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Stone Street Partners, LLC v. The City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

December 8, 2017

STONE STREET PARTNERS, LLC, a/k/a PMD, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, THE CITY OF CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS, PATRICIA JACKOWIAK, Director, Department of Administrative Hearings; THE CITY OF CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF STREETS AND SANITATION; THOMAS G. BYRNE, Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 CH 10860 Honorable LeRoy K. Martin, Judge Presiding.

          DELORT JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Connors concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          DELORT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In an earlier case, Stone Street Partners, LLC (Stone Street), challenged certain practices of the City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings (Department). See Stone Street Partners, LLC v. City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, 2017 IL 117720. Stone Street won a partial victory, and the judgment against it was vacated. In this appeal, stemming from a different citation which the City of Chicago (City) issued, Stone Street presents other challenges to the Department's practices. The circuit court rejected these challenges. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On January 17, 2012, the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) issued an administrative notice of ordinance violation against an entity named PMD regarding property located at 34 East Oak Street in Chicago.[1] The notice stated: "[i]mproperly contained refuse exist [sic] at this location." It alleged that Stone Street violated section 7-28-261 of the Chicago Municipal Code, which provides:

"(a) No person shall deposit refuse in a standard or commercial refuse container, or compactor, in a manner that prevents complete closure of the container's cover, or deposit refuse on top of a container in a manner that interferes with opening of the container, or pile or stack refuse against a container.
(b) The owner, his agent or occupant of a property shall not allow any person to violate subsection (a) of this section. The presence of refuse preventing complete closure of the container's cover, deposited on or piled or stacked against a standard refuse container, a commercial refuse container, or compactor shall be prima facie evidence of violation of this subsection (b).
(c) Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be fined not less than $200.00 and not more than $500.00 for each offense. Each day that a violation continues shall constitute a separate and distinct offense." Chicago Municipal Code § 7-28-261 (amended July 7, 1999).

         ¶ 4 On February 23, 2012, an attorney for Stone Street appeared before the Department to contest the notice. According to Stone Street's complaint, before the hearing began, Pamela Harris, the administrative law judge (ALJ) who heard Stone Street's case,

"stated to everyone in the courtroom that no representative from the City was available to discuss or pre-try the cases. ALJ Harris stated that she had the authority to impose the minimum penalty permitted under the Municipal Code should anyone plead liable to the charges. ALJ Harris indicated in no uncertain terms that a trial tax would be imposed if anyone exercised their rights to a hearing and was found guilty. ALJ Harris made it clear to the entire courtroom that they would not receive the minimum fine if they proceeded to a hearing and were found guilty."

         ¶ 5 When Stone Street's hearing commenced, the ALJ tendered two photographs to Stone Street's attorney depicting a trash can bearing the letters "PMD" that was so filled with garbage that the lid could not close. The attorney objected to the introduction of these photographs on the basis that the City failed to produce them in response to a Freedom of Information Act request he had propounded on the City before the hearing. The ALJ admitted the photographs into evidence over this objection and found that the City had established a prima facie case of an ordinance violation.

         ¶ 6 In response, Stone Street's attorney objected to the entire proceeding on the basis that the City was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law because no attorney appeared for the City. The ALJ rejected this argument and found Stone Street liable. The ALJ then assessed a $300 fine, which was $100 more than the minimum, and a $40 fee and entered judgment against Stone Street for $340. Stone Street's complaint does not allege that its attorney specifically objected to the imposition of a fine greater than $200.

         ¶ 7 On March 26, 2012, Stone Street filed a four-count "Class Action & Administrative Review Complaint." The complaint alleged generally that the City "filed, appeared, and prosecuted" the case against Stone Street "without a licensed attorney in violation of Illinois law." It further alleged that, because the City "appeared and prosecuted the case without an attorney, the proceedings are null and void as a matter of law." According to Stone Street, "[t]he City's policy and practice of prosecuting these types of cases without a licensed attorney has affected, and continues to affect, thousands of individuals and entities."

         ¶ 8 In count I, Stone Street sought declaratory and injunctive relief "invalidating all fines, penalties, orders and judgments where the city appeared without a licensed attorney" on behalf of a class. Stone Street also sought a declaration that "the City of Chicago's practice of permitting an ALJ to act as both judge and prosecutor" violated its right to due process under the federal and Illinois constitutions.

         ¶ 9 In count II, Stone Street alleged that the ALJ who heard Stone Street's case stated that, while she was authorized to impose the minimum fine on anyone who entered a plea to liability, she would impose what Stone Street characterized as a "trial tax" by imposing more than the minimum fine on anyone who opted to proceed with a contested hearing. Stone Street requested a declaration that "the custom and practice of penalizing litigants for exercising their right to a ...


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