court observed that the property was not zoned to permit use as a banquet hall or meeting venue, and that Dyson had not shown that her special-use application met the requirements set out in the Calumet City Municipal Code before the ZBA would recommend a special use. See Id. at 11; Calumet City, Ill., Code App'x B, § 12.7 (1980). In response, Dyson now contends that the plaintiffs met all of the standards for special uses identified in the relevant municipal code section. See Am. Compl. ¶ 48. The complaint, however, merely restates the code's requirements more or less verbatim and asserts that Dyson's proposed use met them, without providing any additional details. Compare Id. ¶¶ 49-54, with Calumet City, Ill., Code App'x B, § 12.7 (1980). These formulaic recitations regarding satisfaction of the code's requirements are “conclusory” and thus are not entitled “to the presumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. Dyson has thus failed to negative a conceivable rational basis for the denial of her special-use application, and so Count IV is dismissed.

         While this by itself is enough to end the class-of-one analysis, the Court briefly notes several other flaws with Dyson's arguments, some of which are relevant to her other claims. First, the amended complaint asserts that the defendants treated Dyson differently from other similarly situated property owners “by denying her special use application without a quorum of board members.” Am. Compl. ¶ 100. As noted in this Court's previous order, while one provision of the municipal code states that the ZBA shall consist of seven members, it does not say how many of them must be present for a vote. Mem. Op. and Order 11. Dyson also argues, again, that the ZBA must cast three, not two, votes to deny a special-use permit. But, once again, the provision she cites on this point deals with zoning “amendments, ” not special-use permits. Dyson states that “[z]oning amendments, special uses, variations and administrative adjustments functionally accomplish the same effect, modifying land usage dictated by the municipality.” Am. Compl. ¶ 47. This, however, is merely a policy argument as to why the provision should be read as applying ...

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