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Gatz v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

March 16, 2017

RANDALL GATZ, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DOROTHY BROWN, in Her Official Capacity as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and MARIA PAPPAS, in Her Official Capacity as Treasurer of Cook County, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 15 CH 7270 Honorable Rodolfo Garcia, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Ellis and Justice McBride concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          BURKE JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Randall Gatz, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, brought this putative class action lawsuit against defendants Dorothy Brown, in her capacity as clerk of the circuit court of Cook County, and Maria Pappas, in her capacity as treasurer of Cook County, challenging the constitutionality of the $10 children's waiting room fee (Room Fee) assessed to all civil litigants who file an initial pleading in the circuit court. The trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs complaint with prejudice pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)). For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On January 13, 2013, plaintiff filed a civil case in which he was the sole plaintiff at the Rolling Meadows courthouse. At that time, plaintiff paid a filing fee of $567, which included the $10 Room Fee. On May 4, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion for class certification to file an action on behalf of himself and "All persons who paid the Children's Waiting Room Fee to the Cook County Clerk's Office or Treasurer's Office." That same day, plaintiff filed his class action complaint. In his complaint, plaintiff contended that the Room Fee is actually a litigation tax because it is not related to the service being provided, which is courtroom administration. Plaintiff asserted that the Room Fee therefore violated the free access and due process clauses of the Illinois Constitution because it imposes the burden on funding the children's waiting room on all civil litigants, rather than on those who actually use the waiting room. Plaintiff further contended that the Room Fee violated the uniformity and equal protection clauses of the Illinois Constitution because the fee is over-inclusive. Plaintiff finally contended that defendants had been unjustly enriched by collecting the Room Fee from all civil litigants. Plaintiff requested relief in the form of a declaratory judgment that the Room Fee is invalid, an injunction prohibiting the clerk from assessing the Room Fee, and a return of the Room Fees paid by all civil litigants within the past five years.

         ¶ 4 In response, defendants filed a motion pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code to dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice contending that the Room Fee does not violate the Illinois Constitution because the children's waiting room improves the overall administration of justice. Following a hearing, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. The trial court found that the Room Fee did not violate the Illinois Constitution because the children's waiting room is part of the operation and maintenance of the courts. The court noted that although the courthouse where plaintiff filed his 2013 civil case did not have a children's waiting room, plaintiff could request that his case be transferred to a courthouse that did have a waiting room. This appeal follows.

         ¶ 5 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 6 On appeal, plaintiff contends that the circuit court erred in granting defendants' motion to dismiss, finding the Room Fee constitutional. Plaintiff maintains that the Room Fee violates the free access and due process clauses because it functions as a tax that does not relate to the necessary operation and maintenance of the courts. Plaintiff further asserts that the Room Fee violates the uniformity and equal protection clauses because it is over-inclusive given that the vast majority of litigants who pay the fee will never use the children's waiting room or benefit from the service.

         ¶ 7 A. Section 2-615

         ¶ 8 "A section 2-615 motion to dismiss challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint based on defects apparent on its face." Pooh-Bah Enterprises, Inc. v. County of Cook, 232 Ill.2d 463, 473 (2009); 735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2012). The question presented by a section 2-615 motion is "whether the allegations of the complaint, when taken as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, are sufficient to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted." Turner v. Memorial Medical Center, 233 Ill.2d 494, 499 (2009). In ruling on a section 2-615 motion, we may consider only those facts apparent from the face of the pleadings, matters of which this court may take judicial notice, and judicial admissions in the record. Pooh-Bah Enterprises, Inc., 232 Ill.2d at 473 (citing Mt. Zion State Bank & Trust v. Consolidated Communications, Inc., 169 Ill.2d 110, 115 (1995)). We review de novo the circuit court's order granting defendants' section 2-615 motion and dismissing plaintiff's complaint. Performance Electric, Inc. v. CIB Bank, 371 Ill.App.3d 1037, 1039 (2007).

         ¶ 9 B. Presumption of Constitutionality

         ¶ 10 At the outset, we note that we presume that statutes are constitutional. Arangold Corp. v.Zehnder, 204 Ill.2d 142, 146 (2003). "The party challenging a statute carries the burden of rebutting that presumption and 'clearly establishing' its unconstitutionality." Id. (quoting Russell v. Department of National Resources, 183 Ill.2d 434, 441 (1998)). A reviewing court should uphold the constitutionality ...


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