A street in Downers Grove. | Wikimedia Commons
CHICAGO — Downers Grove is facing a federal lawsuit challenging anti-panhandling laws.
Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons have both held signs asking for money at the intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads in Downers Grove. In a complaint filed Aug. 20 in Chicago, the men say they have “been harassed, ticketed, prosecuted and fined for expressing (their) needs in this manner.”
The suit names the village as a defendant as well as six police officers who wrote tickets under the Illinois Vehicle Code’s solicitation statute, which they allege is unconstitutional. Other defendants named in the action include DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and Brendan Kelly, acting director of the Illinois State Police. The man also allege a Downers Grove ordinance that bars asking for money from people in cars — but exempts charitable solicitation — violates First Amendment rights.
Fines for violating that ordinance range from $75 to $750 and can include a year of court-ordered supervision.
According to the complaint, the state’s solicitation law allows pedestrians to stand in highway medians while collecting signatures for political candidates or distributing certain types of literature. It also allows municipalities to pass laws that exempt charity groups registered with the state, but does not allow exemptions for panhandlers. Dumiak and Simmons said panhandlers don’t pose any more risk to public safety or traffic flow than anyone else allowed to walk on medians.
“The statute is not tailored to address government interests such as public safety or traffic flow,” according to the complaint. “It prohibits all panhandling in the street, regardless of location, traffic volume or time of day. It also prohibits all panhandling from medians and curbsides, even where vehicles may pull over safely and lawfully, or where they must stop at a traffic light or stop sign.”
In the complaint, the men detailed their reasons for soliciting money from vehicles and said other groups regularly soliciting at the Butterfield-Finely intersection include the Salvation Army, Girl Scouts and the firefighters union. Simmons said on May 10 members soliciting on behalf of Clearbrook, a local nonprofit group, told him they had a permit to be there and ordered him to leave.
Simmons said he has three misdemeanor convictions for soliciting, has been arrested and detained for failure to appear and been sentenced to three months of supervision, 10 hours of community service and given about $750 in fines and court costs. Dumiak has two arrests and $220 in fines and costs, he said.
Attorneys for the men work for Schiff Hardin LLP, of Chicago, the ACLU of Illinois and Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. According to the complaint, lawyers sent a letter to Downers Grove March 19 asserting the solicitation statute is unconstitutional and asking for the men to be allowed to panhandle and for the village to dismiss any pending charges, but the village has yet to respond. On March 25, the lawyers forwarded the letter to Berlin, who dismissed charges against Simmons on April 1, but otherwise didn’t respond.
The men asked the court to declare the state law and village ordinance unconstitutional on its face and as applied to them, and they seek injunctions barring enforcement of those laws as well as damages against the village and police officers for violating their constitutional rights and the reimbursement for the cost of the litigation.