A Cook County judge has shot down a class action suit
brought by a suburban medical records company, which alleged the Cook County
Circuit Clerk’s Office wrongly charged litigants with fees for filing certain
types of motions, ruling the company should have paid the fee under protest and
pursued other options, rather than lodge a lawsuit.
The Sept. 15 decision was rendered by Judge Sophia Hall against
Schaumburg-based Midwest Medical Records Association Inc. According to the
company, it provides “information release services for medical facilities.”
Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown
The company filed suit in November 2015 in Cook County
Circuit Court against Cook County, alleging Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy
Brown’s office improperly collected filing fees for interlocutory motions. Such
motions are submitted by litigants seeking answers to legal questions arising
while cases are in progress.
The suit claimed Brown overreached her authority, as state
law only permits her to charge fees ranging from $50 to $90 – depending at what
point in proceedings the motion is filed – for a motion to “vacate or modify
any final judgment or order of the court.” Plaintiffs argued interlocutory
orders are not “final,” so Brown has no power to exact the fee.
Midwest Records said its attorney had to pay a $60 fee in
2013 to lodge a motion asking that an interlocutory order be reconsidered. The
company said thousands of people could join the suit, considering the number of
interlocutory motions regularly filed. Plaintiffs wanted the county to refund
the fees allegedly collected in violation of the law and pay plaintiffs’ legal
costs, as well as unspecified damages.
Midwest Records’ class action was consolidated earlier this
year with similar suits brought by Renx Group and Tomica Premovic.
On June 1, Cook County filed a motion to dismiss, making
several arguments, all of which found favor with Judge Hall this month.
Cook County maintained Midwest Records wrongly relied on a
2011 ruling from First District Illinois Appellate Court in making its case.
Hall agreed, noting the appellate ruling concerned the amount of a filing fee,
not whether the fee should be charged in the first place, so the ruling did not
Hall also agreed with the county’s reasoning that plaintiffs
knowingly paid the fee without protest. By doing so, they forfeited the right
to turn around and sue.
Midwest Records tried to slip around this thorn by claiming
duress, in that if they had not paid the fee, they would have lost their chance
to be heard in court. However, Hall said the facts plaintiffs presented on this
score were weak, especially given plaintiffs were not operating on their own,
but were represented by an attorney when the disputed fee was paid.
Midwest Records also had to defend their right to sue, by
showing they were directly injured by the fee requirement, rather than they
suffered in some indefinite sense. Midwest made their pitch in this regard by
contending they were the intended beneficiaries of the law, because the law
limited the fee amount to protect parties, such as Midwest, from excessive
Hall concluded that on the contrary, the county is the party
who is supposed to reap the benefit, and consequently Midwest has no footing to
sue. Going beyond this, Hall said the proper way for plaintiffs to contest the
interlocutory motion fee was to pay it under protest, then pursue other
available remedies short of a lawsuit.
Hall dismissed the suit, but set a status hearing for Oct. 5
to address any further moves.
Midwest Medical Records is
represented by the Chicago firm of Myron M. Cherry & Associates. Cook County was defended by the Cook County
State’s Attorney’s Office.