Illinois Town “Issue[s] 62 Tickets to an Elderly Couple for Having Lawn Chairs in Their Front Yard”

Start at Cozzi v. Village of Melrose ParkYesterday, Judge Steven Seeger (N.D. Ill.), ruled in favor of the applicant.

Melrose Park decided to give 62 tickets for an elderly couple who had lawn chairs in their yard. Two eighty-year old residents, Plaintiffs Vincent Cozzi and Angeline Czzi, were issued tickets after ticket. They also imposed fine after fine.

These fines weren’t small potatoes. The Village fined them with fines of around $30,000. Each ticket was $500. After each ticket cost $500, the Village issued fines of approximately $30,000.

Cozzis were charged with creating an obstruction and unsafe conditions. However, the tickets didn’t explain why there were plastic lawn chairs. However, the Village stated that it was receiving calls anonymously about their “clutter” front yard.

Their lawn furniture was not considered wasteful by the Cozzis. The Cozzis used the furniture regularly to relax outside and meet with their loved ones during the pandemic. Their $30,000. cost for fresh air and companionship.

You might wonder how it could have gone so badly. It seems that Melrose Park reacted badly to Plaintiff Michael Cozzi, the adult son of Vincent & Angeline, complaining about his tickets and the treatment of his parents in general. Michael Cozzi was present at Melrose Park public meetings and expressed concern on social media regarding Village harassment of his parents.

This free expression resulted in a flood of tickets. Nearly every day, from December 3, 2020 through March 3, 2021 the Village offered 500 dollars to Cozzis. Christmas Eve was no different. These tickets could have financial consequences for the Cozzis, an older couple living on a fixed-income.

{The Village didn’t refuse to ticket anyone, it was because there were plenty of options. You can see pictures of neighboring houses throughout the complaint. There are used mattresses all over the surrounding area, as well as a 15-foot skeleton adorned in Santa hat and garbage. You will find reindeer and swans as well as candy canes. Stars, trees, pergolas and tchotchkes are all available. You can also find a lot of lawn furniture.

How were these lawns lacking? [according to the Complaint]? Tickets.}

This retaliation extended beyond just the tickets. Michael Cozzi was handed a written warning by police about parking violations. A series of parking tickets followed.

This is not all. The home was inspected by the police several times daily. Michael Cozzi was threatened by text messages sent from unrestricted or unknown phone numbers. His car windows were broken by someone. Ronald Serpico (Mayor of Melrose Park), drove past and threatened Michael Cozzi verbally with violence.

You might think that everything is over. Michael Cozzi attended a Village of Melrose Park public meeting in January 2021 to voice his concern about the torrential downpour of tickets. It turned out that the meeting was recorded. The Mayor Serpico’s response was not good, to be blunt. It was a profanity-rich, filthy tirade that had racial undertones. He instructed him to follow the instructions, but he went further.

Cozzis asked the Village to direct them to where to go. Instead, they chose to visit the federal courthouse. Six counts were filed against Serpico as well as the Mayor. The complaint included a range of state and federal laws. The Village and Mayor are accused of violating their rights to equal protection and due process. A few days after process was served, the tidal flood of tickets suddenly ended on March 3.

The First Amendment claim was allowed to move forward by the court, which rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss. This, of course, is based on allegations made in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit; however, it doesn’t matter whether these allegations are correct factually.

According to the Cozzis, they claimed that the Village had retaliated against their exercising freedom of expression. As they see it, the Village punished them with 62 tickets and roughly $30,000 in fines when Michael Cozzi spoke up about the mistreatment of his elderly parents….

[U]Under section 1983, the municipality is not vicariously accountable for its employees’ actions. Look! Monell v. Dep’t Of Soc. Servs. (1978)…. [But a]A municipality can be held responsible for any decision made by an actor within its entity that has final decision-making powers. A municipality can be held responsible for any decision made by “its legislators” or those whose acts or edicts may fairly be considered official policy. …

This case would be a Monell crime scene, [Village Mayor Ronald Serpico]He left fingerprints, footprints, DNA and other personal information all over the property. Take, for example, tickets related to lawn furniture. According to reports, the Secretary of the Mayor received complaints regarding “clutter” in Cozzis’ yards. The code enforcement officers gave the codes two tickets and stated explicitly that they were from the Mayor.

