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Smith-Silk v. Prenzler

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

October 24, 2013

ANDREA G. SMITH-SILK and THOMAS J. KOZIACKI, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
KURT PRENZLER in His Official Capacity as Treasurer of Madison County, MARK VON NIDA, in His Official Capacity as Circuit Clerk of Madison County, CHARLES SUAREZ, in His Official Capacity as Treasurer of St. Clair County, and KAHALAH DIXON, in Her Official Capacity as Circuit Clerk of St. Clair County, Defendants-Appellees.

Held [*]

The constitutionality of the $5 “neutral site fee” imposed on all litigants by defendant counties was upheld and the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s action challenging the fee was affirmed, since the fee provided neutral sites for parents involved in domestic relations cases to physically exchange their children, thereby reducing litigation and promoting judicial economy, and that relationship to the functions of the court system provided a basis for sustaining the fee.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, No. 12-L-152; the Hon. Lloyd A. Cueto, Judge, presiding.

Thomas G. Maag and Peter J. Maag, both of Maag Law Firm, LLC, of Wood River, for appellants.

Philip J. Lading, Anthony L. Martin, and Lawrence Hall, all of Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, P.C., of Edwardsville, for appellees Kurt Prenzler and Mark Von Nida.

Alvin C. Paulson, of Becker, Paulson, Hoerner & Thompson, P.C., of Belleville, for other appellees

JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Spomer and Justice Welch concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

GOLDENHERSH JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiffs, Andrea G. Smith-Silk and Thomas J. Koziacki, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, filed a complaint in the circuit court of St. Clair County against defendants, Kurt Prenzler, in his official capacity as treasurer of Madison County, and Mark Von Nida, in his official capacity as circuit clerk of Madison County (Madison County defendants), along with Charles Suarez, in his official capacity as treasurer of St. Clair County, and Kahalah Dixon, in her official capacity as circuit clerk of St. Clair County (St. Clair County defendants), in which they challenged a $5 "neutral site fee" (fee) charged to all litigants in Madison County and St. Clair County, sought a refund of the fee paid by named plaintiffs, as well as an injunction against the collection of additional fees, and requested class certification. After a hearing, the circuit court found the fee constitutional and dismissed plaintiffs' complaint against defendants. Plaintiffs now appeal. The Madison County defendants have filed a cross-appeal, but only in the alternative should we find the fee unconstitutional. For the following reasons, we affirm.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On June 13, 2000, our General Assembly passed Public Act 91-811, codified as the Neutral Site Custody Exchange Funding Act (Act) (55 ILCS 82/1 to 99 (West 2008)), which authorizes county boards to establish by ordinance an additional filing fee of between $1 and $8 in all civil cases to defray the cost of operating neutral site custody exchange centers. 55 ILCS 82/15 (West 2008). Section 5 sets forth the reasons for passage of the Act as follows:

"§ 5. Legislative findings. The General Assembly finds that the domestic relations area of law, and particularly child custody matters, frequently involves seemingly minor disputes between individuals that escalate into major social and legal problems without the intervention of neutral parties; these problems often result in emotional damage to the children involved and create an extra burden for the courts; there are compelling reasons for providing neutral sites for parents to exchange the physical custody of a child for purposes of visitation; and not-for-profit charitable organizations can make a substantial contribution to the expeditious implementation of child custody and visitation orders in this State." 55 ILCS 82/5 (West 2008).
Pursuant to the Act, in 2005, Madison County passed an ordinance imposing a $4 fee on all civil filings in order to support a neutral site exchange in Madison County. In 2008, the ordinance was amended to increase the fee to $5. St. Clair County also passed an ordinance imposing a $5 fee on all civil filings in order to support a neutral site exchange in St. Clair County.

ΒΆ 4 On March 23, 2012, plaintiffs filed their complaint in the circuit court of St. Clair County, seeking a finding that the Act is unconstitutional, an injunction against collecting additional fees, and a refund of all fees collected, which would require class certification. In response, the St. Clair County defendants filed a motion to dismiss in which they argued they were immune from prosecution pursuant to section 2-203 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/2-203 (West 2008)). The Madison County defendants filed a motion to dismiss or transfer venue to Madison County for the claims against Madison County, a motion to sever the claims of the Madison County defendants and St. Clair County defendants, a motion to strike class action ...


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