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Heidelberger v. Jewel Companies





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Daniel A. Covelli, Judge, presiding.


In two class actions, which were consolidated for trial in the circuit court of Cook County, plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and a refund of check-cashing fees paid to defendant, Jewel Companies, Inc. The complaints alleged as a basis for the relief sought that defendant's cashing of checks for persons in its grocery stores for a fee of five cents per check constituted the operation of a community currency exchange for which defendant was not licensed under the Community Currency Exchange Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 16 1/2, par. 30 et seq.). Defendant's motion for summary judgment was denied by the circuit court, and the appellate court thereafter allowed a petition for leave to appeal under our Rule 308 (50 Ill.2d R. 308) for the purpose of considering questions of law as to which it was found by the trial judge that there were substantial grounds for differences of opinion and that immediate appeal might materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. We transferred that appeal to this court under Rule 302(b).

The statutory provisions which are determinative of the issues presented by this case are found in sections .01 and 1 of the Community Currency Exchange Act. Section .01 includes various findings and declarations pertaining to community currency exchanges:

"that the community currency exchange business, as hereinafter defined in Section 1, has become so widespread since the bank holiday in 1933, and so extensively and intimately integrated with the financial institutions of this State that it is affected with a public interest and should be licensed and regulated as a business affecting the convenience, general welfare, and economic interest of the people of this State;

that no community currency exchange should be operated without a license, or otherwise than in accordance with the regulations provided in, or to be provided pursuant to this Act;

that the number of community currency exchanges should be limited in accordance with the needs of the communities they are to serve, and in accordance with the provisions of this Act;

that it is in the public interest to promote and foster the community currency exchange business and to assure the financial stability thereof;

The term "community currency exchange" is defined in section 1 as:

"* * * any person, firm, association, partnership or corporation, except an ambulatory currency exchange as hereinafter defined, banks incorporated under the laws of this State and National Banks organized pursuant to the laws of the United States, engaged in the business or service of, and providing facilities for, cashing checks, drafts, money orders or other evidences of money acceptable to such community currency exchange, for a fee or service charge or other consideration * * *."

The same section also includes an exemption for retailers in the following language:

"Nothing in this Act shall be held to apply to any person, firm, association, partnership, or corporation * * * engaged in the business of selling tangible personal property at retail who, in the course of such business and only as an incident thereto, cashes checks, drafts, money orders or other evidences of money * * *." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 16 1/2, par. 31.

With respect to the intended scope of the Act and the exemptions contained therein, this court observed in Thillens, Inc. v. Morey (1957), 11 Ill.2d 579: "It is apparent from the act in question that the purpose of the legislature in adopting the act was to protect the public when dealing with institutions, both ambulatory and otherwise, primarily engaged in the business of furnishing check cashing and currency exchange services." The court went on to state that the exemptions contained in section 1 "refer to businesses not primarily engaged in currency exchange or check cashing, but refer to businesses whose primary business is something different, viz., transportation of another's valuables for hire, or retail sales. In each type of exempted business it is recognized that incidentally checks may be cashed." 11 Ill.2d at 595.

Jewel Companies, Inc., and its predecessors have been engaged in the retail grocery business in the State of Illinois since the year 1932 and have cashed checks for their customers since the late 1930's. This practice first began with the cashing of payroll checks for customers known by the various store managers during a period when there were few available banks or other places to cash checks. It has now expanded to include also the cashing of personal checks for an increasing number of persons in defendant's stores.

For a number of years Jewel has followed a practice of requiring persons wishing to cash checks at their stores to apply to the management for check-cashing privileges. The current procedures consist of the applicant supplying various information to the store about himself, his employer, and his bank. Upon verification of the information and approval by the store's management, the customer is issued a check-cashing identification card for use in the store. When a customer purchases merchandise and presents a check for the exact amount of his purchase, the check is accepted at the check-out counter upon presentation of his check-cashing identification card or other satisfactory identification. In similar fashion, customers may also present at the check-out counter a check which does not exceed the amount of the merchandise purchased by more than $10 and receive cash for the difference. In either of these cases, no fee is charged for accepting the customer's check. However, in the event the check exceeds the price of the goods purchased by more than $10 or in the event a person wishes to receive only ...

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