Class action tossed vs Cook County Circuit Clerk over fees for filing motions that aren't 'final'

By Dan Churney | Sep 27, 2016

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.” 

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. 

Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown  

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 apply. 

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 fees. 

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.

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Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Myron M. Cherry and Associates, LLC

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