A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the former owners of a restaurant and hookah lounge, who accused the village of Worth, its mayor and police officers of harassing them for supporting the mayor's political rival.
Isam Samara and Muwafak Rizek, and their business FKFJ, along with International Realty Investments, sued the village, Village President Mary Werner, Police Chief Mark Micetich and several unnamed police officers alleging harassment in retaliation for supporting Randy Keller’s bid to unseat Werner as village president.
Samara and Rizek said they had no trouble acquiring initial permits and licenses to open in June 2016. International Realty reached an arrangement to let FKFJ customers park outside a single-family home it owned next to the hookah lounge, according to court documents. The plaintiffs said Werner encouraged Samara to demolish the home and turn the lot into parking spaces.
After Werner won re-election, the plaintiffs said, the village stalled when asked to approve an application for a permit to construct the parking lot, and police issued hundreds of parking tickets to FKFJ for customers’ vehicles parked in the empty lot or on nearby streets. They also alleged Worth police twice entered the restaurant to arrest Rizek without a warrant or probable cause.
Worth Village President Mary Werner Village of Worth
Although the village ultimately approved the parking lot permit, the village denied an FKFJ attorney’s business license renewal application, and FKFJ ultimately sold the restaurant. The new owner got a business license after proving he had no connection to Samara or Rizek, court documents said.
U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso issued an opinion on the lawsuit Jan. 22, saying the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged the infringement of constitutional rights since the complaint accused village trustees of being “directly involved in a key aspect” of the allegations in that “for months it delayed approval of the special use permit plaintiffs needed to surface their parking lot, allowing the item to linger on its agenda at meeting after meeting while plaintiffs continued to receive ‘hundreds’ of citations.”
The village argued the Illinois Tort Immunity Act bars the allegations based on state law because nothing in the allegations “constitutes willful or wanton conduct.”
However, Alonso wrote, an allegation the village, mayor and police officers “harassed plaintiffs by denying them permits and licenses and issuing bogus citations in an effort to harm their business in retaliation for supporting a political rival of the village president … falls squarely within the bounds of willful and wanton conduct, according to the Tort Immunity Act’s definition.”
Alonso did agree to dismiss tortious interference with contract and conversion claims because such positions would require an allegation the village failed to issue a permit or lease, but wouldn’t reject remaining claims as being insufficiently specific or cohesive.
“A reasonable jury could infer that the alleged harassment — the flood of citations and the delays in issuing permits and licenses — was connected to the election based on its suspicious timing,” Alonso wrote, “as it seemed to begin shortly after Werner’s re-election, and also based on Werner’s issuing a license to the new owner of plaintiffs’ businesses on the condition that he promise ‘that he has no affiliation with Plaintiffs Samara or Rizek.’ ”
Even if the complaint has certain deficiencies, Alonso continued, “defendants do not articulate reasoned arguments, backed by pertinent authority on a claim-by-claim basis, in support of dismissal,” and the judge wouldn’t construct those arguments.
Although the plaintiffs filed an 18-page response brief covering their pleading burden on each claim, the defendants’ response “does little more than recycle the bare arguments in their opening brief,” which isn’t enough to earn dismissal.
The plaintiffs are represented in the action by attorneys Brendan Shiller, Mary J. Grieb and Stephen A. Berrios, of the Shiller Preyar Law Offices, of Chicago.
The village of Worth and its defendant employees are represented by attorneys John W. Patton Jr., David F. Ryan, Thomas C. Flowers and Devin M. Lindsay, of the firm of Patton & Ryan LLC, of Chicago.