Illinois’ First District Appellate Court has affirmed a Cook County judge’s ruling an Evanston doctor and several John Does have no standing to sue Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown to challenge how Brown processes certain court fees they contend, by law, should be used to fund juvenile intervention programs.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rainbow Push Coalition and four John Does launched a suit in 2011 against Brown, in her role as circuit clerk, and against Cook County. Physician Mark J. Schacht later replaced Jackson and the Rainbow Push Coalition in the suit. Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans also was added as a defendant.
The suit revolves around a state law authorizing counties to impose fees when an initial pleading or appearance is filed in a civil case, for minor traffic offenses and for felony, misdemeanor, business and petty offenses. In some cases, the circuit clerk is to remit these fees to the county treasurer, while, in other cases, the money is to be deposited into accounts for the operation of certain programs.
For the purpose of the suit, Schacht presented himself as a Cook County taxpayer who had paid filing fees in connection with litigation, as well as fees and costs for minor traffic violations, all in Cook County. The John Does are people who paid fines as juvenile offenders and had been allegedly eligible to take part in a juvenile intervention program that should have been funded by a portion of the court fees underlying the case. Plaintiffs filed on behalf of all Cook County taxpayers.
Plaintiffs claimed fees collected by Brown were never remitted. The fees were to go to the following funds: court automation, document storage, court system, mental health court, youth diversion program, drug court, operation and administrative fund, peer court, children’s advocacy center and children’s waiting room.
Plaintiffs filed a six-count complaint, seeking return of court automation, document storage and children’s waiting room fees, which they called “court taxes” and which they said violate the Illinois Constitution. They further wanted an injunction to force the circuit clerk to remit these “court taxes,” as well as all fines improperly collected, to the county treasurer to be disbursed in accordance with the law.
Plaintiffs sought another injunction to make the defendants perform their required duties. Lastly, they sought to enjoin Cook County from diverting money to the operation and administrative fund and to Fund 883, which is also known as the Cook County Administration Fund.
In May 2013, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. Cook County Judge Thomas Allen granted the motion three months later. Allen ruled the statutes which authorized the fees did not imply a private right of action and plaintiffs could not contest criminal “fines” imposed on them. The requests for injunctions were moot, because plaintiffs had no “protectable interest against the Clerk and the County.”
Plaintiffs took the case to the First District Appellate Court, arguing Judge Allen mistakenly believed plaintiffs were trying to enforce a private right of action when they were claiming standing as taxpayers and individuals directly affected by the clerk’s failure to use the court funds as required by law.
The appellate justices pointed out taxpayers have standing to challenge the misuse of public funds because they may have to pay higher taxes as a result of the misuse, constituting a “specific injury.” However, the court said, in this case, plaintiffs did not show they, as taxpayers, must or will be required to pay more taxes as a result of the circuit clerk’s alleged “misappropriation” of fees intended to support certain juvenile intervention programs.
The John Doe plaintiffs also argued they should have standing because, during the time they were subject to the juvenile justice system, the clerk’s decision to not remit the fees to fund the juvenile intervention programs deprived them of the opportunity to take part in those programs.
Appellate justices knocked down this argument by noting they did not pay fines to take part in the programs. Rather, the fines provide a means of funding the programs; the fines do not buy eligibility for the programs. Likewise, an injunction would not benefit the John Does, because they are no longer under the authority of the juvenile justice system.
Justice Laura C. Liu delivered the judgment and opinion, with justices John B. Simon and P. Scott Neville concurring.