The Appellate Strategist
Argument Report: When May the Homeowners' Association Security Stop and Detain?
Our reports on the civil oral arguments of the Illinois Supreme Court's November term conclude with Poris v. Lake Holiday Property Owners Association. Our pre-argument preview of Poris is here. You can watch the oral argument here.
The plaintiff owns property in the Lake Holiday Development, and is a member of the defendant Association. The defendant Board of Directors has adopted various rules and regulations for the governance of its property, including speed limits. The Board has hired private security officers to enforce the speed limits, bought vehicles and equipped the vehicles with oscillating and flashing lights, radar units and audio and video recording equipment. The Board's security officers were empowered to issue citations to homeowners for violations of the rules.
The plaintiff was stopped by a security officer for speeding on Association property. He sued the Association, every member of its Board, the chief of security and the officer who stopped him, seeking a declaration that the practices of the Association's security department -- including its recording of officers' stops and its use of radar guns -- were illegal. The plaintiff also pled claims for false imprisonment, willful and wanton conduct, breach of fiduciary duty, nuisance and an accounting. The Circuit Court granted summary judgment on all counts; but the Appellate Court reversed in part, reinstating the plaintiff's challenges to the security officers' stop-and-detain and to the security department's use of oscillating lights on its vehicles, as well as plaintiff's false imprisonment claim.
Before the Supreme Court, counsel for the homeowners' association argued that the subject roads were private, and the fundamental issue at bar was one of self-governance of a private association. Justice Thomas asked whether LaSalle County police officers patrolled the private roads. Counsel responded that they did, but the enabling ordinance didn't prohibit the Lake Holiday security officers from doing so too. In response to a follow-up question from Justice Thomas, counsel explained that LaSalle officers could issue speeding citations in the development, but this was unusual, since the officers were aware of the development's security. Justice Thomas asked whether Lake Holiday Security could issue citations to non-members, and counsel responded that if the non-members were guests of members, the member would be responsible for the citation. Justice Thomas asked whether the general public used the development's private roads, and counsel responded that very few members of the public did. Justice Garman asked whether the Association's power to enact rules was unlimited. Counsel responded that the Association could not enact rules that were violative of due process, fraudulent or arbitrary. Justice Burke asked whether Lake Holiday Security could conduct field sobriety tests and issue citations for driving while intoxicated. Counsel said no, since driving under the influence is a violation of the state code, not the Lake Holiday rules. Justice Thomas asked whether the homeowners' association security was analogous to private university police or mall security. Counsel answered that it was; in the wake of the Appellate Court's decision, private organizations around the state didn't know what they could and could not do to enforce their rules. Justice Freeman asked whether DUIs or accidents involving fatalities on Lake Holiday property were reported to the Secretary of State so that licenses could be suspended or revoked. Counsel answered that the LaSalle County sheriff would police such situations. In response to a question from Justice Theis, counsel confirmed that Association citations didn't affect driving privileges; they were issued to enforce members' private contract rights. Justice Freeman asked whether there were any consequences for members who sped repeatedly on the property, given that citations were not reported to the Secretary of State. Counsel responded that Lake Holiday Security could speak to the LaSalle County Sheriff.
Plaintiff responded that in fact, drivers from outside the development regularly passed through the "private" streets. Justice Thomas asked plaintiff how plaintiff was detained, and he responded that he had been pulled over, and his license taken. Justice Theis asked whether plaintiff had a right to be heard on the citation. Plaintiff responded that the Citation Committee had sent him to the Board of Directors - the entity which heard his appeal, which he was suing. Justice Garman asked plaintiff whether the security officer had pulled a gun on him during the stop; plaintiff responded that he had been ordered back into his vehicle and had decided to remain there, defusing the situation. Justice Thomas asked plaintiff whether he was cross-appealing the dismissal of his claims for unlawful use of radar and recording equipment. Plaintiff responded that the claims were illustrative of the Security Department's attempts to act like a police department. Justice Thomas asked plaintiff whether the citation amounted to little more than a warning, since it didn't go to the Secretary of State - don't residents want some sort of constraint on people driving through the area at high speed? Plaintiff responded that the Board had a variety of options, including the LaSalle County Sheriff, speed bumps and speed cameras.
On rebuttal, Justice Thomas asked counsel for the homeowners' association what happened when an officer stopped someone who was neither a resident nor a guest of a resident. Counsel responded that officers warned the driver that he was in violation of Association rules and trespassing. When counsel analogized the plaintiff's false imprisonment claim to alleging false imprisonment where a development requested drivers' licenses at the access gate, Justice Freeman responded that drivers had a choice of whether to enter under such circumstances -- plaintiff had no such choice. Counsel argued that the plaintiff had agreed to the rules of the association. Justice Freeman pointed out that the relevant rules had been adopted after the plaintiff acquired his property, but counsel for the homeowners' association argued that the plaintiff could have fought the rule, run for the association board, or left. Justice Burke asked whether the association's officers were licensed to carry weapons. Counsel responded that officers could carry weapons for which they had certification, but were specifically barred from carrying guns.
We expect a decision in Poris in two to four months.