750 F.Supp. 1395 (N.D.Ill. 1990), 88 C 9803, Littlefield v. Mack

Docket Nº:88 C 9803.
Citation:750 F.Supp. 1395
Party Name:Susanne LITTLEFIELD, Plaintiff, v. Wally MACK, Santa Maria Realty and Malcolm McGuffey, Defendants.
Case Date:November 16, 1990
Court:United States District Courts, 7th Circuit, Northern District of Illinois

Page 1395

750 F.Supp. 1395 (N.D.Ill. 1990)

Susanne LITTLEFIELD, Plaintiff,


Wally MACK, Santa Maria Realty and Malcolm McGuffey, Defendants.

No. 88 C 9803.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.

Nov. 16, 1990.

Page 1396

Aram A. Hartunian, Steven P. Schneck, Hartunian, Futterman & Howard, Chtd., Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff.

Richard H. Hoffman, Querrey & Harrow, Ltd., John T. Harris, James T. Elsesser & Associates, Ltd., Chicago, Ill., for defendants.


ANN C. WILLIAMS, District Judge.

Susanne Littlefield, who is white, sued Malcolm McGuffey for refusing to rent an apartment to her and for harassing and intimidating her because she has a black boyfriend. She sued for violation of the civil rights laws and the Fair Housing Act under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1982, 3604, 3613, and 3617 and for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law. A jury found for Ms. Littlefield and awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages

Page 1397

and $100,000 in punitive damages. Mr. McGuffey now moves for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial. Ms. Littlefield asks for attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1988 and 3613(c)(2). The court denies Mr. McGuffey's motions. The court grants attorneys' fees in full, but without a multiplier. The court assesses Rule 11 sanctions against Mr. McGuffey's attorneys.


On September 14, 1988, Ms. Littlefield met with Mr. McGuffey at one of his apartment buildings, viewed an apartment, filled out a rental application, and gave him one month's rent ($280) as a security deposit. Ms. Littlefield and Mr. McGuffey agreed that the apartment would be occupied by Ms. Littlefield, her daughter Shaunte, and her sister Sandra. They also agreed that Mr. McGuffey would provide and install a carpet and that Ms. Littlefield would pay for the installation. Mr. McGuffey gave Ms. Littlefield a key to the apartment at this September 14 meeting. Between September 14 and 27, Ms. Littlefield and several friends and family members moved various belongings into the apartment, and cleaned and painted it.

On September 27, Ms. Littlefield's boyfriend, Bruce Collins, who is black, accompanied by Shaunte, took a check to Mr. McGuffey to pay for the carpet installation. After Mr. McGuffey was told of Mr. Collins' and Shaunte's relationship to Ms. Littlefield, he became very agitated and told Mr. Collins that "the old man" had rented the apartment to someone else. Mr. McGuffey called Ms. Littlefield at work to tell her she could not rent the apartment, that he had changed the locks, and that her belongings had already been removed from the apartment and placed on the porch.

Later that night, Mr. McGuffey called Ms. Littlefield at home, identified himself as Wally Luther, and, mimicking the voice of a black man, told her he wanted to move in with her and six other black guys, quit work, take welfare, share drugs, and swap wives. Mr. McGuffey called Ms. Littlefield at least twice that night and several times the following week. He also called Kathleen Gutierrez, Ms. Littlefield's sister, and asked her how Ms. Littlefield "could have [gone] to bed with a nigger and how she could ... have a nigger baby." When Ms. Gutierrez hung up, Mr. McGuffey called back at least four times that night, repeating the same insults about Ms. Littlefield in the same racist language. The following night, Mr. McGuffey again called Ms. Gutierrez with the same diatribe, but also told her that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. McGuffey continued to harass Ms. Gutierrez for at least a week with similar phone calls. A few days after Ms. Littlefield was evicted, Mr. McGuffey went to Ms. Gutierrez's house and tried to lure her outside on the pretext of having her move her car from a church parking lot that needed caulking. About a month later, in early November, 1988, Mr. McGuffey left a note pinned to Ms. Littlefield's door which read: "By the time you read this message kiss your nigger friend goodbye bitch--he's dead!!!"

All of the above facts were testified to by Ms. Littlefield and her witnesses, which included Kathleen Gutierrez, Richard Gutierrez (brother-in-law), Kenneth Gutierrez (brother-in-law), Sandra Littlefield, Bruce Collins, Lynette Pellegrini (friend), and Debbie Koontz (co-worker). Mr. McGuffey does not suggest in his motions that any of these witnesses lacked credibility.

