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Goldstein v. Mitchell

OPINION FILED JUNE 20, 1986.

LOUIS S. GOLDSTEIN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

JAMES MITCHELL, INDIV. AND AS COMMISSIONER OF UNION DRAINAGE DISTRICT NO. 1, LAKE COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. William D. Block, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HOPF DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiffs, Louis Goldstein and Florence Fine, appeal from a trial court order entering summary judgment in favor of all defendants and against all plaintiffs pursuant to plaintiffs' and defendants' cross-motions for summary judgment. In their motion plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of certain voting provisions found in section 4-5 of the Illinois Drainage Code (Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 42, par. 4-5), challenged an election held pursuant to section 4-5 of the Code, and sought damages under 42 U.S.C.A. sec. 1983 (West 1981). On appeal, plaintiffs assert: (1) that section 4-5 of the Code is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clauses of both the United States and the Illinois constitutions; (2) that section 4-5 is unconstitutionally vague; (3) that the challenged election was conducted in a manner which denied plaintiffs due process; and (4) that the trial court erred in ruling that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue under 42 U.S.C.A. sec. 1983 (West 1981).

Union Drainage District No. 1 (district) is a statutory entity created and operated pursuant to the Illinois Drainage Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 42, par. 1-1 et seq.). The district consists of territory lying within Lake County and Cook County. It is governed by a three-member board of commissioners who are elected for three-year terms. The Union Drainage District No. 1 Board of Commissioners is a defendant in this case.

On September 6, 1983, an election was held to elect one of the three district commissioners. The candidates were defendant James Mitchell, an incumbent, and plaintiff Louis Goldstein, a resident landowner in the district.

The election was held in a single polling place, a local school, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Absentee ballots had not been made available for the election. Three residents of the village of Deerfield, who were appointed by the board of commissioners, sat as judges of the election. Incumbent Mitchell was present at the polling place throughout the election, acting as his own poll watcher. Most of the time he sat in a chair about 10 feet away from both the judges and the polling booth. Mitchell had brought with him photographs and a report on work being done on the west fork of the north branch of the Chicago River under the authority of the district. Mitchell said that he was studying the report in preparation for a drainage-district meeting to be held the night of the election. He spoke with and showed the photos to some of the voters who came into the polling place and addressed him, although he did not leave his chair to do so. He said that when he wished to speak to somebody he would step outside the polling place.

Voters were asked to sign an affidavit of voter qualification before being given a ballot. Only people who owned land in the district were allowed to vote. Plaintiff Florence Fine, a tenant residing in the district, but who did not own any land in the district, was not allowed to vote. Of the approximately 8,000 landowners of the district, 226 voted. Mitchell received 130 votes and Goldstein received 89.

Plaintiffs filed an action challenging the constitutionality of both the September 6 election and the voting provisions in section 4-5 of the Code. They also sought class certification for those not allowed to vote in the election and asked for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. sec. 1983 (West 1981). Ultimately, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On August 22, 1984, the court granted plaintiffs' emergency motion for an injunction staying the September 1984 election for district commissioners. On January 16, 1985, the trial court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted defendant's cross-motion, and the injunction was dissolved. Although the court did not resolve the issues pertaining to class certification, it did make the following findings: (1) section 4-5 of the Code is constitutional on its face; (2) section 4-5 of the Code is constitutional as it was applied to the September 6, 1983, election; (3) the September 1983 election was appropriate; and (4) plaintiffs do not have standing to sue for violations of 42 U.S.C.A. sec. 1983 (West 1981). This appeal followed.

• 1 Plaintiffs' first argument is that section 4-5 of the Code limits the franchise to a class of voters in violation of the equal protection clauses of both the State and Federal constitutions. The relevant portions of section 4-5 state:

"Commissioners * * * shall be elected by the adult owners of land in the district * * *.

Every adult owner of land in the district shall be entitled to vote.

[If an unexpired term caused by a vacancy is for more than one year] the adult landowners shall elect a commissioner to complete the * * * term * * *." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 42, par. 4-5.)

Section 1-2 sets forth the following definitions:

"`Landowner' or `owner' means the owner of real property and includes an owner of an undivided interest, a life tenant, a remainderman and a trustee under an active trust but does not include a mortgagee, a trustee under a trust deed in the nature of a mortgage, a lien holder or a lessee.

`Adult landowner' or `adult owner' includes public and private corporations." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 42, pars. 1-2(i), (j).

The system for electing drainage district commissioners set out in section 4-5 limits voting eligibility to owners of land located within the district. Residency is not a voting requirement. Nor does residency guarantee the right to vote. This case requires us to determine whether this particular voting system may be an exception to the strict demands of the one-person, one-vote principle imposed by the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution and echoed in the Constitution of the State of Illinois.

Reynolds v. Sims (1964), 377 U.S. 533, 12 L.Ed.2d 506, 84 S.Ct. 1362, recognized that the right to vote is an important political right; established the one-person, one-vote principle; and applied it to elections of State legislatures. Avery v. Midland County (1968), 390 U.S. 474, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 88 S.Ct. 1114, extended the Reynolds rule to an election of county governmental officials, holding that county officials exercised "general governmental powers over the entire geographic area served by the body." (390 U.S. 474, 485, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 53, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 1120.) The court continued to apply and expand the Reynolds rule to elections in governmental entities which it perceived as performing traditional, vital governmental functions (Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15 (1969), 395 U.S. 621, 23 L.Ed.2d 583, 89 S.Ct. 1886 (local school elections); Hadley v. Junior College District (1970), 397 U.S. 50, 25 L.Ed.2d 45, 90 S.Ct. 791 (election of trustees of community college district)), or as having and exercising the full range of normal governmental powers (Hill v. Stone (1975), 421 U.S. 289, 44 L.Ed.2d 172, 95 S.Ct. 1637 (bond election to finance a city library); Phoenix v. Kolodziejski (1970), 399 U.S. 204, 26 L.Ed.2d 523, 90 S.Ct. 1990 (general-obligation bonds secured by property-tax revenues); Cipriano v. City of Houma (1969), 395 U.S. 701, 23 L.Ed.2d 647, 89 S.Ct. 1897 (bond election for benefit of municipal utility system)).

At the same time the court was exploring the scope of the Reynolds rule, it was leaving room for an exception. In the early case of Avery v. Midland County (1968), 390 U.S. 474, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 88 S.Ct. 1114, where Reynolds was extended to county elections, the court reserved decision on the application of Reynolds to "a special-purpose unit of government assigned the performance of functions affecting definable groups of constituents more than other constituents." (390 U.S. 474, 483-84, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 53, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 1120.) The court further defined what elections might be exempt from Reynolds in Hadley v. Junior College District (1970), 397 U.S. 50, 25 L.Ed.2d 45, 90 S.Ct. 791, where it was stated:

"It is of course possible that there might be some case in which a State elects certain functionaries whose duties are so far removed from normal governmental activities and so disproportionately affect different groups that a popular election in compliance with Reynolds * * * might not be ...


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