Schiff Secures Landmark Pro Bono Win for Homeless in Illinois

In a landmark case supporting the constitutional rights of homeless people in Illinois, the Schiff Hardin team secured the rights of two clients to panhandle to raise money to meet their basic needs.

Our two clients had long struggled with homelessness and unstable housing. Both clients would regularly panhandle at an intersection in Downers Grove to raise money. They would stand in the median strip with signs asking for help, and when the lights were red would occasionally walk up to vehicles to accept contributions from drivers who were stopped at the intersection. Despite never interfering with the flow of traffic, local police regularly harassed and ticketed our clients for violating a provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code and a companion Village Ordinance. The laws criminalized standing in roadways for the purpose of “soliciting contributions from the occupant of a vehicle” but exempted organized charities with local permits. The local ordinance further exempted political and religious speech.

In partnership with the ACLU of Illinois and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, we filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois against the Village of Downers Grove, the individual police officers who ticketed our clients, the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Illinois State Police (the state agency charged with enforcing the statute). We argued that the state law and village ordinance were unconstitutional content-based regulations of speech that were not justified by any compelling interest.

Recognizing the strength of our case, the Attorney General’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office immediately agreed to a stipulated preliminary injunction to halt enforcement during the lawsuit, and the Village repealed the local ordinance while the litigation was pending. We then successfully opposed a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Village and individual officers. The court agreed that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, because the state statute and ordinance violated clearly established First Amendment precedent and further held that the Village could be held financially liable under the Monell doctrine, which allows a municipality to be held liable for promulgating unconstitutional policies or practices.

After we defeated the motion to dismiss, all of the defendants agreed to settle on terms favorable for our clients and other homeless people in Illinois. The Village paid each of our clients, and the State and County agreed to a stipulated permanent injunction barring enforcement of the statute.

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