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Cruz-Bernal v. Keefe

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

July 13, 2015

Fernando Cruz-Bernal, et al., Plaintiffs,
Katherine M. Keefe, et al., Defendants.


FREDERICK J. KAPALA, District Judge.

Defendants' motions to dismiss [26] [33] are granted. Plaintiffs' complaint is dismissed without prejudice. This case is closed.


Plaintiffs, Fernando Cruz-Bernal, Courtney A. Reinhard, Michael B. Hodge, and Thomas A. Venezio, brought this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against defendants, Katherine M. Keefe, Circuit Clerk of the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit, McHenry County; McHenry County Treasurer Glenda Miller;[1] the County of McHenry; and other unknown entities. In their first amended complaint, plaintiffs allege that Keefe improperly imposed additional fines on them, which were not imposed by the court, in violation of their constitutional rights to due process of law as provided for in the Fourteenth Amendment and the Ex Post Facto Clause in Article I, § 10.[2] The allegations in the complaint arise from plaintiffs' varying traffic or criminal violations, which resulted in convictions and sentences in which the court ordered plaintiffs to pay a fine and "all court costs assessed by the Clerk" by a certain date. Currently pending before this court are two motions to dismiss for, among other things, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, both motions are granted.


According to their complaint, plaintiffs were all defendants in traffic or criminal court in the Circuit Court for McHenry County. Upon conviction and sentencing, each plaintiff was informed that in addition to the fines that were set by the judge, there would be additional statutory court costs that neither the judge nor the clerks had control over. Plaintiffs allege Keefe imposed, beyond her authority, the following additional fines or fees: DUI Equipment Fine (625 ILCS 5/11-501.01(f)), PTF10 TR/CR Surcharge Fund (730 ILCS 5/5-9-1(c)), Trauma Center Fund (625 ILCS 5/16-104b), Violent Crime Assistance Fund (725 ILCS 240/10(b)), Roadside Memorial Fund (705 ILCS 105/27.5(f)), Child Advocacy Center Fine (55 ILCS 5/5-1101(f-5)), Mental Health Court Fine (55 ILCS 5/5-1101(d-5)), Drug Court Fee (55 ILCS 5/5-1101(f)), Spinal Cord Research Fund (705 ILCS 105/27.6(b-1)), Court Supervision Fee (625 ILCS 5/16-104c), and Drivers Education Fund (625 ILCS 5/16-104a). Further, plaintiffs allege Keefe disbursed those fines to the Treasurer, the County, and other unknown entities.

Based on these allegations, plaintiffs filed a three-count, first-amended complaint. Although it is not particularly clear, it appears that plaintiffs' primary claims are brought pursuant to § 1983, yet there is no count specifically brought under that section. Rather, plaintiffs have styled their three counts as: (1) "Class Action Averments, " (2) "Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief, " and (3) "Assumpsit." The first of these two "counts" are not actual, independent claims, but instead appear to be forms of relief related to plaintiffs' unnamed § 1983 claim, [3] while the third count is an obscure common-law claim that is similar to a claim for unjust enrichment. Because Count I seeks, among other things, money damages for the individually-named plaintiffs, the court will construe Count I as a claim under § 1983 and analyze the merits of such a claim before considering whether it would be appropriate to proceed on that claim as a class action.


A. Count I: § 1983 Claim

"In general, exhaustion of state remedies is not a prerequisite to an action under § 1983.'" Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 480 (1994) (quotation marks omitted). However, "to recover damages for [an] allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a plaintiff [seeking a remedy under § 1983] must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 486-87. Thus, the court must consider whether a judgment for plaintiffs would necessarily imply the invalidity of their convictions or sentences, and if it would, then the court must dismiss the claim, unless plaintiffs can demonstrate that the convictions or sentences have already been invalidated on direct appeal or through a state or federal habeas corpus challenge. See Burd v. Sessler, 702 F.3d 429, 433 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487).

As alleged in the complaint, plaintiffs were convicted and sentenced on various traffic and criminal charges. Plaintiffs do not allege or indicate in their complaint that their convictions or sentences have been invalidated on direct appeal or collateral attack. Instead, plaintiffs have filed suit directly in this court under § 1983 asking this court to invalidate the alleged additional fines imposed by Keefe and order reimbursement of those fines. Plaintiffs admit that they were informed by either the presiding judge or the court security officer that "in addition to fines that were set' by the judge, court costs' would be added" as established by the legislature. The additional court costs were part of the judges' sentencing order and, therefore, any action by this court overruling those costs would necessarily imply the invalidity of that sentence.[4] See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 84 (2005) (concluding that a case is Heck-barred "because nullification of the disciplinary procedures would lead necessarily to restoration of good-time credits and hence the shortening of the prisoner's sentence" (quotation marks omitted)); McDonald v. White, No. 11 C 2006, 2011 WL 1793264, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 5, 2011) (applying Heck where a decision in favor of the plaintiff would invalidate the state court's sentence by allowing the plaintiff to have his bond money reimbursed such that his fine and fee would become the burden of the County). Because granting plaintiffs this requested relief would necessarily imply the invalidity of their sentences, this court does not have the ability to provide such a remedy. See Hill v. Murphy, 785 F.3d 242, 245 (7th Cir. 2015) (holding that the plaintiff's coerced-admission claim was Heck-barred because his conviction had not already been invalidated); Matz v. Klotka, 769 F.3d 517, 531 (7th Cir. 2014) (concluding that because the plaintiff's sentence remained intact, overturning his conviction would result in an invalidation of his sentence). The issues raised in plaintiffs § 1983 claim are better suited for a direct appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court or other state court action, and the convictions or sentences must be invalidated before the § 1983 claim can be brought back to federal court. Therefore, plaintiffs' § 1983 claim in Count I is Heck-barred.

B. Count I: Class Certification

In Count I, plaintiffs further contend that class certification would be appropriate for their § 1983 claim, and they propose a class with more than 700, 000 individuals and total damages in excess of $25, 350, 000 based on the various fines imposed by Keefe over the past fourteen years. Plaintiffs, however, have not moved for class certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 nor have they asked for this court's ruling on the class certification proposed in their complaint. In any event, as mentioned above, plaintiffs have no valid claim under § 1983 as their individual claims have been Heck-barred. Consequently, plaintiffs no longer have a personal stake in the claim, to allow them to continue in federal court under these circumstances would "def[y] the limits on federal jurisdiction." Damasco v. Clearwire Corp., 662 F.3d 891, 896 (7th Cir. 2011) ("To allow a case, not certified as a class action and with no motion for class certification even pending, to continue in federal court when the sole plaintiff no longer maintains a personal stake defies the limits on federal jurisdiction expressed in Article III."). Even if the court was to analyze class certification without a motion or request, see Kasalo v. Harris & Harris, Ltd., 656 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2011) ([A] court may deny class certification even before the plaintiff files a motion ...

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