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The preclusive effect of summary suspension hearings in subsequent adjudication.

Hurlbert v Charles, No. 109041, 2010 WL 3705182 (Ill Sup Ct)

On September 23, 2010, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that the Circuit Court of Champaign County's finding of probable cause at the hearing on plaintiff's petition to rescind his statutory summary suspension, pursuant to 625 ILCS 5/2-118.1, did not bar the issue of probable cause from re-litigation in a civil suit for malicious prosecution.

On October 2003, defendant, a police officer with the City of Urbana, received a report of a stolen pickup truck. Around 2 a.m., defendant saw plaintiff pass him in a pickup truck closely matching the description of the stolen pickup truck. After following plaintiff and comparing plaintiff's license plates to the description of the stolen truck, the officer concluded the two were not the same. However, he did observe plaintiff weaving into the other lane of traffic. Defendant subsequently pulled plaintiff over and reported that plaintiff smelled of alcohol, admitted to consuming several beverages that night and slurred his words. Plaintiff was arrested and taken to the Champaign County jail where he declined a breathalyzer test.

Plaintiff's license was summarily suspended pursuant to 625 ILCS 5/11-501.1. Plaintiff filed a petition to rescind the suspension, arguing that defendant did not have reasonable grounds to believe he was driving under the influence of alcohol. The trial court denied the motion to rescind, finding that the officer did have probable cause for the stop. On September 24, 2007, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue for malicious prosecution. In the civil claim, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant pursued a prosecution for DUI despite plaintiff's lack of any demonstrable signs of impairment.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the trial court's decision not to rescind the suspension collaterally estopped re-litigation of the issue of probable cause. Since the summary suspension court had found that probable cause existed in the earlier hearing, defendant argued, plaintiff could not re-try this matter for purposes of the civil action.

Plaintiff pointed to People v Moore, 138 Ill 2d 162, 561 NE2d 648 (1990), which held that collateral estoppel did not apply to statutory summary suspension hearings. In response, defendant argued that the decision in Moore only applied to criminal proceedings. The trial court agreed with the defendants and granted summary judgment. The appeals court affirmed, holding that plaintiff had fully litigated the issue of probable cause previously and therefore was barred from doing so again.

The Supreme Court of Illinois held that probable cause was an element of the case plaintiff would need to prove in his civil suit and agreed with the appellate court that the issue met the three requirements of collateral estoppel. Thus, the sole issue on appeal was whether collateral estoppel applied to an issue in a civil case previously decided in a statutory summary suspension hearing.

In Moore, the court held that even though a criminal case appeared to have all of the elements necessary for an application of collateral estoppel, the results of a statutory summary suspension did not act as a bar to relitigation for a criminal DUI trial. In deciding Moore, the court considered the differences in procedure between an administrative hearing and a criminal case. It also noted the legislative design between a swift and simple license suspension procedure and a more severe criminal adjudication. The court worried that giving statutory summary suspensions the effect of collateral estoppel would raise the procedural bar in those hearings to the level of an official adjudication in a court room. This, the court reasoned, would undercut the purpose of suspension hearings: to deal quickly with the issue in a less formal setting.

In this case, the Supreme Court of Illinois ruled that the fundamental concern in Moore was about the effect on the statutory summary suspension procedure, not on the subsequent adjudication. To that end, a civil trial presents exactly the same risks to the summary suspension hearing's procedures if collateral estoppel is enforced. As a result, license revocation summary suspension hearings are not given preclusive effect in subsequent civil litigation.
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Title Annotation:cases: ILLINOIS SUPREME COURT
Publication:Illinois Bar Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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