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Landmark Victory Denying Absolute Judicial Immunity for Cook County Board of Review

Landmark ruling was issued in the Northern District of Illinois (case #10cv 6682) denying the Cook County Board of Review and by extension possibly other agencies, quasi-judicial immunity for alleged Constitutional violations. [decision: Read Here] This decision is a historic victory for all residents of Cook County and Chicago who could prove that the County agency, despite grants of immunity to the individual Commissioners and staff committed Constitutional violations. The Court's order and memorandum cited Hernandez v. Sheahan, 455 F. 3d 772 (7th Cir. 2006) at 776 in which the Seventh Circuit had ruled that entities whose policies are unconstitutional are not entitled to immunity derivative of the possible immunity granted to their employees.

The Supreme Court in Butz v. Economou (438 U.S. 478) sought to equate judicial adjudication with administrative adjudication and granted absolute immunity to the executives of the Agriculture Dept. Grants of immunity against suit were by extension later given to other Federal agencies, and then state agencies. In deciding to grant immunity, the courts have scrutinized the functions of government bodies and whether they are not only functionally comparable in function to that of a judge but also whether state bodies have multiple safeguards in place to protect against unconstitutional conduct.

Plaintiff's lead counsel R. Tamara de Silva commented, "The term 'quasi-judicial' is not a conclusory term-it requires a scrutiny of function. The Cook County Board of Review is not functionally similar to any court of law nor as this suit states, does it employ any procedural safeguards against its violations of the United States Constitution. In this case, the Cook County Board of Review ("BOR") ruled upon the Plaintiff's tax appeal citing no precedent, no written opinion, no reason and exactly no rationale. It acted for improper motives simply because it thought it could."

The Supreme Court in Butz identified the removal of a board from political influence as one of the factors determining that a body has sufficient procedural safeguards against Constitutional violations. The complaint in this case charges that the BOR is the quintessential political body in Cook County. Ms. de Silva had this to say, "As this case charges, all three Commissioners on the BOR have used or attempted to use that office as a stepping stone for higher political office by building campaign war-chests by accepting and soliciting campaign contributions from the attorneys and law firms that practice before them in exchange for preferential treatment.

Joseph Berrios was able to successfully run for Cook County Assessor after accumulating over $3 million from the lawyers and law firms that practiced before him while he was a commissioner. Tort lawyer and Commissioner Larry R. Rogers Jr. accumulated well over $1 million and considered running for Mayor. Brenda Houlihan did not raise quite $1 million and was not re-elected Commissioner. In fact discovery would show-even members of the Commissioner's staff are running for office and accepting if not soliciting campaign funds from the lawyers and firms that practice before them."