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Harken v. City of Chicago

June 24, 1999

ADA VAN HARKEN, ALEX FRENCH, AND MICHAEL BENNETT, AS INDIVIDUALS AND AS CLASS REPRESENTATIVES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John K. Madden, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiffs, Ada Van Harken, Alex French, and Michael Bennett, both individually and as class representatives, filed an action against the City of Chicago ("City"), challenging the constitutionality of the Administrative Adjudication of Parking or Compliance Violations ordinance ("Ordinance") (Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-010 et seq. (1998)). The circuit court dismissed the plaintiffs' claim, and they have appealed. The plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred in dismissing their complaint because the Ordinance violates both the Separation of Powers Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Illinois Constitution. Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1, art. I, §2.

Historically, Chicago parking violations were adjudicated in the circuit court. In 1987, the Illinois General Assembly amended the Vehicle Code and authorized municipalities to enact administrative adjudication systems to dispose of parking violations. 625 ILCS 5/11-208.3(a) (West 1996). In 1990, the City established a system for the adjudication of parking violations that allows vehicle owners to contest parking tickets by mail or in person at an administrative hearing. Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-070, 080 (1998). In either case, the challenges are adjudicated by attorneys who have been appointed to serve as administrative law officers ("hearing officers"). Chicago Municipal Code §2-14-030, 040; §9-100-080(a) (1998). The hearing officers are employed as independent contractors and are paid an hourly rate for the work they perform. They are not compensated based on the number of cases they review. Nor are they entitled to receive a pension, paid vacation, paid sick-leave, or other benefits received by City employees.

Under this system, the parking ticket is considered prima facie evidence of a violation. 625 ILCS 5/1-208.3(b)(3) (West 1996); Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-080(e) (1998). The police officer *fn1 who issued the parking ticket is not required to appear at the hearing. The ticket recipient may appear pro se or be represented by an attorney. Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-080(b) (1998). The hearing officer can subpoena witnesses (including the police officer who issued the ticket), and may consider any testimony or documentary evidence submitted by the respondent. Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-080(d) (1998). The training manual given by the City to each hearing officer instructs the officers regarding the informal nature of the hearing, the burden of proof that the ticket recipient must sustain, the types of defenses that will defeat the City's prima facie case, and the procedure for rendering their determination of liability or non-liability. If the hearing officer finds a violation, then the ticket recipient may seek judicial review in the circuit court. Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-070(d), 090(a) (1998).

In this case, Van Harken, Bennett, and French all received parking tickets in the City of Chicago. Van Harken contested his ticket by requesting an adjudicatory hearing. Bennett contested his ticket by mail, and French failed to contest his ticket within the time permitted by the City's Ordinance. Each of the plaintiffs received a fine, but none of them sought judicial review. *fn2 Instead, the plaintiffs filed a class action suit in Federal court, seeking a declaration that the Ordinance was unconstitutional. See Van Harken v. City of Chicago, 906 F.Supp. 1182 (N.D. Ill. 1995), affirmed as modified, 103 F.3d 1346 (7th Cir. 1997). The plaintiffs alleged that the Ordinance violated the Due Process Clause of both the United States and Illinois Constitutions. Van Harken, 906 F.Supp. at 1185. The Federal court certified the proposed class under Rule 23(b)(2) (Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2)), but excluded those individuals who either paid the fine without requesting a hearing or were found liable under section 050(d) *fn3 of the Ordinance. Chicago Municipal Code §9-100-050(d) (1998). The district court subsequently dismissed the plaintiffs' claim under Rule 12(b)(6) (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)), for failure to state a cause of action. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the Federal claim, but made the dismissal of the State claim without prejudice to it being filed in State court. Van Harken, 103 F.3d at 1354-55.

The plaintiffs thereafter filed this action in the circuit court of Cook County, contending that the administrative process for reviewing parking violations violated both the Due Process Clause and the Separation of Powers Clause of the Illinois Constitution. The City filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. The circuit court granted the City's motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. *fn4

At the outset, we note that municipal ordinances, like statutes, are presumed constitutional. City of Chicago Heights v. Public Service Co. of Northern Illinois, 408 Ill. 604, 609, 97 N.E.2d 807, 810 (1951). The party challenging a statute, or ordinance, has the burden of establishing any constitutional infirmities. Chicago Allis Manufacturing Corp. v. Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago, 52 Ill. 2d 320, 327, 288 N.E.2d 436, 441 (1972); Land & Lakes, Co., 245 Ill. App. 3d 631, 638, 616 N.E.2d 349, 354 (1993). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all well-pled facts in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. See Miner v. Gillette Co., 87 Ill. 2d 7, 19, 428 N.E.2d 478, 484 (1981). Because the resolution of the plaintiffs' motion involves only a question of law, our review is de novo. Stephen L. Winternitz, Inc. v. National Bank of Monmouth, 289 Ill. App. 3d 753, 755, 683 N.E.2d 492, 494 (1997).

As a preliminary matter, we reject the City's argument that the plaintiffs' complaint should be dismissed because they did not fully avail themselves of the administrative process they are now challenging. Generally, a plaintiff may not seek judicial relief from an administrative action unless he has exhausted all of the administrative remedies available to him. Phillips v. Graham, 86 Ill. 2d 274, 289, 427 N.E.2d 550, 557 (1981). However, if the complaint attacks the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance on its face, the plaintiff need not exhaust all of his administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. See Phillips, 86 Ill. 2d at 289, 427 N.E.2d at 557. We therefore turn to the plaintiffs' contentions that the Ordinance is unconstitutional on its face.

The plaintiffs first contend that the City's system for adjudicating parking violations, as set forth in the Ordinance, violates the Separation of Powers Clause of the Illinois Constitution because it improperly delegates a judicial function to private attorneys acting as administrative hearing officers. We disagree.

The separation of powers doctrine contained in Section 1 of Article II of the Illinois Constitution provides:

"The legislative, executive and judicial branches are separate. No branch shall exercise powers properly belonging to another." Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1.

The Illinois Supreme Court has consistently interpreted this section to mean that the whole power of two or more branches of the government shall not be compressed into a single branch of the government (Emphasis added). Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill. 2d 367, 410, 689 N.E.2d 1057, 1078 (1997); Strukoff v. Strukoff, 76 Ill. 2d 53, 58, 389 N.E.2d 1170, 1172 (1979). This, however, does not preclude every exercise of power by one branch of the government that requires actions normally exercised by another branch of the government. McAlister v. Schick, 147 Ill. 2d 84, 95, 588 N.E.2d 1156, 1156 (1992). "The separate spheres of governmental authority may overlap." McAlister, 147 Ill. 2d at 95, 588 N.E.2d at 1156. This concept has been expanded to include governmental agencies as well. *fn5 For instance, an administrative agency, by its very nature, is a combination of judicial and legislative power. Obasi v. Department of Professional Regulation, 266 Ill. App. 3d 693, 701, 639 N.E.2d 1318, 1324 (1994). We have repeatedly held that this overlap does not violate the separation of powers doctrine, as long as the administrative actions are subject to judicial review. Obasi, 266 Ill. App. 3d at 701, 639 N.E.2d at 1324; Boles Trucking, Inc. v. O'Connor, 138 Ill. App. 3d 764, 778, 486 N.E.2d 362, 369 (1985).

In City of Waukegan v. Pollution Control Board, 57 Ill. 2d 170, 181-82, 311 N.E.2d 146, 152 (1974), ...


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