Andrade v. City of Hammond

Decision Date06 March 2020
Docket NumberCAUSE NO.: 2:15-CV-134-TLS
PartiesJOSE ANDRADE, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF HAMMOND, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 35], filed on February 23, 2017. In pertinent part, the Defendants argue that (1) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has divested this Court of jurisdiction and (2) the Plaintiff's allegations are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The Court agrees with the latter argument. As such, for the reasons stated below, the Defendants' Motion is granted.


The Plaintiff is the owner of a rental property in Hammond, Indiana. See Am. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 17. In the Spring of 2013, the Defendants, which include the City of Hammond and various city employees, began investigating the Plaintiff's rental property for alleged safety violations. See id. ¶ 6. On March 13, 2015, the Plaintiff filed a State Court Complaint [ECF No. 2] which was later removed to this Court. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. On September 4, 2015, the Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint [ECF No. 17] in which he asserts that the Defendants "engage[d] in a patterned course of action starting March 15, 2013 in a calculated effort to deny Plaintiff the full use and benefit" of his rental property. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. For example, the Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants (1) improperly labeled his rental property as uninhabitable; (2) attempted to enforce building codes which they had no authority to enforce; (3) threatened him with fines; (4) required unnecessary and inappropriate modifications to his property; (5) unlawfully enforced zoning ordinances and other regulations; (6) denied him his valid liberty interest in his property; (7) denied his tenants the right to federal housing choice vouchers; (8) maliciously prosecuted him; and (9) conducted administrative hearings without adequate notice or the opportunity to confront witnesses. See id. ¶¶ 4-34. Based upon this, the Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants are "liable to the Plaintiff for a violation of Plaintiff's rights and entitlements and deprivation of same without due process and for which Defendants and each of them are liable to Plaintiff under state remedies as well as pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983." Id. ¶ 35.

While his federal case remained pending, the state administrative proceedings continued against the Plaintiff's rental property.1 On January 12, 2017, the Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety (the board) conducted an evidentiary hearing regarding whether the Plaintiff's rental property was in an unsafe condition. See Ex. C, Tr. of Board Hr'g, p. 4, ECF No. 61-3. Kurtis Koch, the building commissioner of the City of Hammond, and Kelly Kearney, a former code enforcement commissioner for the City of Hammond, testified at length about the alleged unsafe conditions at the Plaintiff's rental property. See id. at 14-132.

On March 9, 2017, the board issued an order in which it found that the Plaintiff's property did "not have fire stopping and thus allows heat transfer, fire, and smoke to travel unimpeded through chases and into different floors of the structure." Ex. A, Findings of Fact and Decision, p. 3, ECF No. 61-1. The board also found that the building's "chimney chase was surrounded by open space from the cellar/basement through each floor to the roof deck, thus providing no fire blocking to the rooms upstairs." Id. The board explained that "[i]f a fire beganin the cellar, it could quickly spread to the upstairs rooms by means of this opening, entrapping occupants and exposing them to the hazards of smoke and flame." Id. The board also found that the Plaintiff's property contained support beams made of flammable material. Id. The board found that there was "no adequate fire separation between" the various apartments located on the property. Id. Likewise, the board found that "[t]he rear stairs, which in the event of a fire would be the sole means of egress for the upstairs and main floor apartments, are unsafe and inadequate in that the supports are not properly braced and the stairs are of inadequate width." Id. at 4. The board also found that the basement apartment was unsafe because there were no windows in the bedroom and the short height of the ceiling would contribute to smoke accumulation. Id. Further, the board found that there were "no interconnected smoke detectors and only a few of the battery-operated smoke detectors were operable." Id. The board also found that the property "was not erected as a multi-unit structure in 1927 and was never legally converted to a multi-unit apartment building thereafter." Id.

