Helping create better laws and policies is only part of our mission. We also enforce existing laws that are designed to protect people in poverty. While our sister agency, Legal Aid Chicago, does this work on behalf of individual clients, we use class action lawsuits to challenge violations that affect larger groups and communities of people.
When a homeowner fails to pay property taxes, Illinois counties can offer third-party investors an opportunity to purchase the outstanding tax debt. Most residential owners are given up to 30 months to repay delinquent tax debts and penalties, with interest. Unlike a mortgage foreclosure, where a homeowner can keep the money left over after their debts are paid, tax buyers can confiscate the property and keep the entire value above what was owed for the taxes and related charges. Legal Action Chicago – along with its partners at Guin, Stokes & Evans, LLC and Reed Smith LLP – have brought a lawsuit on behalf of a class of Cook County homeowners to recover this lost equity value. Additional plaintiffs include Chicago-based non-profit organizations Palenque LSNA and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), who serve communities that have been harmed by the County’s failure to promptly, fully compensate those affected by these practices. The lawsuit alleges that the County’s equity seizures, in addition to being discriminatory, violates the constitutional rights of all homeowners who have had their equity seized without just and fair compensation.
A copy of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois can be found here. The case has been captioned Bell, et al. v. Pappas, et al., Case No. 1:22-cv-07061.
Illinois law and Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance protect the rights of undocumented immigrants in Illinois and limit local law enforcement’s ability to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, this has not stopped LexisNexis Risk Solutions – a data aggregator that claims to have unique data profiles on 276 million Americans – from putting immigrants and activists at risk of harassment and deportation. Pursuant to a lucrative contract with ICE, LexisNexis has provided the agency with access to a massive database of public and private data in order to aid the agency’s enforcement efforts. In support of our partners at Just Futures Law, Legal Action Chicago is acting as local counsel to help Chicago-based immigration activists and organizations prosecute a lawsuit against LexisNexis. The lawsuit aims to permanently end the company’s relationship with ICE, and compensate those who have been harmed by this data-sharing arrangement. For more information, see the lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, as well as coverage of the lawsuit by the Associated Press and Law360.
As of October 3, 2022, this case has been removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and captioned Ramirez, et al. v. Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions, Case Number 1:22-cv-05384.
Legal Action filed its first class action lawsuit on behalf of clients Tracey Calhoun and Venancio Orozco, both of whom lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic and fell behind on their car payments. Then, their cars were remotely disabled by Chicago–based Overland Bond & Investment Corporation by activating “kill switches” previously installed by its car dealer partner Car Credit Center. These kill switches prevented the cars from starting and rendered them useless, causing the vehicles to sit idle for years while losing value. State law prohibits such conduct, and deprives consumers of what is often their only mode of transportation, and therefore their only way to sustain jobs that allow them to pay their bills. After Overland Bond disabled the Calhoun’s and Orozco’s vehicles, it sued them for the amount due on the loans – but Legal Action filed counterclaims against Overland Bond and Car Credit Center and has asked a court to allow Calhoun and Orozco to proceed as named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the companies.
For more information, see the proposed class action counterclaims, as well as coverage of the lawsuit in the Chicago Sun-Times. The case is now pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County, under the caption Overland Bond v. Calhoun, et al., Case No. 2021-M1-108114.
Public housing residents typically pay a reduced rent equal to a percentage of their income, but when that percentage falls below a certain amount federal law authorizes CHA to charge a minimum rent of $75 per month. CHA charges more than 1,400 public housing families the minimum rent. Legal Action Chicago, together with lawyers from the National Housing Law Project and McDermott Will & Emery, recently filed a motion in federal court seeking approval of a proposed settlement regarding CHA’s implementation of the hardship exemption to the minimum rent requirement on behalf of a proposed class of CHA public housing residents. As part of the proposed resolution, CHA will provide residents with improved notice of the hardship exemption and provide additional training for property managers. Upon approval of the settlement, CHA will also erase from each resident’s ledger all unpaid minimum rent charges imposed since July 2016, and provide eligible residents with rent credits for minimum rent payments they actually made since April 2020. For more information, to read the class action complaint and proposed settlement.
- Aug 5, 2022 Update – Oliver v. CHA Receives Preliminary Approval of Settlement Agreement – In a written order, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly of the Northern District of Illinois tentatively approved a settlement agreement designed to ensure that CHA public housing residents are aware that they can seek a hardship exemption if they cannot afford the minimum rent.
- April 10, 2023 Update – U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly granted final approval of the parties’ settlement agreement.
In the wake of the economic crisis created by the pandemic, families that had lost their jobs looked to the state for help in the form of unemployment insurance benefits. Unfortunately, the state could not keep up with the number of claims, and families faced long waiting lists and extended periods during which they received no income, driving many into poverty. Legal Action and its advocacy partners prepared a class action lawsuit to address the problem, and the threat of litigation led to productive settlement negotiations. The Department of Employment Security produced concrete and meaningful improvements, including increased staffing to shorten waiting lists and creative troubleshooting techniques to resolve bottlenecks in the system. This progress continued through 2021, and we are continuing our efforts to make further improvements.