AG seeks default judgment against Suburban Express, accuses it of stalling

AG seeks default judgment against Suburban Express, accuses it of stalling

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is seeking a default judgment against Champaign-based Suburban Express and is accusing the bus company of stalling.

Madigan sued the bus company and its owner, Dennis Toeppen, in April for alleged discrimination and harassment of his customers, with the goal of getting the company to follow the law or go out of business.

The two parties have been negotiating a settlement, but Madigan said in a motion Friday that Toeppen hasn't responded to her office since an Oct. 9 settlement conference.

"The defendants sent an October 9 email message to the state regarding settlement terms. After receiving the email, the state attempted to contact the defendants on multiple occasions via telephone and email in an effort to further settlement discussions, and emailed the defendants a draft of settlement terms in accordance with suggestions made by the court," the motion said. "The defendants have not responded to any of the state's communications."

Instead, Madigan's office believes Toeppen is stalling.

"Based on the content of the defendants' October 9 email message to the state and the defendants' apparent unwillingness to communicate further regarding settlement terms, and instead merely delay this matter, the state does not believe further settlement efforts will be productive," the motion read.

A hearing was held Wednesday in Chicago, where the matter was delayed until Dec. 5.

With her lawsuit, Madigan is seeking $50,000 per deceptive act or unfair practice, an additional $50,000 per deceptive act or unfair practice committed with the intent to defraud, $10,000 for offenses against people older than 65 and up to $10,000 per defendant for each unlawful act of discrimination.

The lawsuit stems from an email advertisement Suburban Express sent in December 2017 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 Madigan's office to determine whether Suburban Express had violated the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Suburban Express and Toeppen have been complying with a temporary restraining order requiring the company to remove personally identifying information from its website, stop retaliating against customers for negative reviews and remove language from its contract prohibiting negative reviews.

As negotiations continued, Toeppen's lawyer withdrew due to unpaid fees and a strategic impasse, and a lawyer has been appointed for the purposes of negotiating a settlement.

Suburban Express also faces lawsuits from its insurance companies, which are seeking declaratory judgments that they correctly denied coverage for damages resulting from Madigan's lawsuit.

Hearings in those cases were also held Wednesday, and Toeppen was granted more time to answer those lawsuits.

Toeppen has requested that The News-Gazette not contact him for comment.