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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Court Filing Fee is Constitutional

On April 10, 2014, an Illinois appellate court upheld as constitutional an $8.00 filing fee imposed on all civil litigants in Peoria County.  Lipe v. Edward O’Connor

When the  plaintiff filed a small claims action in Peoria County, he was charged an $8.00 “neutral site custody exchange fee.”  He paid the fee under protest, and then filed a class action complaint challenging the fee’s constitutionality, arguing that the fee “unreasonably interfered with access to the courts and deprived him and other plaintiffs of property without due process.”  The trial court granted the county’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that the fee was constitutional.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the fee violated the free access clause of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, which provides that “every person shall find a certain remedy in the laws for all the injuries and wrongs” and “shall obtain justice by law, freely, completely, and promptly.”  The appellate court disagreed, and upheld the filing fee.  First, the filing fee was  imposed equally on all litigants.  Second, the fee was intended to support ancillary court services and compensate the county for services related to the operation and use of the neutral site custody exchange for family visitation.

When enacting a new fee, it is important for local governments to first analyze whether the fee bears a rational relationship to the purpose for imposition of the fee.  In this case, the court determined that a filing fee on all civil litigants was rationally related to the county’s need to finance the operation of the custody exchange program.

Post Authored by Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski, Ancel Glink


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