The Appellate Strategist
When Can Private Security Stop and Detain?
Today we begin a new feature for Appellate Strategist -- detailed previews of civil cases just granted review in the latest term of the Illinois Supreme Court. This week we will review the late May grants, and the feature will continue shortly after the end of each term of the Court.
Poris v. Lake Holiday Property Owners Association [pdf] brings several questions before the Court about the powers of private security forces. Plaintiff owns property in the Lake Holiday Development, and is a member of the defendant Association. The Association Board of Directors has adopted rules and regulations for the governance of Association property, including speed limits. The Board hired private security officers to enforce the limits, bought vehicles and equipped the vehicles with oscillating and flashing lights, radar units and audio and video recording equipment. Officers were empowered to issue citations to homeowners for violations.
Plaintiff was stopped by a security officer for speeding on Association property. The encounter played out pretty much like any traffic stop with a policeman would: officer takes driver's license, driver waits, officer writes citation.
Plaintiff sued the Association, every member of its Board, the chief of security and the officer . Count I sought a declaratory judgment that the practices of the Association's security department were illegal. Counts II and III alleged breach of fiduciary duty and willful and wanton conduct. Count IV alleged false imprisonment. Counts V through XII alleged breach of fiduciary duty and willful and wanton conduct by each board member, and the Chief of Security. Count XIII alleged nuisance and Count XIV sought an accounting. The Circuit Court wasn't impressed, tossing the whole thing on summary judgment.
But the Appellate Court held that the driver had stated certain claims after all. The Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure, 725 ILCS 5/107-3, gives private citizens -- and a private security officer is nothing more than a private citizen in this state -- the authority to make an arrest when he or she has "reasonable grounds to believe than an offense other than an ordinance violation is being committed." But hold on, the Court said -- the officer wasn't stopping the plaintiff for committing an "offense" -- plaintiff got stopped for violating the Association's speeding-on-Association-property rule. So the Association's stop-and-detain rule may be a problem.
Ever wonder who gets to flash red lights on the highways? Under Illinois law, the answer is "[v]ehicles used by a security company, alarm responder, or control agency." 625 ILCS 5/12-215(b)(13). Well, the parties agreed that the Association wasn't an "alarm responder" or "control agency" -- but the Association claimed it was a "security company." Not so fast, the Appellate Court said, quoting from the Association's articles of incorporation. So back goes that claim too.
The Court then reviewed several less controversial claims -- the Association could use its recording equipment since officers turned it off whenever anyone objected, and it could continue to use the radar gun -- the Court turned to the plaintiff's false imprisonment claim. The result of this one was pretty much a foregone conclusion after the holding on stop-and-detain -- the Association clearly had a problem. And so it did: reverse with instructions to enter judgment against the Association with respect to liability.So what comes next? It's difficult to predict. There is no obvious conflict in authority in the Appellate Court opinion, so the Supreme Court likely concluded that this was a sufficiently common problem across the state to justify its intervention. Also, note how interconnected the claims are. Speeding is both an Association rule and a commonplace offense; if the Court blurs the distinction, the first declaration and the reversal on false imprisonment fall. Although the Association isn't a security company, perhaps the security force is -- if that's so, then the declaration regarding those flashing red lights might be overturned too.