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Amalgamated Transit Worker's v. Pace Suburban Bus Division of the Regional Transportation

January 11, 2011

AMALGAMATED TRANSIT WORKER'S PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PACE SUBURBAN BUS DIVISION OF THE REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, PACE WEST DIVISION,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 09 CH 29105 Honorable Daniel Riley, Judge Presiding.

UNION, LOCAL 241,

JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Cunningham and Justice Karnezis concur in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Plaintiff Amalgamated Transit Worker's Union, Local 241, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against defendant Pace Suburban Bus Division, seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction. Plaintiff alleged that defendant unlawfully imposed suspensions and fines on plaintiff's members when buses that they operated were photographed running red traffic lights. The circuit court granted defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2008)), finding that a collective bargaining agreement, which contained a grievance and arbitration process, governed the dispute between the parties. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Our recitation of the facts of this case is drawn from plaintiff's complaint, which we take as true when reviewing a motion to dismiss under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure No. 1-10-0631 (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2008)). See Coady v. Harpo, Inc., 308 Ill. App. 3d 153, 158-59 (1999).

Defendant is a division of the Regional Transportation Authority, which provides public transportation in the Chicago area. Among other duties, defendant operates buses on routes throughout western Cook County. Plaintiff is a labor organization that is composed of and represents the collective interests of defendant's employees, including bus drivers.

Beginning in 2006, municipalities in western Cook County began installing "red light cameras" at intersections in their jurisdictions. Red light cameras work by automatically taking photographs of any vehicle that enters an intersection while the traffic signal in that direction is red. See 625 ILCS 5/11-208.6 (West 2008). Under authority granted to them by the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-208.3(a) (West 2008)), these municipalities also created a system of administrative adjudication for violations of automated traffic laws (625 ILCS 5/11-208.6 (West 2008)). By statute, when red light cameras capture a violation, the municipality is required to mail written notice of the violation to the registered owner of the vehicle. See 625 ILCS 5/11-208.6(d) (West 2008). The notice must include copies of the photographs taken of the vehicle by the red light camera, as well as other information such as the date, time, and location of the alleged violation. See 625 ILCS 5/11-208.6(d)(1) through (10) (West 2008). Registered owners may choose to pay the civil fine for the violation, or they may contest the violation at an administrative hearing. See 625 ILCS 5/11-208.6(d)(10) (West 2008). The only statutory defenses available to the registered owner at the hearing are either that the vehicle or its plates were reported as stolen before the alleged violation, or that the driver of the vehicle entered the intersection in order to yield to an emergency vehicle or as part of a funeral procession. See 625 ILCS 5/11-208.6(h) (West 2008). There are no provisions in the statute that anyone other than the registered owner of a vehicle is legally responsible for payment of a fine assessed under section 11-208.6.

This case arose when defendant began receiving traffic tickets for violations of section 11-208.6. Defendant learned from these notices that buses that it owned and operated had allegedly run red lights at intersections with red light cameras. According to the complaint, defendant began "effectively reassigning" these traffic tickets to the bus drivers who had been operating the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation. Under defendant's alleged policy, defendant requires the bus driver to pay the fine and suspends the driver for between one and five days, with the possibility of termination of employment for three or more violations. The complaint alleges that defendant does not provide either the driver or plaintiff with a copy of the ticket or photographs of the alleged violation in a timely manner, which prevents the driver from contesting the charge.

The complaint asserted that defendant's policy is illegal because, according to the Vehicle Code, only the registered owner of the vehicle is legally obligated to pay the fine, not the driver at the time of the alleged violation. Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that defendant's practice of "reassigning" the traffic ticket to its employees is not justified by Illinois law and is ultra vires. Plaintiff further sought an injunction that would require defendant to give timely notice of any alleged violation of section 11-208.6 and would prohibit defendant from requiring its drivers to pay fines associated with the alleged violations.

Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint under section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 2-619(a)(9) (West 2008)). In its motion, defendant argued that the parties had entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which contained a binding grievance and arbitration procedure for any disputes that arise under the CBA. Defendant contended that, although plaintiff framed its allegations in terms of unlawful "reassignment" of traffic tickets, plaintiff's complaint was in reality directed at the manner in which defendant disciplined its employees for on-the-job traffic violations. Defendant attached to its motion the four pages of the CBA that deal with the grievance process, as well as a clause that states, "[Plaintiff] agrees that it will not in any way interfere with or attempt to limit the right of [defendant] to discharge or discipline its employees for any reason where sufficient cause can be shown." Defendant argued that, because the CBA deals with the specific issue that is in dispute, plaintiff must exhaust its contractual remedies under the CBA before bringing an action in the circuit court.

After full briefing by the parties, the circuit court heard oral argument on January 21, 2010. The circuit court rejected plaintiff's arguments and agreed with defendant, stating "I don't find [defendant's] action here to be contradictory or in violation of the law. [Defendant] is acknowledging for purposes of the motion that they have a legal obligation to pay [the tickets]. I *** find that it is in fact a grievance related to the performance of the job duties and that the matter should be arbitrated under the terms of the collective ...


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