Illinois Supreme Court to Consider Possible Limits on Homeowners Association Security

Our preview of the civil cases on the Illinois Supreme Court's November oral argument docket continues with Poris v. Lake Holiday Property Owners Association [pdf], a case which poses a number of interesting questions about the limits on the authority of private security forces. Our initial look at Poris, just after review was granted, is here.

The defendant homeowners association is governed by a board of directors. Prior to the events at issue, the board had established a security department for the development, bought vehicles for the department, fitted the vehicles with oscillating and flashing lights, radar units and audio/video recording equipment. The board adopted a speed limit of 25 mph for all the association's road, applying escalating fines for violations: $50 for a first offense between 1-10 mph over, $100 for exceeding the limit by 11-15 mph, and $200 for a first offense going sixteen or more mph over the limit.

When the plaintiff was pulled over, he was allegedly traveling at 34 mph. Plaintiff got out of his car, but the security officer told him to return to it; he then approached the vehicle and took the plaintiff's Association membership card and drivers license. The officer then returned to his security vehicle and wrote a citation. When he again approached the plaintiff's car, four and a half minutes later, he told plaintiff that he was being recorded. The officer identified himself as Association security, and the plaintiff allegedly said the officer had no authority to detain him. The officer responded "I am not detaining you."

The plaintiff sued the association, its entire board of directors, the chief of security and the officer involved in his stop. Among other things, the plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that the practices and procedures of the Association security department were unlawful, as well as seeking damages for false imprisonment. The Circuit Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on all fourteen counts, but the Appellate Court reversed in part.

First, the Court addressed the security officers' authority to stop and detain. Private security guards have no more authority than private citizens, the Court found. Thus, a security guard may only detain a citizen if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that an offense is being committed. 725 ILCS 5/107-3. The Court held that since the speed limits were Association rules rather than statutes, the plaintiff's alleged speeding was not an "offense." Therefore, the security officers had no authority to stop and detain for speeding.

Next, the Court turned to the security officers' use of amber oscillating lights on their vehicles. According to the Illinois Vehicle Code, such lights may be used only on certain types of vehicles, including security companies, alarm responders and control agencies. The Court held that the Association was not a "security company," so the use of amber oscillating lights on the vehicles was likewise unlawful.

The security officers' use of video and audio equipment was not a violation of the Illinois eavesdropping statute, the Court found. The Criminal Code provides that taping is unlawful unless all parties to a conversation consent. 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1). Consent can be implicit as well as explicit. The Court concluded that when plaintiff was told that the conversation was being taped but continued talking anyway, he gave implicit consent to the taping. Nor was the security department barred from using radar to measure speed, since the applicable provision of the Vehicle Code, 625 ILCS 5/11-612, merely regulates the use of radar to enforce the law, as opposed to Association rules.

Finally, the Court turned to the plaintiff's claim for false imprisonment. Given that the plaintiff was directed by an individual wearing a uniform, a badge and a duty belt to wait in his car (without his license), the Court found that plaintiff's liberty was restrained. Since violation of the Association's rules is not an "offense" justifying restraint, the plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on his claim for false imprisonment.

Poris will be argued during the 9:00 a.m. session of the Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 20.

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