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Jones v. The City of Calumet City

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

December 22, 2017

THADDEUS JONES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF CALUMET CITY, an Illinois Municipal Corporation, NYOTA FIGGS, in Her Official Capacity as City Clerk for the City of Calumet City, and DAVID ORR, in His Official Capacity as the Cook County Clerk, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 16 COEL 22 Honorable Margarita Kulys Hoffman, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE ROCHFORD delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. PRESIDING JUSTICE REYES and JUSTICE LAMPKIN concurred in the judgment and the opinion.

          OPINION

          ROCHFORD JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 On November 8, 2016, voters in Calumet City voted in favor of a referendum providing for a term limit for the office of mayor, applicable to mayoral candidates in the upcoming April 2017 election and subsequent elections, as a result of which plaintiff, Thaddeus Jones, a mayoral candidate, became ineligible to run for mayor and his name was removed from the ballot. On November 23, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint and "emergency motion" in the circuit court of Cook County against defendants Calumet City; Nyota Figgs, in her official capacity as city clerk for Calumet City; and David Orr, in his official capacity as Cook County clerk. Plaintiff sought: (1) a declaratory judgment that the referendum was unconstitutional; and (2) a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction enjoining Calumet City from implementing the results of the referendum and from taking any actions preventing him from running for mayor. On January 27, 2017, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, and the election was subsequently held without plaintiff's name on the ballot. The results have been certified, and the mayoral office has been filled. Plaintiff appeals the January 27, 2017, order, contending the referendum was unconstitutional, the election results should be voided, and a special election for mayor should be held with his name on the ballot. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 Plaintiff is a resident of Calumet City, was elected alderman of the city's 3rd Ward in 1997, and was reelected as alderman in 2001, 2005, 2009, and 2013. In 2016, plaintiff announced that he was running as a candidate of the Democratic Party for mayor of Calumet City in the February 28, 2017, primary election.

         ¶ 3 On June 18, 2016, petitioners Steven Grant and Calumet City Concerned Citizens sought to place on the November 2016 general election (presidential) ballot a referendum question that, if approved by the voters, would impose a three-term mayoral term limit and would disqualify the incumbent three-term mayor, Michelle Markiewicz-Qualkinbush, from running for reelection. In August 2016, the Cook County clerk determined that the petitioners' proposed referendum imposing a three-term mayoral term limit could not appear on the November 2016 ballot because there were already three referenda questions on that ballot initiated by Calumet City. The Election Code provides a so-called "Rule of Three, " stating "[if] more than 3 propositions are timely initiated or certified for submission at an election with respect to a political subdivision, the first 3 validly initiated, by the filing of a petition or by the adoption of a resolution or ordinance of a political subdivision, as the case may be, shall be printed on the ballot and submitted at that election." 10 ILCS 5/28-1 (West 2012). By operation of the "Rule of Three, " petitioners' additional referendum question could not be put on the November 2016 ballot, leaving the voters to consider only Calumet City's referenda questions.

         ¶ 4 One of the Calumet City referenda questions on the November 2016 ballot asked:

"Shall the City of Calumet City, Cook County, Illinois, adopt the following term limits for the Office of Mayor to be effective for and applicable to all persons who are candidates for Mayor being elected at the Consolidated Election to be held on April 4, 2017, and subsequent elections: Mayor-No person shall be eligible to seek election to, or hold the office of mayor where that person has held the elected office of either mayor or alderman of the City of Calumet City for four (4) or more consecutive full four (4) year terms."

         ¶ 5 On September 15, 2016, plaintiff (along with petitioners Steven Grant and Calumet City Concerned Citizens) filed suit in federal court, seeking injunctive relief that would (1) require that petitioners' referendum be added to the November 2016 ballot and (2) prohibit Calumet City's referendum from appearing on the November 2016 ballot. On September 22, 2016, the federal district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial. Jones v. Markiewicz-Qualkinbush, 842 F.3d 1053 (7th Cir. 2016).

         ¶ 6 In the November 8, 2016, election, the Calumet City referendum passed with 65.4% of the votes in favor thereof, the effect of which allowed the three-term, incumbent Mayor Markiewicz-Qualkinbush to run for re-election, but barred plaintiff, an alderman who had served five consecutive four-year terms, from running for mayor. The Calumet City referendum also barred two other aldermen who had served at least four consecutive four-year terms, Alderman Magdalena Wosczynski and Alderman Nick Manousopoulos, from running for mayor.

         ¶ 7 The Calumet City Municipal Officers Electoral Board removed plaintiff's name from the mayoral ballot.

         ¶ 8 On November 16, 2016, plaintiff filed an emergency motion in the federal district court, seeking to enjoin the implementation of the portion of Calumet City's referendum limiting mayoral candidates to persons who had served fewer than four consecutive four-year terms as alderman. On November 22, 2016, the federal district court denied the emergency motion, stating in its oral ruling that plaintiff had brought claims based on his being a class of one in violation of the equal protection clause, but that "[t]here has to be more of a record developed about whether there is a class of one and whether or not there's an equal protection violation." The court further stated it was exercising its "discretion in allowing the voters' choice here in this referendum to go forward" and suggested that plaintiff "go to state court and try to enforce the state laws."

         ¶ 9 Defendants filed a motion in federal court to dismiss plaintiff's class of one and equal protection claims contained in his federal complaint. On January 12, 2017, the federal district court granted the motion to dismiss, finding that plaintiff had failed to show he was a class of one. The court also found a rational basis for the Calumet City referendum, stating in its oral ruling: "[F]rom a constitutional point of view, I believe that the defendants had a right to put on the ballot a type of term limit that would effectively prevent what we might call career politicians from holding the office that we're talking about here, and that's mayoral."

         ¶ 10 Meanwhile, on November 23, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint and emergency motion in the circuit court of Cook County against defendants, seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment that the portion of Calumet City's referendum preventing him from running for mayor due to his having served five consecutive four-year terms as alderman was unconstitutional; and (2) a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction enjoining Calumet City from implementing the results of the referendum and from taking any actions preventing him from running for mayor. Plaintiff argued that: (1) the portion of the referendum asking the voters to decide whether to limit mayoral candidates to persons who have served fewer than four consecutive four-year terms as alderman violated article VII, section 6(f) of the state constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VII, § 6(f)), was vague and ambiguous, and was not rationally related to a legitimate governmental function as required by the due process and equal protection clauses; and (2) the entire referendum violated the free and equal clause of the state constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. III, § 3), by asking voters to decide two separate and distinct propositions, i.e., whether to limit mayoral candidates to persons who had served fewer than four consecutive four-year terms as mayor, and whether to limit mayoral candidates to persons who had served fewer than four consecutive four-year terms as alderman.

         ¶ 11 The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiff's motion, upholding the validity of ...


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