A Skokie inn has filed a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city of Chicago’s weed control ordinances.
On Oct. 6, Discount Inn Inc., of the 8000 block of N. Kenton Avenue in Skokie, filed suit against the city in federal court, arguing that the fines called for in the ordinances are excessive and that city property inspections violate landowners’ rights against illegal search and seizure.
Represented by Wheeling attorney Ilia Usharovich, Discount Inn asked Chicago’s federal court to strike down city ordinances that limit the height of weeds, require the installation of a fence around open lots and allows hundreds of dollars in fines to be imposed each time a landowner violates the rules.
It also wants the court to order the city to refund fines collected for violating the ordinances, and for other damages.
In its complaint, Discount Inn asserts that the city has carried out such weed control and fence enforcement actions against “more than 3,000” landowners in the city in the last two years, generating more than $6 million in revenue from the collection of these fines.
The fines --which range from $300 for violating the fence rule to as much as $1,200 for failing to keep weeds less than 10 inches in height-- violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S Constitution, which protects against excessive punishments for crimes, the inn asserts in its suit.
Essentially, Discount Inn argues that the punishment does not fit the offense.
On behalf of the inn, Usharovich wrote in the complaint that the fines are “grossly disproportional to the gravity” of the “offenses of failing to cut their weeds, and thereby violates the 8th Amendment.”
“Plaintiffs assert that the punishment of $600-$1,200 for not cutting weeds and the punishment of $300-$600 for not having a fence shocks the moral sense of the community in that it is simply too high and can ruin a person living check to check in this economy,” Usharovich asserts in his client’s suit.
Discount Inn admits that it is facing prosecution from the city for violating the weed control and fence ordinances, and has been hit with fines ranging from $200 to $1,200 for violating the ordinances “on numerous occasions within the past two years.”
It also argues that city’s tactics to enforce the ordinances, which includes sending city workers onto private property to measure the height of the weeds or to determine if a violation of the fence ordinance has occurred, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
According to the complaint, Discount Inn believes a warrant is needed to carry out such enforcement actions.
Discount Inn also alleges that the city violated state law by charging fines in excess of $750, something it claims state laws governing home rule municipalities do not allow.
And it argues that the city does not have the authority under state law to enforce weed ordinances, claiming that such actions fall under the purview of the Illinois Department of Agriculture under the state’s Noxious Weed Act.
The plaintiff contends that by requiring landowners to mow and dispose of all weeds that are 10 inches or taller, the city is encouraging the potential transportation of “noxious weeds” to other locations without a permit, as required by the state noxious weed law.
In its complaint, Discount Inn asked the court to allow its suit to proceed as a class action and to let it serve as class representative with its attorney, Usharovich, serving as class counsel.