Appeals panel: Lawyer’s lawsuit vs condo board over parking space groundless, but not a SLAPP
Cook County Record
By Dan Churney
13 November 2018

An Illinois appeals panel says a Loop condo owner’s lawsuit against his association board over a parking space was groundless, but the man shouldn’t be forced to pay the board’s legal defense costs, because the lawsuit didn’t come in retaliation for the board’s prior legal action against him.

The Nov. 9 decision was authored by Justice Joy Cunningham, with concurrence from justices Mathias Delort and Sheldon Harris, of the Illinois First District Appellate Court, which sits in Chicago. Their ruling centered on a lawsuit launched by Robert J. Porada, who sued the board of directors for his condominium association, City Centre Condominium Association and the property manager, Sudler and Company.

Porada has owned a condo unit and garage space at 208 W. Washington St., Chicago, according to court documents.  He sued the defendants in January 2017 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging the association’s board of directors obstructed his ownership rights and engaged in “malicious and reckless conduct” against him. Porada, who is a lawyer, represented himself in the matter.

Defendants responded with a motion to dismiss, noting they had taken legal action against Porada nine months earlier, for allegedly leasing his parking space to a nonresident in violation of association rules. Defendants argued Porada’s suit had no grounds and was filed in retaliation for their action against him, which made Porada’s suit a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP.

SLAPPs, which are barred by the Illinois Citizen Participation Act, are attempts to silence citizens exercising their right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Cook County Judge Laurence Dunford determined Porada’s suit lacked specifics, tossing the suit and, because he found the action to be a SLAPP, ordered Porada to pay defendants’ attorney fees.

On appeal, Justice Cunningham agreed with Dunford that Porada’s allegations were vague, without details or context. However, Cunningham pointed out the suit should have been dismissed “clearly and squarely” on this basis, not also on grounds it was a SLAPP. As a consequence, the attorney fees were not warranted, as such fees would only be deserved if the matter was a SLAPP.

Porada also appealed Judge Dunford’s denial of his oral motion to file an amended complaint, which Porada said could have cured the defects Dunford found. Cunningham upheld Dunford, noting Porada never gave Dunford a proposed amended complaint to consider, much less a formal motion for such a complaint.

Justice Delort was troubled by the Porada-association board conflict for more than one reason.

“This case proves the rule that many condominium disagreements are so acrimonious that they generate financial and emotional costs far disproportionate to the original dispute,” Delort observed.

However, Delort was particularly critical of Porada’s conduct, saying Porada could have filed his suit as a counterclaim to the association board’s action against him, which was being handled in the Daley Center courthouse, which is a “mere stone’s throw” from the condo building. Instead, Porada lodged his action as a separate suit at the courthouse in Markham, 25 miles away and a good hour’s drive from the Daley Center.

Delort concluded Porada’s decision to file in Markham was a “tactic intended to needlessly harass the defendants and increase litigation costs.”

Delort further faulted Porada for lack of decorum in his written arguments, in which Porada often took a “highly derisive and sarcastic tone.” Delort recommended Porada be “admonished to adhere to appropriate standards of advocacy in the future.”

The condo association board’s parking space suit against Porada remains pending.

Defendants are represented by the suburban Mundelein firm of Kovitz, Shifrin & Nesbit.

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