Suburban Express could face temporary restraining order

Suburban Express could face temporary restraining order

CHAMPAIGN — Along with a lawsuit from the Illinois Attorney General seeking to put Suburban Express out of business for alleged discrimination and harassment, owner Dennis Toeppen faces a potential temporary restraining order that would force him to change contract language and take down customers' private information.

A hearing on the restraining order is scheduled for Friday in Chicago, where the lawsuit was filed, before Judge Andrea Wood.

"I've also asked the court to take immediate action to force the owner of Suburban Express to take down consumers' personal financial information, stop harassing customers and stop forcing them to accept unfair contract terms," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said this week.

Besides posting consumers' home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses on the company's "Page of Shame," which has been taken down, Madigan alleges that Toeppen didn't redact credit-card numbers when posting court documents on his website.

"He has filed over 100 lawsuits against students. The lawsuits are filed in Ford County, which is an inconvenient location for students, who presumably do not have a car," Madigan said. "And once he files these lawsuits, he often posts them on his website, along with exhibits that contain customers' full credit-card and sometimes bank-account numbers, in complete disregard and violation of their privacy rights."

Toeppen declined to comment when contacted Wednesday by The News-Gazette.

But in a post this week on the company's Facebook page, in addition to calling the lawsuit an "unfounded assault on our reputation," he denied the allegation that he had posted credit card numbers.

"The complaint contains allegations that are completely false," the post says. "For instance, it claims that we post customer credit-card numbers online. We have never done that. Not once."

'Vindicated'

The mother of one of the former University of Illinois students Suburban Express sued said she is relieved by Madigan's lawsuit.

"I definitely felt very vindicated," said Robin Mauro of Bloomingdale when she heard about Madigan's lawsuit.

Suburban Express sued her daughter, Annie, in 2013, over a $16 chargeback fee and $10 collections fee.

After a nearly four-hour court case, the judge decided in Annie Mauro's favor.

But after the ruling, Toeppen appears to have created a website criticizing the judge's decision and posting copies of Mauro's purchase history, ticket usage and a transcript of the court case.

That site has been taken down, but it is still available through the Internet Archive's copy of the website.

Robin Mauro said she had reached out to Madigan's office but was told it was just a civil matter.

"They weren't going to handle it. There weren't enough people involved to make it a big thing," she said.

But then in December, Suburban Express sent an email ad saying its benefits included "Passengers like you. You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses."

That led to a swift backlash, apologies and a subpoena from the attorney general to determine whether Suburban Express had violated the Illinois Human Rights Act.

"That just changed the whole dynamic," Mauro said.

She then contacted Madigan's office, which reached out to her in February.

"I sent them everything I had," said Mauro, who now was impressed with how the attorney general's office handled the matter.

They "did their due diligence. They had lots of people working on it," she said.

She was invited to Monday's press conference announcing the lawsuit but decided not to go.

"I thought it was going to be a mob scene," Mauro said. "He upset a lot of people."

Despite now feeling vindicated, she admitted to "mixed feelings" about Madigan wanting to shut down the company.

"I don't want him to go out of business, but if he isn't going to change his business practices, he shouldn't be in business," she said.

'Potential harm'

With the motion for a temporary restraining order, Madigan is asking the judge to force Suburban Express to:

— Delete any personal identifying information that's been made public within 24 hours.

— File motions in court within 72 hours to remove any personal information from court documents.

— Notify within 72 hours any customers whose personal information has been made public.

— Immediately stop retaliating against customers for negative reviews.

— Within 24 hours, remove language from its contract that prohibits negative reviews.

"Suburban Express doesn't simply leak personal information of its customers, it purposefully pours it out, all in blatant violation of the Personal Information Protection act," Madigan wrote in a memo supporting her motion for a temporary restraining order.

She argues that a temporary restraining order is necessary because "the potential harm to Illinois citizens is considerable."

Without such an order, Madigan argues that "Illinois consumers, in the interim, will be made to bend to the requirement that they either forego negatively reviewing the company, or face public ridicule and permanent banishment from Suburban Express' services.

"Customers will continue to fear retribution from Suburban Express, with it publishing personal attacks against them using the customer's name and other identifying information, with such information available to anyone with an internet connection," Madigan wrote.

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