Mr. McGuffey's version of the events is quite different. He denies that race played any part in his rejection of Ms. Littlefield as a tenant, and he of course denies all of the harassing phone calls and the death threat. He claims that he conducted an investigation of Ms. Littlefield and Mr. Collins between September 14 and September 27, 1988, and that what he uncovered about their rental and credit history convinced him not to rent to her. One problem with Mr. McGuffey's story is that not a single witness testified to support his claim that any of this damaging information was uncovered before the September 27 rejection. Another problem with Mr. McGuffey's story is that there was very little evidence that this supposedly damaging information was even true. For example, Ms. Littlefield

Page 1398

put on witnesses who worked in the credit departments of the various companies where Mr. McGuffey claimed to have learned of Ms. Littlefield's poor credit. Their testimony was largely that this information would not have been given out, and that Ms. Littlefield's credit history was respectable. Ms. Littlefield also put on her former landlord, Brice Fawcett, from whom Mr. McGuffey had claimed to learn of twenty-four hour parties, vandalism, a broken door, and all manner of tenant evils. Mr. Brice not only contradicted everything that Mr. McGuffey claims to have been told (in fact, Mr. Brice considered Ms. Littlefield to be a good tenant), Mr. Brice also testified that Mr. McGuffey did not come to interview him until October 1, 1988. Mr. McGuffey's story therefore depended almost entirely on his own credibility, and he was, to put it mildly, a witness with credibility problems.

Here Mr. McGuffey testifies concerning his own identity:

[Mr. Schneck]:

Q So the writing here where it says Santa Maria Realty, that's your writing?

[Mr. McGuffey]:

A Yeah, I--yeah, I made that out, yeah. We do that stuff.

Q Was the check actually made payable to Santa Maria Realty, or did you just fill that in?

A I think I filled it in. I don't know.

Q I'm sorry. I can't hear you.

A I think it was close to Columbus Day, and I had Santa Maria Realty on my mind, so I made that out.

Q You wrote it in?

A Yeah.

Q And endorsed it?

A Yeah.

Q Was there a Santa Maria Realty located in September of 1988?

A No.

Q Do you own Santa Maria Realty?

A I made it up.

Q Santa Maria Realty had no office?

A Nothing, nothing.

Q No employees?

A Nothing.

Q No checking account?

A Uhn-un. Nothing.

Q Mr. McGuffey, whose handwriting is it where it says Osvaldo Kennardo?

A That could be mine or Osvaldo Kennardo.

Q You could have written Osvaldo Kennardo?

A Yeah.

Q Are you Osvaldo Kennardo?

A I can be if I want to be, can't I?

Q Are you?

A If I want to be I can be, can't I?

Q Have you gone by the name Osvaldo Kennardo? ... Do you go by the name Osvaldo Kennardo?

A Occasionally, yeah.

Q Have you ever used the name Wally Mack?

A Yeah.

Q Mr. McGuffey, have you ever used the name Wally Luther?

A No. I've heard people call me that, though.

Q You've never used the name Wally Luther?

A No. People can call anybody anything they want, I guess, can't they?

. . . . .

Q And you just made up that name Santa Maria Realty?

A I liked it. I really did. It was Columbus Day, and I always liked the Santa Maria, and I thought that's a great name for a real estate company.

Q Had you ever used the name Santa Maria Realty before?

A I don't think so.

Q And you just made it up?

A Right.

. . . . .

[One week later in the trial]

Q This check that you accepted from Miss Littlefield, you gave this to Osvaldo Kennardo to pay him for expenses that you owed him; isn't that correct?

A It's possible....

Page 1399

Q Well, at your deposition were you asked the following question and did you give the following answer?

"Question: Then approximately four or five days later you gave this check to Osvaldo Kennardo; you endorsed this check and gave it to Osvaldo Kennardo in partial payment of work he did; is that your testimony?

"Answer: Yes."....

Q Did you give that answer to that question?

A Possible. Possible. Sounds good. I don't remember.

Q You don't remember?

A It's two years ago.

Q Would it refresh your recollection if I showed you the deposition transcript?

A You got it in black and white there?

Q I sure do.

A Gee, let's see it.

(Document tendered to the witness.)

Q It begins on the bottom line of this page.

A Okay. What was the question now?

. . . . .

Q Did you give that answer to that question?

A Sounds good to me, sir. Sounds good to me, sir.

Q What do you mean by "sounds good to me"? Did you give the answer or not?

A Sounds good to me. I don't remember it.

Q Did you give the answer or not?

A Too long ago, sir. I don't remember that stuff.

. . . . .

Q Did Osvaldo Kennardo check on Miss Littlefield's application for you?

A I had to process about eight applications.

Q Yes or no? Did Osvaldo Kennardo check on Miss Littlefield's application?

A Might have.

Q Does Osvaldo Kennardo regularly check on prospective tenants' applications for you?

A Regularly? What do you mean, like he's on the payroll or something?

Q As part of your procedure for checking applications, does Osvaldo Kennardo check with tenants' employers for you?

A If he happens to...

To continue reading