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The Habitat Company, LLC v. Peeples

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

June 22, 2018

THE HABITAT COMPANY, LLC, as agent for Elm Street Plaza, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHUN PEEPLES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 15 M1 70060 Honorable Jim Ryan, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE REYES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lampkin and Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          REYES PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant Shun Peeples appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County denying her motion to seal her eviction court file pursuant to section 9-121(b) of the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act (Act) (735 ILCS 5/9-121(b) (West 2016)).[1] On appeal, defendant asserts that the circuit court erred in its interpretation of section 9-121(b) of the Act and thus improperly denied her motion to seal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 This matter commenced as a forcible entry and detainer action initiated by plaintiff, The Habitat Company, LLC, as agent for Elm Street Plaza (a property management company) against defendant (a tenant at a premises managed by plaintiff). In its complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendant breached the terms of her lease. Specifically, plaintiff asserted that on two separate occasions defendant verbally abused and used profanity toward the door staff at the premises in a hostile, threatening, and aggressive manner. Plaintiff maintained that defendant's repeated conduct disrupted the livability of the premises, interfered with management of the premises, and adversely affected the safety of the door staff. Plaintiff further asserted that defendant's actions were criminal and constituted the crime of disorderly conduct.

         ¶ 4 In lieu of a responsive pleading, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment in which she argued that she did not engage in any unlawful or criminal activities on plaintiff's property in violation of the terms of her lease.[2] Defendant further maintained that the "verbal abuse" and profanity directed toward the door staff did not constitute a material violation of the terms of the lease. In response to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff argued that defendant was in material noncompliance with her lease where, on two separate occasions, she verbally abused and used profanity towards the door staff at the premises in a hostile, threatening, and aggressive manner. Plaintiff maintained that her conduct disrupted the livability of the premises, interfered with the management of the premises, and adversely affected the safety of the door staff. Plaintiff asserted that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether defendant's conduct constituted material noncompliance under her lease. Plaintiff attached an affidavit of Andrew Floyd (Floyd), a doorman at the premises, to its response. Floyd averred that on December 17 and December 18, 2014, defendant approached the front desk in an irate and aggressive manner, was verbally abusive toward him and his colleague, and stated in a threatening manner that he and his colleague were "b*** a***" and "lazy motherf***" who "don't do s*** all day." Floyd further averred that defendant continued to use inappropriate language and he found her aggressiveness and hostility to be unsettling, threatening, unreasonable, alarming, and disturbing. Plaintiff also attached the affidavit of Nicole Salter (Salter), the community manager for the apartment building. Salter averred that she is "familiar with *** incidents involving tenants, reports of incidents involving tenants, disruptions in the livability of the premises." Salter did, however, attest that defendant's "verbally abusive conduct and use of profanity toward Habitat's door staff on December 17 and 18, 2014, disrupted the livability of the building, adversely affected Habitat's agents' safety and the safety of the premises' tenants, interfered with the management of the building, and, in my determination, constituted the crime of disorderly conduct."

         ¶ 5 After the matter was fully briefed and argued, the circuit court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment in part and denied it in part. Summary judgment was granted as to plaintiff's allegations that defendant's conduct was criminal or unlawful. Summary judgment, however, was denied as to whether defendant was in material noncompliance with the terms of the lease.

         ¶ 6 Shortly thereafter, on August 3, 2015, an "agreed settlement order" (agreed order) was entered by the circuit court. The agreed order provided that the matter was dismissed with leave to reinstate and that the circuit court was to retain jurisdiction over the matter until December 31, 2016. Defendant was allowed to continue to reside at the premises. She was, however, prohibited from verbally attacking or using profanity toward any of plaintiff's employees. A motion to reinstate was never filed; the agreed order dismissing the matter thus became final on December 31, 2016. No order was entered memorializing the dismissal with prejudice on December 31, 2016.

         ¶ 7 In March 2017, defendant filed a motion pursuant to section 9-121(b) of the Act (735 ILCS 5/9-121(b) (West 2016)) to seal the court file. Section 9-121(b) provides:

"Discretionary sealing of court file. The court may order that a court file in a forcible entry and detainer action be placed under seal if the court finds that the plaintiff's action is sufficiently without a basis in fact or law, which may include a lack of jurisdiction, that placing the court file under seal is clearly in the interests of justice, and that those interests are not outweighed by the public's interest in knowing about the record." 735 ILCS 5/9-121(b) (West 2016). [3]

         In her motion, defendant maintained that the forcible entry and detainer action against her was sufficiently without a basis in fact or law because, pursuant to the agreed order, the matter had been dismissed and plaintiff could no longer reinstate the case. Defendant further asserted that sealing the court file was in the interest of justice because her ability to obtain alternative housing was being affected by this case. Defendant maintained that the interests of justice are not outweighed by the public's interest in the knowledge contained in the record of the eviction action because the matter was not disposed of against her, rather it was dismissed with prejudice.

         ¶ 8 In response, plaintiff asserted that its action had a sufficient basis in fact or law, as evidenced by the circuit court's denial, in part, of defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff stressed the importance of court records being accessible to the public and noted that defendant's claim regarding her failure to obtain alternative housing was incorrect where she was not currently agreeing to vacate the premises.

         ¶ 9 In reply, defendant maintained that section 9-121(b) did not require her to demonstrate that "both prongs of the statute are met," only that either the action was sufficiently without a basis in fact or law, or that sealing is in the interests of justice and those interests are not outweighed by the public's interest in access to the record. Specifically, defendant asserted that there was no basis in law or fact where (1) plaintiff's action was dismissed with leave to reinstate and plaintiff never moved to reinstate; (2) plaintiff's allegations were never adjudicated, thus they remain unproven and dismissed; and (3) under the terms of the agreed order jurisdiction in the case lapsed on December 31, 2016. Defendant further maintained that sealing the file would serve the interests of justice by allowing her a fair opportunity to find new rental housing. Defendant's affidavit stated she is "a resident in good standing at Elm Street Plaza" but would like to move but is unable to find "alternative housing." Defendant further averred she had applied to lease new housing, but her application was rejected because she had an "Eviction Record Match." Defendant also noted that the public's interest in access to court files is not absolute, particularly where the eviction court file is being used for an improper purpose. Defendant observed that "on the basis of unadjudicated allegations, landlords have already used and will continue to use their knowledge of this file to deny [defendant] access to rental housing."

         ¶ 10 After hearing argument in the matter, the circuit court initially determined that although the motion was brought over 30 days after the case had been dismissed with prejudice, it had subject matter jurisdiction because section 9-121(b) did not impose any time limit to bringing a motion to seal. Regarding the merits of the motion, the circuit court read section 9-121(b) to set forth "three separate elements" which must be established to seal a court file. The circuit court then concluded that defendant failed to establish the first element, that plaintiff's action was sufficiently without a basis in fact or law. In so concluding, the circuit court relied on the language of the agreed order wherein defendant specifically agreed to control her conduct in regard to plaintiff's employees thereby establishing that plaintiff's action did have a basis in fact and law. The circuit court concluded that since defendant could not establish the first element, it need not make any findings regarding the remaining elements. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 11 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 12 On appeal, defendant maintains that the circuit court improperly interpreted section 9-121(b) of the Act and thus erred when it denied her motion to seal. In response, plaintiff first asserts that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider defendant's motion to seal, and as a result this court lacks jurisdiction. As our jurisdiction is integral to rendering a ...


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