A Chicago man simply didn’t have the evidence to back up his claims a local elementary school and school board conspired against him to force him to sell the school a parcel of land, a state appeals panel has ruled.
The plaintiff, Raminder Chadha, purchased a fire-damaged property adjacent to North Park Elementary School in the 2000 block of West Montrose Avenue in Chicago's North Center neighborhood in 2008. Though he had no background in home renovation, he intended to rehabilitate the home and live there, according to court documents.
Chadha did not begin renovations immediately, and later said he had trouble getting the city permits he needed. Concerned about the safety of the blighted structure, North Park Elementary decided to attempt to buy the property. Defendant Eric Moulton, a member of the school board and president of a development corporation, approached Chadha with an offer from an undisclosed client, but Chadha refused.
During this time, Chadha began receiving notices of building code violations from the city of Chicago for failing to repair the property. The city took him to housing court, and two and a half years after purchasing the house, Chadha was ordered to demolish it.
Justice Eileen O'Neill Burke Illinoiscourts.gov
The school sued Chadha, alleging the demolition introduced lead into the ground and posed a hazard to school children. The school voluntarily dismissed its complaint and was then sued by Chadha, who said the complaint was unsubstantiated and an abuse of process.
During discovery in his lawsuit, Chadha acquired a series of emails between school board members, administrators and the alderman’s office. The emails regarded concerns about the safety of the property and what could be done about it. Chadha amended his complaint to include Moulton, his company, North Park Principal Lynn Lawrence, the city of Chicago and a city employee. His new suit alleged civil conspiracy, tortious interference with contract, aiding and abetting, and racketeering. He accused the defendants of conspiring to intimidate and harass him into selling his property to the school.
A three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants in the suit and deny Chadha’s motion for summary judgment.
Chadha failed to provide evidence to support his claims, the appellate court said. While he seemed to believe the email string showed the defendants were engaged in a racketeering enterprise, the justices said “the emails merely show communication between the defendants,” not that they were involved in any organized entity. He also failed to establish any kind of ongoing racketeering activity, which is key to proving a violation of the statute.
The court also did not buy Chadha’s claim that the defendants engaged in racketeering by filing complaints with the city about the property. The court pointed out that Chadha did not contest any of the city’s actions but acknowledged the property’s poor condition.
“None of the defendants’ conduct identified by Chadha is unlawful,” the court wrote. “Chadha represents these facts as unquestionably illegal activity without even attempting to show how defendants’ actions violated the statutes he alleges.”
Chadha accused the defendants of tortious interference by “fast tracking” the housing court proceeding once he had a contractor and permits to begin the rehabilitation. The circuit court ruled that for that accusation to stand, Chadha would have to prove the demolition order was entered as a result of the defendants’ interference. It found he could not prove that element, since he did not contest the demolition complaint and agreed to the demolition. The court also found that Chadha’s conspiracy and aiding and abetting complaints were not individual counts but failed along with the tortious interference complaint.
The appellate court also ruled against the defendants. It sided with the circuit court in refusing to dismiss Chadha’s complaints against them. The defendants had tried to argue that Chadha’s suit was retaliatory and that it chilled their right to civil engagement because of its focus on resident communication with the alderman’s office and the local school.
The court found, however, that Chadha’s requested damages – the cost difference between building a new house and rehabilitating the old one as planned, plus half a million dollars in punitive damages – were not excessive. His suit was filed at least three years after the defendants had engaged in their civic activity, and could not be construed as intended to stop them from participating in government, the court wrote. The justices ruled he believed he had been injured and was seeking only redress for that injury.
Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke delivered the opinion of the court, with concurrence by justices Robert E. Gordon and Jesse Reyes.
According to Cook County court records, Chadha has been represented by attorney Alisa M. Levin.
North Park Elementary and related defendants have been represented by the firm of Greensfelder Hemker & Gale P.C.