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Stoller v. Walworth County

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 30, 2018

MICHAEL STOLLER and CHRISTOPHER STOLLER, Plaintiffs,
v.
WALWORTH COUNTY, VALERIE ETZEL, RANDY TIMMS, WILLIAM NOREM, TIM BRELLENTHIN, PAUL YVARRA, CHARLENE STAPLES, KATHY INGERSOLL, DAVID WEBER, DANIEL G. KILKENNY, SUSAN M. PRUESSING, KENNETH H. MONROE, NANCY RUSSELL, and JOHN DOE, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J.P. STADTMUELLER, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiffs, Michael and Christopher Stoller, filed a pro se complaint alleging that the defendants, Walworth County and various public officials in that county, have engaged in a “devious scheme” to “unlawfully sell tax delinquent real estate” for a profit. (Docket #1 at 1). This matter comes before the Court on the plaintiffs' petition to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docket #2).

         Notwithstanding the payment of any filing fee, the Court must dismiss an action filed in forma pauperis if the Court determines that the plaintiff's allegation of poverty is untrue, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(A), or if the action is “frivolous or malicious, ” fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         As explained below, the plaintiffs' complaint fails to state a claim and will therefore be dismissed pursuant to Section 1915(e)(2)(B).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Hutchinson ex rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109- 10 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts, and his statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, a complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that, accepted as true, “is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

         In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should follow the principles set forth in Twombly by, first, “identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the court must, second, “assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         III. COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS

         Mindful of its responsibility to construe pro se pleadings liberally, see Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 969 (7th Cir. 2006), the Court will endeavor to describe the facts alleged in the plaintiffs' Complaint and identify any plausible claims based thereon.

         The plaintiffs both live in Cook County, Illinois, but own property in Walworth County, Wisconsin. (Docket #1 at 6, 16). The thrust of the plaintiffs' Complaint is that Walworth County and the named county officials have engaged in a practice whereby they sell tax-delinquent property based on “sham” appraisals, as opposed to “legitimate” appraisals that meet the standards of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, in order to “recover inflated market values, in direct competition with private real estate sellers.” Id. at 4.

         This became relevant to the plaintiffs in August 2017 when they received a letter from defendant Valerie Etzel (“Etzel”), the Walworth County treasurer, informing them that Walworth County took possession of a tax-delinquent parcel of land bordering the plaintiffs' property. Id. at 16. According to the plaintiffs, the parcel is “unbuildable” and therefore only has value to the plaintiffs as adjacent landowners. Id. The plaintiffs believe the value of the parcel is $2, 500, though they do not say how they arrived at that figure. Id. The county appraised the parcel at $11, 400. Id. The delinquent real estate taxes on the parcel were about $2, 700. Id. The plaintiffs made a bid on the parcel for $2, 500. Id. at 17. Walworth County rejected the bid on the ground that it was below the appraised value. Id. According to the plaintiffs, the appraisal for this parcel, as well as every other property listed on the 2017 Walworth County tax foreclosure list, was a “sham.” Id. at 17-18.

         On these allegations, the plaintiffs seek to bring several claims: (1) violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968 (“RICO”), (2) conspiracy to violate RICO, (3) unfair competition, (4) unjust enrichment, (5) committing a violation against elderly and disabled persons in violation of Wis.Stat. § 100.264, (6) making fraudulent representations in violation of ...


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