The home was reopened by two code enforcement officers on the 1st of December 2020. This happened just as the next wave poured in. Two code enforcement officers came back to the home and informed the Cozzis about complaints from their boss regarding clutter.

Also, the issue of parking tickets was connected to the Mayor. According to reports, the “Mayor’s Office” received complaints from the Cozzis about their parking habits on the streets. An officer from the police left a warning note on Michael Cozzi’s windshield, in early December 2020. It stated that the note had been addressed to the Mayor and read: “The Mayor has received.” [sic]Many residents complained about you parking your car in the 15th with your hazards off for prolonged periods of time.

Mayor Serpico participated personally in surveillance at the Cozzis home. In one very unfortunate incident, the Mayor attempted to fight Michael Cozzi outside of his house. The Mayor told Cozzi to count his blessings for the privilege of not getting beat up: “You’re lucky I don’t get out of this car and beat your *ss.”

Michael Cozzi, a citizen of the Village who attended a meeting in January 2021 at Village Hall, made it worse. Cozzi was going to raise concerns about his elderly parents’ treatment at the Village. Cozzi attended other Village meetings after sharing his concern on social media.

Mayor Serpico lost his cool. He lost control of his temper. He lost his temper. He lost the ability to speak without resorting to expletives.

Mayor Serpico spoke the following message: “I’m telling you something, I’m really reaching you.” So, do me a f*cking favor and sit down and shut the f*ck up. How’s that? You little f*cking pr*ck. Go on, shake your f*cking head. You’re nothing but a f*cking punk.”

Michael Cozzi answered with the simple question, “What did you do?” Mayor Serpico was able to answer that innocent question and he entered the next level.

What he lacked in elegance—and in range of vocabulary—he made up for in directness: “You’re a jag off! You look like a f*cking shine {a disparaging term for a black person} on 15th [avenue] because you’re doing it to bust f*cking balls. You know what you are doing. So, go f*ck yourself. Go f*ck yourself!”

Michael Cozzi also asked Michael Cozzi about his window. This didn’t go down well.

When it came to expletives, Mayor Serpico still had some gas left in the tank: “I give a f*ck about your window. Like I worry about your f*cking house when I drive past it. You can do me one favor, sit down and just shut up.

One might have believed that Mayor Serpico was getting his message across. However, the Mayor seemed to think otherwise. To cement the point, Mayor Serpico told him what he really thought: “Yeah, because you live like a piece of sh*t. You’re like a f*cking hillbilly. “You’re like a hillbilly!”

This outburst, even by modern standards (which are not very high), was an exceptional display of aggression and profanity. This demonstrates a profound level of animus. This is a sign of a desire to misuse one’s status as public servant. The experience was certainly not the most memorable in public service history.

Although the tirade did not possess creative value, it had evidentiary merit. Consider the words Mayor Serpico used. And not just for the profanity. He told the Cozzis that they “live like a piece of sh*t.” He said that Michael Cozzi lived like a “hillbilly.” Id.For the Cozzis, he was both knowledgeable and disapproving.

The meeting occurred in January 2021 amid the torrent of lawn furniture tickets. The outburst was when Michael Cozzi tried to voice concern over the care of his parents, who are now in their 80s.

Reading the complaint as a whole, it takes a small step—not an inferential leap—to conclude that Mayor Serpico personally orchestrated the campaign of punitive tickets that rained down on the Cozzi family. It is clear that the complaint depicts the state-sanctioned bullying of Mayor Serpico, who implemented an enforcement policy for punishing dissidents and requiring compliance. All allegations suggest that Serpico had a policy in place to harass, punish and intimidate members of the Cozzi clan.

The allegations in the complaint might or not be true. The facts will determine the outcome. Parties need to collect the facts during discovery. The evidence may support the assertion. MonellYou can also claim the prongs. The record might contain evidence of an explicit policy, or a common practice. The record would have to be created by the Plaintiffs.

This is a different question. Today’s issue is to determine if the complaint claims enough information to support a claim. Monell claim. And by a wide margin, it does….

Congratulations to Cass Thomas Casper, Gianna Rochelle Scatchell, and Navarrio Douglas Wilkerson of Disparti Law Group, P.A. Congratulations to them on this important stage.