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Hlinak v. Chicago Transit Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 28, 2015

FRED HLINAK et al., Plaintiffs,


VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.

Defendant Chicago Transit Authority moves to dismiss Fred Hlinak and Jennifer Jonke's Amended Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 40). The Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 36) contains eight counts alleging that the fare to board CTA trains at the O'Hare Airport Station is illegal under the United States Constitution, the Illinois Constitution, and the CTA's own ordinances. The CTA charges $5 to board at O'Hare and $2.25 at all other stations. Plaintiffs maintain that this price disparity unconstitutionally infringes on their right to travel under the United States Constitution, burdens interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, discriminates against interstate travelers in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and violates similar provisions of the Illinois Constitution. Plaintiffs also seek to represent a class of travelers who paid the $5 fare at the O'Hare Station, but have not moved for class certification. The CTA moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint because it does not state a claim upon which this Court can grant relief. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted. The Amended Complaint is dismissed.


The Court treats the following factual allegations from the Amended Complaint as true for the purposes of this motion. Yeftich v. Navistar, Inc., 722 F.3d 911, 915 (7th Cir. 2013). The Court does not accept as true legal conclusion within the Amended Complaint. See Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) ("Factual allegations are accepted as true at the pleading stage, but allegations in the form of legal conclusions are insufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.") (internal quotation marks omitted). This section contains the factual allegations in the Amended Complaint that are relevant to Plaintiffs' claims.

The CTA operates a rapid transit system in Chicago including a train line that runs to O'Hare Airport on the City's far northwest side. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8). At all stations, except the O'Hare Station, passengers must pay $2.25 to board the train. ( Id. ¶ 19). On December 18, 2012, the CTA Board issued Ordinance 012-157, which increased the fare at the O'Hare Station from $2.25 to $5. ( Id. ¶ 16). The Ordinance cited the need to balance the CTA's budget as the justification for the fare hike. ( Id. Ex. 1). The CTA characterized the $5 fare as the "Full Fare payment, including a $2.75 surcharge." ( Id. p. 21). Employees who work at O'Hare Airport property are exempt from the $2.75 surcharge and must pay only $2.25 to board the train at the O'Hare Station. ( Id. ¶ 20). The CTA train at Midway Airport on Chicago's south side charges a fare of $2.25. ( Id. ¶ 19). The cost per passenger to operate the CTA at the O'Hare Station is lower than at the Midway Airport Station. ( Id. ¶ 24).

O'Hare Airport is located on the far northwest side of Chicago. It is a large international airport that accepts flights from across the country and around the globe. ( Id. ¶¶ 25-26). Midway Airport is also located in Chicago and also accepts both domestic and international flights, though there are some international origins from which airline passengers can arrive at O'Hare Airport but not Midway. ( Id. ¶ 25).

On or about August 1, 2013, Plaintiff Jennifer Jonke, an Illinois resident, arrived at O'Hare Airport by rental car. ( Id. ¶¶ 4-5). After returning the rental car, she boarded the CTA train at the O'Hare Station and paid $5. ( Id. ¶ 6). On August 15, 2013, Plaintiff Fred Hlinak, a Nevada resident, flew from Las Vegas to Chicago and boarded the CTA train at the O'Hare Station. ( Id. ¶ 2). Hlinak paid $5 to ride the train. ( Id. ¶ 3).


A complaint "must state a claim that is plausible on its face" in order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Adams, 742 F.3d at 728 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Aschroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A plaintiff must plead more than bare legal conclusions to survive a motion to dismiss. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1147 (7th Cir. 2010). "[A]llegations in the form of legal conclusions are insufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012). A complaint must contain more than "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" in order to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


A. The Amended Complaint does not state a claim under the Dormant Commerce Clause

Count One of the Amended Complaint alleges that the O'Hare surcharge violates the negative implications of the Commerce Clause, commonly called the "Dormant Commerce Clause, " because it impermissibly burdens interstate commerce. See Endsley v. City of Chi., 230 F.3d 276, 284 (7th Cir. 2000). The Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to "regulate Commerce... among the several States[.]" U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3. This affirmative grant of power to Congress implicitly limits the states' power to regulate interstate commerce. See Endsley, 230 F.3d at 284 (citing Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 322, 326 (1979)).

As a threshold matter, a plaintiff must plead facts that show a burden on interstate commerce in order to invoke the Dormant Commerce Clause. "If a party seeking to invalidate a statute cannot show any burden on interstate commerce, then the Dormant Commerce Clause is not implicated and the statute will not be invalidated." Alliant Energy Corp. v. Bie, 330 F.3d 904, 911 (7th Cir. 2003). Assuming the plaintiff can demonstrate such a burden, the Court then applies a two-tiered approach. "To determine whether a law violates this so-called dormant' aspect of the Commerce Clause, we first ask whether it discriminates on its face against interstate commerce." United Haulers Ass'n Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Mgmt. Auth., 550 U.S. 330, 338 (2007). "A state regulation discriminates' against interstate commerce only if it imposes commercial barriers or discriminates against an article of commerce by reason of its origin or destination out of State." C&A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkston, 511 U.S. 383, 390 (1994). If the Court finds in the affirmative, it generally invalidates the statute "without further inquiry." Brown-Forman Distillers Corp. v. New York State Liquor Auth, 476 U.S. 573, 578. The second tier of cases involves a statute that "has only indirect or incidental effects on interstate commerce and regulates evenhandedly[.]" Alliant Energy Corp., 330 F.3d at 911 (citing Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142 (1970)) (internal quotation and citation omitted). In these cases, "the statute will be upheld unless the burden imposed on such commerce is clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits." Id.

The Commerce Clause's restrictions on state behavior, however, do not apply if the state is acting as a "market participant" rather than a regulator. "The market participant doctrine differentiates between a State's acting in its distinctive governmental capacity, and a State's acting in the more general capacity of a market participant; only the former is subject to the limitations of the negative Commerce Clause." Endsley, 230 F.3d at 284 (quoting New Energy Co. of Ind. v. Limbach, 486 U.S. 269, 277 (1988)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The market-participant doctrine permits a State to influence a discrete, identifiable class of economic activity in which it is a major participant." Endsley, 230 F.3d at 284 (quoting South-Central Timber Dev. v. Wunnicke, 467 U.S. 82, 97 (1984)). When a governmental ...

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