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Wilson v. Warren County, Illinois

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 18, 2016

Thomas Wilson and Randy Brown, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Warren County, Illinois, Martin Edwards, Thomas Carithers, Albert Algren, Ronald Hanson, Mark Johnson, and Douglas Reiners, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 11, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 11-CV-04078 - Sara Darrow, Judge.

          Before Bauer and Williams, Circuit Judges, and Adelman, District Judge. [*]

          Adelman, District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Thomas Wilson and Randy Brown bring claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against private citizen defendants, Ronald Hanson, Mark Johnson, and Douglas Reiners, as well as against Warren County, Illinois and several of its officials including Sheriff Martin Edwards, Deputy Thomas Carithers, and State Attorney Albert Algren, referred to as the public defendants. Wilson also brings a Fair Housing Act ("FHA") claim against the private defendants, and plaintiffs assert supplemental state law claims. The claims arise out of an incident in which the private defendants seized items of plaintiffs' personal property. The district court dismissed Wilson's FHA claim for failure to state a claim, granted summary judgment on plaintiffs' § 1983 claims, and chose not to address the state law claims. Plaintiffs appeal, and we affirm.

         I. Background

         Wilson and Hanson were business partners who got into a dispute about the ownership of property. On September 14, 2009, Warren County issued a letter relating to real property occupied by Wilson stating that it had to be cleaned up within 30 days. The County, however, sent the letter to Hanson. When he received the letter, Hanson, Hanson's lawyer Johnson, and Reiners, photographed the items on Wilson's property. This activity upset Wilson, who suffers from various psychological disorders, causing him to be hospitalized.

         Subsequently, a friend of Wilson called Algren and expressed concern that Hansen, Johnson, and Reiners would return and take personal property belonging to Wilson. Algren assured him that they could not do this without a court order and that, if they returned, Wilson should call the sheriff. Hanson, represented by Johnson, sought an order in state court authorizing him to remove material from Wilson's property but was unsuccessful because the judge was unavailable. Johnson told Algren about the suit but did not disclose his failure to get a court order or when he, Hanson, and Reiners planned to remove material from Wilson's property. On September 26, the private defendants began removing items from Wilson's property. Wilson called the sheriff's department, which dispatched Carithers to the property. Carithers, however, believed that Hanson owned the property and thought that his job was to stand by and observe.

         When Carithers arrived, Johnson told him that the private defendants had a legal right to remove property and handed him a stack of what he called court papers. Wilson objected and encouraged Carithers to call Algren. Carithers did not understand the court papers and called Algren, who advised him that if Johnson had the proper papers the private defendants were within their rights. It is unclear whether Algren mistakenly understood Carithers to say that Johnson had a valid court order or whether Carithers misunderstood Algren on that point. In any case, Carithers believed that the private defendants could legally remove items from the property and he stood by as they did so. At this point, Wilson suffered another anxiety attack. In addition to removing Wilson's property, the private defendants removed an item belonging to Brown.

         II. Discussion

         A. FHA claim

         Wilson's FHA claim alleges that the private defendants committed disability discrimination by intentionally attempting to trigger his disability to prevent him from objecting to the removal of property. We review the district court's dismissal of the claim de novo, accepting all well-pleaded facts as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor. Roberts v. City of Chi., 817 F.3d 561, 564 (7th Cir. 2016). Dismissal is appropriate where the complaint fails to set forth facts which amount to a plausible claim.

         The FHA makes it unlawful to make unavailable or deny a dwelling to anyone because of a handicap, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(1), and to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with a person's exercise or enjoyment of the rights granted by the FHA, 42 U.S.C. § 3617. To adequately plead a disability discrimination claim under § 3617 and § 3604, Wilson must allege facts suggesting that the private defendants entered his real estate and removed personal property because of his disability. Bloch v. Frischholz, 587 F.3d 771, 784 (7th Cir. 2009).[1]

         Wilson's complaint fails because it does not plausibly allege that the private defendants acted because of his disability. It alleges that Hanson blamed Wilson for the failure of their business, that Wilson sold a piece of Hanson's machinery for less than they had agreed, and that Hanson believed that Wilson refused to return items that he had taken from him. R. at 286–87. These allegations suggest that the private defendants were motivated by Wilson's dealings with Hanson rather than by his disability, and that they would have behaved the same regardless of the disability. Wilson argues that the private defendants exploited his disability to prevent him from protesting their removal of his property. But this is not enough to survive a motion to dismiss because it does not raise the inference that the private defendants would not have removed his property if he wasn't disabled.

         B. ...

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