PHA Not Liable for Unlawful Retaliation
Facts: After the local PHA successfully obtained a court order to evict a resident, the resident filed a First Amendment retaliation claim against the PHA and a false arrest charge against police officers. The resident claimed that she was unlawfully retaliated against by the local PHA for tenant organizing, a form of speech she contends is protected by the First Amendment. In particular, she set forth a number of specific instances of retaliation, including excessive inspections of her unit, many of which were unannounced; last-minute cancelations by the PHA of planned tenant meetings; unreasonable restrictions on her use of common spaces for tenant meetings; unfounded warning letters sent to her by the PHA threatening termination of her lease; wrongful institution of eviction proceedings; and retaliatory termination of her lease agreement based on manufactured and pretextual violations of the terms of her tenancy.
She also asserted a false arrest claim against two police officers. Specifically, she alleged that on March 21, 2013, she was arrested without cause when two tenants who had obtained mutual no-contact orders against her complained to police without basis that she had violated those no-contact orders.
Ruling: An Illinois district court dismissed her claim against the PHA and the police officers.
Reasoning: Under state law, the resident is permitted not only to raise retaliation as a defense to eviction, but furthermore to pursue damages for a landlord’s retaliatory conduct. However, the resident didn’t assert her retaliation claim in the earlier eviction lawsuit. Because this lawsuit involved the eviction and the same parties, the district court ruled that it’s barred from passing judgement on what’s essentially the same case.
With regard to the false arrest claims, the court ruled that the officers had probable cause to arrest the resident. Courts have held that probable cause is an absolute defense to a false arrest claim. Here, two complainants told officers that the resident violated orders of protection they held against her. Their stories were mutually corroborating, and the fact that orders of protection had been entered in the first place leant credibility to their claims. The resident argued that the officers should have been skeptical of the complaining witnesses’ reports given their “history of confrontation” with her. To the contrary, the court ruled the parties’ combative history supported the reasonableness of the officers’ belief that an offense was committed.
- Milsap v. Chicago Housing Authority et. al., November 2016