Quick take on Palm v. 2800 Lake Shore
By Michael T. Reagan, Law Offices of Michael T. Reagan, Ottawa
Palm v. 2800 Lake Shore, while nominally about the circumstances in which a condominium unit owner can obtain the records of the condominium association, is fundamentally about whether the section of the Chicago Municipal Code dealing with that subject is a valid exercise of the City’s home rule power. The court also decided that the prevailing plaintiff unit owner, entitled to attorneys fees pursuant to the ordinance allowing recovery of "his reasonable attorney fees," is not limited to the fees actually charged by his attorney, but could recover greater fees at the reasonable market rate established by the evidence. The circuit and appellate courts were affirmed.
The association defendants asserted that the Chicago ordinance conflicted with the Condominium Property Act and the General Not For Profit Corporation Act. The statutes require unit owners to state a proper purpose for obtaining association financial books, limit requests to ten years of records, and allow the association 30 days in which to gather the records. The ordinance does not require statement of a purpose, does not restrict the age of the documents, and requires production with three business days. The parties and the court all agreed that the ordinance conflicted with the statutes.
The court rejected defendants’ argument that in the event of a conflict, a valid exercise of home rule power permits only the passage of a more restrictive provision than the statutes. "The fact that the state has occupied some field of governmental endeavor, or that home rule ordinances are in some way inconsistent with state statutes, is not in itself sufficient to invalidate the local ordinances." To limit home rule authority, the General Assembly must do so specifically.
The 15 page majority opinion by Chief Justice Kilbride is accompanied by a 21 page dissent of Justice Freeman, joined by Justice Burke, and an 11 page special concurrence by Justice Thomas. The heavy lifting of responding to the dissent was undertaken by Justice Thomas; little, if any, mention of the dissent is found in the court’s opinion.
The court identified a possible jurisdictional problem during its review of the briefs, raised the question at oral argument, and ordered supplemental briefs. The jurisdictional doubt was removed by that process.