Cat Owner, Condo Battle Over Eviction Threat

     CHICAGO (CN) – A Chicago woman may proceed in her suit against the condominium that threatened her with eviction for keeping a pet cat that she allegedly needed to help with her mental and emotional illnesses, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2008, Condominiums of Edelweiss discovered that Barbara Myers had a cat in her unit, in violation of its no-pet policy. She had kept the cat in her apartment for 11 years without any complaints, but Condominiums demanded its removal and threatened Myers with eviction.
     Myers responded with a letter from her doctor stating that she needed the cat to help with her various mental and emotional illnesses, making it medically necessary under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
     Condominiums filed a motion in state court to prohibit Myers from keeping her cat, but after a bench trial, the court found that Myers’ need for the cat outweighed any harm suffered by Condominiums. Myers did not claim any damages at this time.
     One year later, Myers brought a federal suit against Condominiums and its Board of Managers for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and inflicting emotional distress on her by demanding the cat’s removal. Both parties moved for summary judgment.
     U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman denied the motions and noted several times in his judgment that neither party had adequately argued their claims.
     Myers argued that the Condominiums may not oppose her federal claim because the state court denied its earlier motion on the basis that it had violated the Act.
     On the contrary, the court found that the state court’s opinion was based on balancing the harm to both parties.
     “To deny Condominiums’ request for injunctive relief, all the state court had to do under Illinois law was hold that the equities favored Myers; it did not have to go so far as to hold that Condominiums violated the FHA,” Feinerman noted.
     However, the defendants’ motion for summary judgment fared no better. They argued that Myers may not assert her claims now because she did not assert them as counterclaims in the prior state court case.
     The judge directly cited Illinois state law to dismiss this argument: “Counterclaims in Illinois are permissive rather than compulsory. Consequently, a defendant may generally raise his or her claims by way of either a counterclaim or a separate action.”
     Feinerman concluded with calls for specificity in future briefings and cited a 7th Circuit case stating that “judges are busy people.”
     “Given the lack of briefing, it cannot be said with certainty that any effort by defendants to deal with those issues was doomed to failure. But defendants did not even try, and the court is not obligated to develop and make argument on their behalf,” the court held.

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