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Casamento v. Berendt

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

September 18, 2018

CHARLES A. CASAMENTO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
EMILY BERENDT, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County, No. 16-LA-116; the Hon. Thomas A. Meyer, Judge, presiding.

          Jennifer L. Turiello and Dominick L. Lanzito, of Peterson, Johnson & Murray-Chicago, LLC, of Chicago, for appellant.

          W. Randal Baudin, of Crystal Lake, for appellee.

          Panel SCHOSTOK JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Zenoff and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHOSTOK JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The defendant, Emily Berendt, the president of the Village of Bull Valley (Village), requested that the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) investigate whether the plaintiff, Charles A. Casamento, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The ARDC found that he had not. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a complaint sounding in libel against the defendant, based on statements the defendant had made in her filing with the ARDC. The defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint on the basis that her actions were subject to immunity pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 775 (eff. Dec. 11, 2011). The trial court denied the defendant's motion in part. The trial court found that the defendant's statements that pertained to the unauthorized practice of law were subject to immunity. However, the trial court found that three statements were extraneous to an unauthorized practice of law inquiry and thus were not subject to immunity. In conjunction with its partial denial of the defendant's motion to dismiss, the trial court entered a finding pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. July 1, 2017), certifying the following question:

"Are statements unrelated to the unauthorized practice of law in a complaint submitted to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission immunized under Supreme Court Rule 775?"

On April 13, 2018, we granted the defendant's application for leave to appeal. We now answer the certified question in the affirmative.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On November 30, 2015, the defendant submitted a "Request for Investigation" to the ARDC, alleging that the plaintiff had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The defendant asserted that the plaintiff, a painting contractor and not a lawyer, was providing legal advice and offering legal services to other contractors at Village administrative hearings regarding their defenses against citations issued or arrests made by the Village's police department for operating unmarked work vehicles. The defendant alleged that the plaintiff had told other contractors that he would represent them in a planned class action against the Village. Specifically, the plaintiff allegedly said to them, "I am here to help people fight this" and "I now represent you pro bono."

         ¶ 4 The defendant further asserted that she believed that the plaintiff's envisioned class-action lawsuit concerned purported illegal activities (i.e., unlawful arrest and detention) by the Village's police department. She explained that the plaintiff had inundated the Village with demands under the Freedom of Information Act (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2016)), seeking the production of tickets, police reports, and disciplinary action documents concerning Village police officers. In October 2015, she noted, the plaintiff had staged and videotaped a traffic stop related to the operation of an unmarked contractor work vehicle in the Village. The plaintiff then posted the recording on a Facebook page titled "Justice from Bull Valley Police Department" that he originated. On this page, he encouraged readers to contact him directly for legal advice. The defendant further stated that the plaintiff used the page to harass Village employees and elected officials and their families and to threaten them with litigation.

         ¶ 5 The defendant additionally stated that the plaintiff had set up an account through the website GoFundMe.com to solicit donations for his planned class action lawsuit against the Village. The plaintiff had contributed to local news segments and newspaper articles concerning the Village's issuance of citations for unmarked work vehicles. The plaintiff became angry after one of his employees received such a citation. The plaintiff also frequently attended Village board of trustees meetings, during which he called for the resignation of certain Village officials.

         ¶ 6 On March 28, 2016, following an investigation, the ARDC determined that there was insufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff had ever held himself out as an attorney or handled any legal matters.

         ¶ 7 On April 5, 2016, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant sounding in malicious prosecution. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant had reported him ...


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