Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ruth, City of Alton dismissed from suit alleging slander from grass-cutting liens; Ruth sued for denying substitution of judge

State Court

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jan 14, 2020

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Claims against Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth and the City of Alton have been voluntarily dismissed in a class action alleging Alton residents’ titles were slandered by the delivery of grass-cutting liens.

On Dec. 10, attorney Shari Murphy of Wood River filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on behalf of the plaintiffs, requesting dismissal for the City of Alton and Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth.

Associate Judge Thomas Chapman dismissed the defendants without prejudice on Dec. 11.

S&J Real Property LLC originally filed the complaint on Aug. 21, 2018 against the City of Alton. However, the plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint for a second time and add a claim against Ruth in his official capacity on April 5.

S&J Real Property argued that Ruth violated class plaintiff Marilyn Dilly’s right under the Illinois and United States Constitution when he denied her request for a substitution of judge on March 22. Dilly was added as a plaintiff in the first amended complaint.

“Leave to amend is to be freely granted to do substantial justice, and the amendment likely must be done in this lawsuit to avoid res judicata issues,” the motion stated.

The plaintiff’s proposed second amended complaint was filed April 8 and included a count “complaining of Dennis R. Ruth in his official capacity as Madison County Circuit Court judge.”

In the proposed amended complaint, Dilly sought an order declaring Third Judicial Circuit Local Rule 4.01 be declared unconstitutional and be enjoined from further enforcement.

Third Judicial Circuit Local Rule 4.01 “denies plaintiffs equal protection and due process of the law under the United States Constitution and Illinois Constitution by treating plaintiffs as inferior to defendants in their ability to exercise multiple substitutions of judge without cause; constitutes special legislation that targets one type of litigation to be different or inferior to other non-class action types of cases, a violation of the Illinois Constitution, and violates the United States Constitution by infringing on First Amendment rights of persons to associate as a group without discrimination,” the proposed amended complaint states.

The plaintiff argued that prior to Ruth’s March 22 ruling, he referenced that the purpose of the court rule “was to curtail repeated substitutions of judges by plaintiffs in class actions.”

Dilly filed the motion for a substitution of judge on Feb. 20.

The City of Alton filed a response to the plaintiff’s motion for substitution of judge on Feb. 26 through attorney Charles Pierce of Pierce Law Firm PC in Belleville.

Alton argued that substitution of judge is improper after the court denied S&J Real Property’s motion for a substitution of judge on Jan. 4. The defendant had previously argued that the plaintiff’s request for a substitution “is a classic case of a party trying to ‘test the waters.’”

“Given that S&J Real Property, the original putative class plaintiff in this matter, has filed a motion for substitution of judge, further motions for substitution are not allowed,” the response stated.

Alton argued in its motion to dismiss the first amended complaint that S&J Real Property lacked standing to bring the case because it voluntarily paid the lien at issue. The defendant also argued that Dilly lacked standing to assert her claim because she was tendered proper notice of the lien by certified mail.

I an Aug. 26 response to the plaintiffs’ motion to amend the complaint, Alton argued that a hearing on its motion to dismiss had been rescheduled three times.

“Defendant would like to get this case moving and have their motion to dismiss heard. It has been unable to do so while plaintiffs litigate the side show of this claim against the court,” the response stated.

“While plaintiff is of course free to tilt at windmills, the proposed claims have nothing to do with the claim against the City of Alton and the City should not be dragged along and have its case bogged down by this added count,” the response continued.

The defendant also questioned how a claim against Ruth could be litigated in Madison County.

“A claim against a governmental official in his official capacity is considered to be essentially a claim against the entity itself,” the response continued. “As such, plaintiffs seek to sue the Madison County Circuit Court. Defendant questions how this judge, or any judge of this court, can sit in judgment over the Madison County Circuit Court itself and ultimately be asked to enter an award against that entity, i.e. the Madison County Court.”

After the motion to file a second amended complaint was filed, Chapman was assigned to the case.

According to the plaintiffs’ 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.

Dilly owns a property located at 1261 State Street in Alton.

The city allegedly recorded a grass cutting lien on the property for mowing and weed eating in the amount of $74.19, the suit states.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 18-L-1084

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Organizations in this Story

Madison County Circuit CourtThe Law Offices of Shari L. Murphy, LLC

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