Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, October 18, 2019

City of Alton opposes judge substitution in suit over grass-cutting liens


By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Dec 21, 2018

The City of Alton opposes a substitution of judge in a lawsuit alleging the city failed to deliver grass-cutting liens personally or by certified mail.

S&J Real Property filed a motion for substitution of judge on Dec. 7 through attorney Shari Murphy of The Law Offices of Shari L. Murphy LLC in Wood River.

“This motion is presented before trial or hearing and before the judge assigned to the case has made a ruling on a substantive issue, and therefore should be granted,” the motion states.

Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth is currently presiding over the case.

The City of Alton filed a response to the plaintiff’s motion on Dec. 11 through attorney Charles Pierce of Pierce Law Firm PC in Belleville.

The defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to a substitution of judge because substantive arguments were heard in court on Dec. 7 and Ruth entered orders in the case. 

“This is a classic case of a party trying to ‘test the waters’ which is not allowed under this rule.

“Additionally, plaintiff made an oral motion for amendment of complaint, which was denied by the court.

“Plaintiff has forfeited their right to substitution of judge as a matter of right as a result of having substantive arguments and substantive rulings in front of Judge Ruth,” the response states.

Plaintiff S&J Real Property filed a motion for class certification on Aug. 21 through.

The plaintiff argues that the suit is about the City of Alton “slandering title to its residents’ real property by recording false removal cost liens for purported grass cutting.”

The plaintiff seeks to define the class as “all citizens that had a lien(s) recorded in the land records against their parcel(s) by City of Alton and was not served personally or by certified mail with a copy of said purported lien(s) that was recorded in the land records against their parcel(s).”

The plaintiff argues that there are questions of law that are common to all proposed class members, and a class action would be an appropriate method to resolve the matters.

“Despite the relatively small size of individual class members’ claims, their aggregate volume, coupled with the economies of scale inherent in litigating similar claims on a common basis, will enable this class action to be litigated on a cost effective basis, especially when compared with repetitive individual litigants,” the motion states.

Dugan entered an order regarding the plaintiff’s motion for class certification on Dec. 7, stating that the plaintiff is presently the undersigned counsel.

S&J Real Property filed the complaint individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated on Aug. 21 against the City of Alton.

According to the complaint, a lien is required for removal costs of neglected weeds and grass on a parcel of land and must be served either personally or by certified mail to whomever was sent the property tax bill for the parcel in the taxable year immediately preceding the removal. Otherwise, the removal cost is not a lien on the parcel.

S&J Real Property owns a property located at 946 Union Street in Alton.

The city allegedly recorded a grass cutting lien on the property for mowing and weed eating in the amount of $108.70, the suit states.

The plaintiff alleges Alton failed to serve the grass cutting lien personally or by certified mail.

The plaintiff argues that by placing the lien on the property, the defendant “slanders the title to real estate when it places said purported liens on parcels without personally serving or sending by certified mail said purported liens.”

The plaintiff seeks an award for the class members for their individual damages, plus attorney’s fees, costs and interest.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 18-L-1084

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Organizations in this Story

Pierce Law Firm, P.C. The Law Offices of Shari L. Murphy, LLC

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