Wife of bankruptcy lawyer Geraci OK to sue condo association for not granting access to dog-free elevators

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jan 27, 2017

A Chicago federal judge has cleared the way for Holly Geraci, the wife of prominent Chicago bankruptcy lawyer Peter Francis Geraci, to proceed with her lawsuit against the association that manages the condo building in which she lives, saying Geraci has presented a strong enough case so far to be allowed to press ahead on her claims the condo association unleashed a plot to terrorize her by forcing her to potentially share the condo building’s elevators with dogs, despite her contentions the dogs triggered her diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a dog attack years earlier.

On Jan. 26, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly rejected the request from the Union Square Condominium Association for summary judgment in the association’s favor to end the litigation the Geracis launched against it nearly two years ago.

The case is one of the last still making its way through the courts in a series of litigation the Geracis have brought against their neighbors in the Union Square Association in recent years.

In 2014, the Geracis, who live on the top floor of the condo building in the 300 block of West Hubbard Street, in the shadow of Merchandise Mart, sued the association for allegedly blocking them from repairing their rooftop deck at the top of the building, and then refused the Geracis request to repay them for the damage, allegedly caused by a contractor hired by the association.

Union Square Condominiums  

Also, in 2014, Holly Geraci sued the association and another woman, Robin DiBuono, who Geraci accused of assaulting her in one of the building’s elevators in 2013.

In 2015, Cook County courts dismissed the Geracis’ suits involving the rooftop deck. And in 2016, a jury ruled in favor of DiBuono, and ordered the Geracis to pay her $275,000. The Geracis have appealed the jury verdict.

The Geracis actions have led judges to criticize the couple for bringing lawsuits that were "palpable nonsense" against the condo association.

In this case, filed after the others, the Geracis accused the association of turning a deaf ear to her request for an accommodation for her PTSD disability, which she said often leaves her unable to live her life normally or even sleep.

The dispute over dogs in the elevators at the building date back to 2004, when the Geracis, citing Holly’s fear of large dogs, began asking the condo association to clarify and enforce rules regarding the presence of dogs in elevators. Holly Geraci said her fear of large dogs in enclosed spaces dates back to her childhood when she was purportedly attacked by a German shepherd, who had jumped into her father’s car, and bit her 40 times.

The Geracis said dog owners in the building and their hired dog walkers instead responded with hostility to her request, leading to her altercation with DiBuono in the elevator in 2013.

To remedy the problem, Geraci said she repeatedly asked the association for an elevator key, which would lock out the elevator, and allow her to ride alone non-stop to the ground floor. Geraci said the association has repeatedly refused her request, and has instead retaliated against her by turning the rest of the building’s residents against her. She said these actions violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which requires accommodation of those with disabilities.

In response to her suit, the condo association asked Judge Kennelly to rule in their favor, arguing the Geracis should be precluded from suing over this matter, given the other litigation the couple has brought. They also argued they had not discriminated against her or retaliated against her.

Kennelly, however, said the evidence presented thus far in the case does not support those contentions.

Despite the prior legal actions and decisions against them, Kennelly said Holly Geraci’s current lawsuit was disconnected sufficiently from those other legal actions to allow this one to proceed. He noted this case, while tangentially tied to those other cases, deals with the association’s actions after those other lawsuits were filed, and how the association may have reacted to them.

“Geraci's FHA claims and state law claims assert different theories of relief, arise from different events, and cover different periods of time,” the judge wrote.

Further, the judge said the evidence to this point leads him to believe a “reasonable jury” could find Geraci has a legally recognized disability, and the association “made, at best, a perfunctory effort to deal with Geraci’s (accommodation) request and fell short of what the FHA requires.”

And, the judge said, a jury could also reasonably find the association did retaliate against Geraci by stirring up her neighbors against her, by distributing “litigation updates” to residents and holding a “forum” to discuss the Geracis’ lawsuits.

“At the forum, residents blamed Geraci for ‘the harm that [she caused] for the building and all the residents in this building,’” the judge wrote. “The attendees allegedly applauded in approval.

“A reasonable jury could infer from this evidence that Union Square acted as it did to turn Geraci's fellow residents against her and that it succeeded.”

Geraci is represented in the action by attorney Jeffrey Ogden Katz and other attorneys with The Patterson Law Firm, of Chicago.

Union Square is defended by the firm of Borkan & Scahill, of Chicago.


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