Ruth dismisses claims in Saline Township suits; gives plaintiffs time to amend

Amelia Flood Apr. 25, 2011, 11:00am

A new order dismissing a number of claims contained in a series of sexual misconduct suits filed against Saline Township and a former official marks the first action in the cases in months.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth entered the order in the suits brought against Saline Township and its former Supervisor Alvin Steiner April 21.

The last action in the case had taken place in January when Ruth issued an order dismissing a number of the plaintiffs' claims while taking Gender Violence Act and civil rights issues under advisement.

In the April order, the judge dismisses claims brought by plaintiffs Elizabeth Watkins, Jamie Miener and Melanie Hedlund against Saline Township under Illinois' Gender Violence Act, finding that the law is not meant to apply to municipalities but rather individuals.

The judge also took issue with their claims of violations of the state's Civil Rights Act and claims filed by plaintiffs Laura Barry and Ailie Ritchie that failed to meet the one year statute of limitations test.

Watkins, Miener, Hedlund, Ritchie, Barry, and plaintiff Tara Reding all filed suit last year against Steiner and Saline Township on claims that Steiner sexually harassed and groped them when they came to Saline Township seeking public aid.

Steiner resigned from his position in 2009.

The first suit filed by Watkins originated in January 2010.

The cases were consolidated for the purposes of hearing but not joined.

Saline Township and Steiner have denied the claims and fought suits since their filings.

The defendants had won dismissals on parts of the plaintiffs' first complaints.

Ruth allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaints.

Saline Township argues that the Gender Violence Act was meant to apply to abusive individuals and not townships.

It also contends that it can't be held responsible for Steiner's actions because, as township supervisor, he had sole authority of the administration of the town's general assistance fund.

The plaintiffs had argued that Saline Township was Steiner's superior – a claim Ruth rejected in previous rulings – and that the township ignored and facilitated Steiner's behavior.

In the April 21 order, Ruth finds that the Gender Violence Act applies to human beings.

"A review of the Gender Violence Act (GVA), the purpose of the statute, and the Statute of Statutes leads to the conclusion that the GVA does not create a cause of action against a municipal corporation," Ruth's order reads. "The Statute of Statutes states that the use of the term 'person' may include a municipal corporation; however, case law indicates that words must be interpreted in the context of the statute they are included in. While plaintiffs are in the class of individuals meant to be protected by the GVA the preamble indicates they are to be protected from their batterers, which in this case would be Mr. Steiner."

The judge also finds in the order that the plaintiffs have not pled sufficient facts to state a claim under the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

The judge also sides with Saline Township on the matter of Steiner's position relative to the general assistance funds.

Ruth grants a conditional dismissal of the civil rights claims but the order gives the plaintiffs 30 days to amend.

"This Court has given Plaintiffs' counsel leeway in attempts to plead a cause of action; however, that leeway is not unlimited," the order notes.

Upon any amendment of the claims, Saline Township will be allowed to respond and be heard, according to the order.

Thomas and Peter Maag represent the plaintiffs.

Lori Vanderlaan and others represent Saline Township.

Mark Weinheimer represents Steiner.

The suits are Madison case numbers 10-L-31, 10-L-145, 10-L-178, 10-L-219, 10-L-309, and 10-L-555.

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