Based upon this, the board found that the Plaintiff's rental property "contains impaired structural conditions and fire hazards that are dangerous to its occupants, rendering the premises unsafe and in violation of Indiana's Unsafe Building Law. Ind. Code § 36-7-9-4." Id. at 9. The board also found that the Plaintiff did not "make repairs on the property to render it safe for occupants. The owner continued to rent the five units and did not convert the property to a safe building despite notice and opportunity to do so." Id. The board concluded that "the five unsafe and illegally constructed units cannot lawfully be occupied in the building's present condition." Id. at 10. As such, the board affirmed that the property was unsafe and ordered that the property be restored to a single-family dwelling. Id.

The Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Superior Court of Lake County, Indiana (state trial court). See Ex. D, Tr. of Judicial Review Hr'g, p. 3, ECF No. 61-4. On February 8, 2018, the state trial court conducted a lengthy evidentiary hearing. Id. Following the presentation of evidence, the Defendants argued that the Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the board's decision was unreasonable. Id. at 108. The Defendants further argued that the Plaintiff's arguments were irrelevant to the underlying issue of whether the property was an unsafe building. Id. at 104. In response, the Plaintiff essentially argued that (1) the board acted beyond its legal authority, (2) the property was originally built and zoned as a multi-family unit, and (3) the Defendants failed to comply with a subpoena. See id. at 111-16.

On March 28, 2018, the state trial court found that the board's findings of fact were "well-supported by the record." Ex. E, Order of Lake Superior Court, p. 2, ECF No. 61-5. To that point, the court found as follows:

4. The Safety Board's Findings of Fact[,] specifically, unsafe conditions of inadequate fire stopping, flammable support beams, inadequate fire separation, improperly braced stairs of inadequate width, lack of any windows in the basement apartment bedroom and low ceilings that would contribute to smoke accumulation and render an inhabitant potentially trapped in his or her bedroom in the case of a fire with no means of escape, and smoke detectors that were either inoperative or were not interconnected, described the unsafe conditions of [the Plaintiff's rental property].
5. The Plaintiff did not present evidence at the Safety Board hearing or at this Court's judicial review hearing that the aforementioned unsafe conditions were either not present or had been properly remedied.

Id. (internal citations omitted).

The state trial court concluded that the Plaintiff's arguments regarding (1) the Defendants' failure to comply with a subpoena and (2) whether the property was originally a multi-family unit were "not determinative of whether the building is 'unsafe' as defined by Ind. Code § 36-7-9-4(a) and as found by the Safety Board." Id. at 5. By implication, the court alsoconcluded that the board acted with statutory authority. See id. at 4, 6. Accordingly, the court affirmed the board's order. Id. at 5-6.

The Plaintiff then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals and argued that (1) the board's actions violated the Takings Clause, (2) one of the board members acted improperly or acted from bias, (3) the board exceeded its statutory authority when it ordered him to restore the property to a single-family home, (4) the board's finding that the property was originally built as a single family residence was not supported by substantial evidence, and (5) the Defendants' failure to comply with a subpoena required that the board's decision be reversed. See Andrade v. City of Hammond, 114 N.E.3d 507, 510, 514 n. 1, 516 n. 5 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018). The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that the Plaintiff's "contentions that the Board's actions were in violation of the Takings Clause and were an abuse of discretion are undeveloped and unsupported by cogent authority . . . . Those arguments are waived for our review." Id. at 514 n. 1. The court held that the Plaintiff's claim "of impropriety or bias on the part of one of the Board members . . . was not raised at the trial court level and, therefore, is waived for our review." Id. at 516 n. 5. The court also rejected the Plaintiff's argument that the board did not have the lawful authority to order him to restore the property to a single-family dwelling. Id. at 515-16. The court affirmed the board's finding that the property was originally a single-family dwelling. Id. at 516. Finally, the court rejected the Plaintiff's argument regarding the Defendants' failure to comply with the subpoena. Id. at 516-17.

Thus, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order. See id. at 518. On March 7, 2019, the Indiana Supreme Court declined the Plaintiff's petition to transfer. Andrade v. City of Hammond, 124 N.E.3d 39 (Ind. 2019). The Plaintiff then appealed to the SupremeCourt of the United States, but his petition for certiorari was denied on October 7, 2019. Andrade v. City of Hammond, Ind., 140 S. Ct. 127 (2019).

As noted earlier, the Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No....

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