Bus lawsuits dismissed in Ford County

PAXTON — As promised, a Champaign charter bus service has dropped all of its pending small-claims cases against passengers in Ford County Circuit Court.

On Tuesday afternoon, attorney James Long of the Chapin & Long law firm in Champaign filed motions to dismiss 103 cases filed by the bus company, Suburban Express Inc. 

One day earlier, seven other Suburban Express cases were dismissed. Six others had been dismissed earlier this year.

It was not immediately clear whether Suburban Express was also planning to reverse the judgments that had been entered against defendants in its 10 other cases filed in Ford County. Circuit Clerk Kim Evans said she contacted a Suburban Express attorney Tuesday to get an answer to that question, but she had not received a return call as of Wednesday.

The News-Gazette reported Tuesday that 124 cases had been filed in Ford County by the bus company since November, but the number is actually 126. The confusion was due to some cases being filed under a misspelling of the bus company.

Suburban Express decided to voluntarily drop its cases in response to a backlash from University of Illinois students. The lawsuits, many against UI students, were for alleged violations of the company's "terms and conditions."

One issue raised by UI students was that because the cases were filed in Ford County, the students named as defendants were not eligible to receive free representation from the UI's Student Legal Services, which only offers such assistance for cases filed in Champaign County.

Suburban Express said it filed the cases in Ford County — even though none of the defendants live there or bought a Suburban Express bus ticket there — "because of the wide open court calendar, easy parking and service with a smile." The company added that its "terms and conditions," which each customer must agree to before buying a ticket, had specified that Ford County is the designated venue for any legal action.

"We recognized that this legal approach of trying to uphold our agreement with customers carries with it a negative perception that we do not intend," said an email Monday from Dennis E. Toeppen of Champaign, president of Suburban Express Inc. "Instead, we will look at other ways of communicating and upholding the terms and conditions of our ticket-purchase agreement, which is designed to ensure convenience and efficiency for all of our customers."

The terms and conditions of purchasing tickets were revised effective Monday.

Toeppen's decision to have the lawsuits dismissed came on the same day that Ford County Judge Steve Pacey entered an order in favor of a change of venue for one of the cases.

Pacey said in his order that it is "obvious" that having Ford County serve as the venue would be an "inconvenience" to the defendant, who lives in Lake County. Pacey said the venue is improper because the defendant does not live in Ford County and the transaction was not made in Ford County.

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