Disparti Law Group prevails! On October 22, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of six Plaintiffs in a monumental and law-changing decision challenging the validity of the composition of the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board, a Cook County agency charged with overseeing terminations of Cook County Sheriff’s Officers.
The problem alleged by the Plaintiffs was that the Board was not legally-composed according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board Act, including by lacking appropriate term lengths, balancing of political affiliation of its members, and staggering of terms. Such requirements were in place to ensure that the Board maintained a balance of experience and political affiliation among its members that would help ensure fairness in its decisions and due process for officers facing hearings before it. Of particular note was that the Cook County Circuit Court and the Illinois Appellate Court had already ruled that the Board was invalidly-composed in 2014, and, again, twice in 2016. The Plaintiffs alleged that the Sheriff was still not following the statute or those Court orders, and sued for injunctive and declaratory relief, seeking to stop their cases from being heard by an illegal Board.
The Circuit Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ case in July 2018, reasoning that they had to raise the issue at the Board, let their proceedings run to completion, and then sue over the validity of the Board. On appeal, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois disagreed, finding that the Plaintiffs did not have to raise the issue at the Board before suing, and further finding that Plaintiffs did raise it sat the Board, but the Board declined to hear the issue. More importantly, the First District Appellate Court ruled that a little-known legal rule called the “de facto officer doctrine,” which can hold that decisions from agencies with defects are treated as if they are legally valid, did not apply because the Sheriff and the Board were already on notice of the issue from the 2014 and 2016 Court orders, but continued operating with defects anyway. The Sheriff filed an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which granted leave to appeal on September 25, 2019.
Faced with briefs by the Sheriff, Cook County, and the Board, and by the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago as amici curiae, these six Plaintiffs faced a David-and-Goliath fight against the three biggest governments in the State before its highest Court. In a sweeping decision, however, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs’ right to challenge agency defects on every front, and to seek back pay for periods they were wrongfully-suspended by the Sheriff pending a hearing before a Board that they alleged was invalidly-composed.
“This Decision is so important because it sends a message to government officials that they have to follow the law, and that they have to follow Court orders,” said Disparti Law Group Owner and Founder, Larry Disparti. Attorney Cass Casper, one of the attorneys who handled the case, added, “This whole situation could have been prevented if Cook County government officials had simply done what the law and the Courts said they have to do. The real win here is for government accountability and respect for the rule of law.”
The case has been remanded to the Circuit Court of Cook County for further proceedings, including potential class certification for all officers impacted by the decision and back pay.
The Disparti Law Group focuses on the key employment laws: discrimination, minimum wage, workplace safety & health laws, and workers’ compensation. We provide the highest quality representation for individuals in disputes against employers of all sizes, from small local businesses to the largest corporations. When it comes to employment law, Larry Wins