Paulson opposes motion to dismiss class action against East St. Louis; Agrees to drop punitive damage claim against city

By Steve Korris | Sep 19, 2013

EAST ST. LOUIS – Attorney Alvin Paulson has dropped a claim for punitive damages in a federal class action he filed against the City of East St. Louis in July.

Illinois law bars punitive damages against local government.

Paulson represents three real estate companies of the Sieron family alleging the city used its ordinances to gain customers and collect debts for trash hauler Waste Management. He also serves as city attorney for Mascoutah and Fairview Heights, and counsel for St. Clair County.

“As it appears the city is invoking its right to the provided affirmative defense, Plaintiffs concede to the city’s request to strike all prayers for punitive damages against the city,” he wrote in a brief opposing a motion to dismiss the action.

Paulson filed 17 counts against the city and two against Waste Management.

He claimed city hearing officers weren’t trained.

The city moved to dismiss, asking District Judge David Herndon to take judicial notice of the city’s long struggle against accumulation and dumping of trash and garbage.

City counsel John Sabo wrote, “The Court itself is a long term resident of the city occupying the same courthouse since 1910 and should be familiar with this history and the conditions in the community and neighborhood surrounding its own courthouse.”

“The real crux of plaintiffs’ complaint is that plaintiffs, as absentee landlords, don’t want to pay for trash collection service or be otherwise responsible for the condition of trash on their properties,” he wrote.

Sabo wrote that the Sieron plaintiffs owned nearly 150 residential parcels in the city.

He states that it was difficult to discern from the complaint how hearing officers weren’t trained or how any lack of training infringed on due process. He also wrote that the complaint didn’t state who issued the citations in dispute.

The complaint also does not allege the city actually collected a debt for Waste Management, according to Sabo.

In response, Paulson accused the city of slinging mud.

“Specifically, plaintiffs object to the city’s assertion that the plaintiffs are absentee landlords,” he wrote.

Paulson wrote that state law on debt collectors applies because “collection need only be attempted not accomplished, and such attempts may come about by indirect means.”

"[I]f one does not pay their Waste Management bill, they will not only have to pay Waste Management, but they will have to deal with the city’s citation as well," he wrote.

“This practice is clearly coercive and has the practical effect of enticing delinquent bill payers into paying their Waste Management bill more so than if citations were not issued at the behest of Waste Management’s delinquent customer list.”

Paulson wrote that Robert Betts issued citations and presided over hearings on the citations.

“Plaintiffs contend that they personally have suffered due to inadequate officer training," he wrote.

“All that is required here is an allegation that hearing officers require a requisite amount of training to be qualified as hearing officers and that an officer who held citation hearings lacked such training.

“What the exact requirements are for hearing officers are not up for debate at this stage of litigation.

“The city cannot just regularly issue citations to its citizens without proof of an ordinance violation and then claim their administrative remedies are adequate despite making its citizens continually defend such citations.

"The city has been running their scheme unchecked for too long.

“Even if the city were to dismiss every citation it has reprehensibly issued before making a final determination it would not render moot the fact that such litigation was brought vexatiously and contrary to the law in the first place.”

He objected to the request for judicial notice of trash history as completely irrelevant.

Paulson conceded he couldn’t maintain four counts against the city.

He voluntarily dismissed a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and claims under Illinois municipal code, collection agency act, and consumer fraud act.

Waste Management hasn’t answered the complaint, because Paulson originally named the wrong subsidiary as defendant.

He amended the complaint on Aug. 26, Waste Management accepted service, and Herndon set a Sept. 27 deadline for its answer.

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