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COOPER v. SUTER

October 27, 1993

SHIRLEY COOPER AND WILLIAM COOPER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SUE SUTER, ROBERT BLACKWELL, D. JEAN ORTEGA-PIRON, JEANINE DETWILER AND ROBERT HARRIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:

OPINION

An issue of res judicata.

If state law would require that the case be barred and the parties have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the case, a federal court must also bar the case,

I. Background

Shirley and William Cooper owned and operated the Little Moppet Day Care Center (the Center) located in Springfield, Illinois. The Coopers applied to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for a license to operate the day care center in July 1987. During the pendency of the Coopers' application, they ran the Center under a permit issued by DCFS. On January 27, 1988, DCFS received an anonymous call. claiming that children were being left unattended at the Center. This call initiated a series of DCFS investigations of the Center.

From January 1988 to June 1988 three visits were made to the Center by DCFS licensing representatives. These visits revealed several relatively minor licensing violations which the Coopers quickly rectified. In September 1988 DCFS issued a license to the Coopers authorizing them to run the Little Moppet Day Care Center.

Between December 5, 1988 and March 20, 1990, DCFS licensing representatives visited the Center eleven (11) times.*fn1 On four of these visits the Center was found to be in compliance with licensing rules. On the remaining seven visits, however, the Center was found to be in violation of several licensing rules. The most significant violations observed were improper staff to child ratios, unattended children, and improper grouping of children of different ages.

Individually, these violations were not significant enough to warrant revoking the Coopers' day care license. The repeated occurrences of these violations over a sixteen month period, however, resulted in a DCFS decision to revoke the Coopers' license. On May 21, 1990 DCFS mailed the Coopers a notice of intent to revoke their license. The Coopers timely mailed to DCFS their request for an administrative hearing and for a copy of the charges against them. On June 13, 1990, Defendant D. Jean Ortega-Piron wrote Plaintiffs that her staff would schedule the hearing requested by the Coopers concerning their license.

DCFS continued to closely monitor the Center. Between June 1, 1990, and December 7, 1990, licensing representatives of DCFS investigated the Center thirteen (13) times. These visits continued to result in findings of licensing violations. The most critical violations continued to be improper child to staff ratios, unattended children and improper grouping of children.

Prior to October 30, 1990 the Coopers had a contract with DCFS to provide day care services for children DCFS had taken into custody. On October 31, 1990 the Business Administrator of the DCFS Springfield Regional Office, Defendant Frank Melchiorri, terminated the Plaintiffs' contract. Plaintiffs allege that the termination of the contract resulted in the loss of fourteen children.

Notice of Hearing and a Statement of Charges were sent to Plaintiffs on November 15, 1990. The date for the administrative hearing was set for January 8, 1991. On November 30, 1990, Defendant Robert Blackwell sent a letter to the parents of the children enrolled at the Center. This letter stated that serious licensing violations existed at the Center, which jeopardized the health and safety of the children. The letter encouraged the parents of children at the Center to seek other day care arrangements and offered help in finding such arrangements.

The hearing concerning the Plaintiffs' license began on January 8, 1991 and was completed January 24, 1991 on receipt of the transcript. On April 18, 1991 the Hearing Officer for DCFS issued his Recommendation and Opinion of the Hearing Officer, wherein he recommended that the Coopers' license to operate the Center be revoked. On May 1, 1991 Defendant Suter, the Director of DCFS, issued a final decision of the Department, adopting in toto, the Hearing Officer's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Accordingly, Suter revoked the Coopers' day care license,

The decision of the Director was timely appealed to the Sangamon County Circuit Court pursuant to the Illinois Administrative Review Law. After briefs were filed and arguments had, the decision of the Director was reversed on December 13, 1991 in an Order of Review entered by the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit for Sangamon County. The Circuit Court's order was timely appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District. The Fourth District reversed the order of the Circuit Court, and reinstated DCFS's revocation of the Coopers' license. The Coopers then filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง ...


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