Madison County not liable for policies at children's exchange center, appeals court affirms

By John Breslin | Jan 14, 2019

A man who claimed that a Madison County child custody exchange center violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act by unfairly making non-residential parents - usually fathers - wait longer than residential parents has had his lawsuit tossed.

The Fifth District Appellate Court on Jan. 4 affirmed Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth who dismissed a suit filed by James Agee of Alton against Madison County. Ruth found that the county does not own, operate, or refer families to “The Madison County Kids' Corner” in Wood River, and Agee failed to file a counter affidavit or other documentation to keep his lawsuit going forward.

In his complaint, Agee claimed he was discriminated against over the arrangements put in place by Kids Corner, which he alleged was operated and owned by the county.

His complaint turned on the exchange of the child, which he said required the "non-residential parent" to arrive at the center 15 minutes prior to the handing over, and wait another 15 minutes to allow "residential parent" to leave the area.

A substantial majority of "non-resident parents" are male, Agee alleged, adding that “as a practical matter, men and women are subject to disparate treatment based on nothing more than their biological sex.” This is a violation of the civil rights act, Agee alleged.

But the county filed an affidavit and other documentation proving it "did not own, operate, or refer families to the center, and the plaintiff filed no counter affidavit or other documentation in response."

KIds' Corner is managed by the Children First Foundation, an independent organization, and that the county is not involved in setting down center policies or rules.

Further, the county does not state which individuals should participate in the exchange, rather it is mandated by the Third Judicial Circuit, the panel of appeals judges ruled.

"Assuming that the complained-of policies implemented by Kids’ Corner are discriminatory in violation of the Act, the issue of whether the defendant operates Kids’ Corner or otherwise implements the complained-of policies is an easily proved issue of fact which would defeat the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant," Justice James Moore wrote in his judgment. Justices Thomas Welch and Melissa Chapman concurred.

They held that Madison County, by presenting an adequate affidavit supporting its defense that it did not operate Kids’ Corner or otherwise implement its policies, satisfied the initial burden of going forward on the motion. 

"The burden then shifted to the plaintiff," the ruling states. "Although a counteraffidavit was necessary to refute the evidentiary facts established by the defendant’s affidavit supporting its motion, the plaintiff did not produce any counteraffidavit or other evidence...Accordingly, the trial court correctly found that the plaintiff failed to carry the shifted burden on this issue of going forward, and correctly granted the motion to dismiss."

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