"It’s a void judgment.”
With those words Madison County Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian wiped out a $104,259.17 judgment that he awarded against Granite City last year.
Attorney Thomas Maag, who would have collected a fourth of the judgment, saw his $26,016.67 fee evaporate at an Aug. 16 hearing in Matoesian’s court.
Maag exclaimed, “It’s void, your honor?”
“It’s void,” Matoesian answered.
He ordered judgment in July 2004, in favor of plaintiff Armettia Peach. She claimed water leaked through a roof and damaged a house at 9 Briarcliff Drive. Her lawsuit alleged that the city improperly approved an occupancy permit.
Maag originally sued not only the city but also Kevin Link, who previously owned the property; David Lambert, a contractor who worked on the house for Link, and an unknown city inspector.
Link and Lambert responded to the suit. Granite City did not. Peach dismissed Lambert and conditionally dismissed Link.
Peach moved for default judgment against the city. In granting it, Matoesian wrote that the purchase price was $70,000, and repairs cost $8,242.50, for a total of $78,242.50.
On top of that he awarded Maag's attorney's fees.
In November, Maag demanded $104,259.17 in a letter to the city. The city hired Alton attorney Jane Unsell, who moved to vacate the judgment.
It took nine months to bring the motion to a hearing. Matoesian took it up Tuesday.
Unsell told Matoesian the city had meritorious defenses and showed due diligence. She said the court had no personal jurisdiction over the city or the inspector.
Unsell also said a party can sue another whose name is unknown, but the party must sign an affidavit and publish notice. She said the plaintiff did not do those things.
And, she stated that the court had no subject matter jurisdiction.
Unsell explained that in Peach's suit, count one asked more than $50,000 from Link and count two asked more than $50,000 from Lambert.
“Nowhere in this complaint is there any relief asked for against Granite City,” said Unsell.
"Relief cannot exceed the amount requested in a complaint."
Maag told Matoesian a suit against an officer of a municipality is a suit against the municipality.
“No clever argument can get around that fact,” said Maag.
He claimed that an inspector was an "alter ego" of the city.
Maag reminded Matoesian that in a hearing last year the judge told him to go to every courtroom to see if anyone represented the city.
“The plaintiff went around trying to find somebody who represented the city in this case,” Maag said. He said he called attorneys who had represented the city in the past.
No one at the hearing brought up the curious fact that Peach, according to county records, paid nothing for the property.
Records show that Link sold it to Chad Carpenter for $68,900. Carpenter signed the title over to Peach on a quit claim deed seven months later.
Last year, she sold the property for $40,000.
Link told the Record in March that Peach gave him $20,000 in $20 bills as a down payment. He said he did not know Carpenter until Peach brought him to the closing.