Print Friendly, PDF & Email

On March 16, 2012, the First District Appellate Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in a case that has significant ramifications on liability of a landowner under the Illinois Animal Control Act. Johnson & Bell represented the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in a lawsuit filed by Steven Cieslewicz, the Independent Administrator of the Estate of Anna Cieslewicz, Mary Murphy-Smith and Charles Smith in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The claims arose from dog attacks which occurred in the Dan Ryan Woods, which is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The offending dogs were a pit bull and a mixed breed.

On January 12, 2003, while Anna Cieslewicz was jogging in the Dan Ryan Woods, the dogs viciously attacked her, and she died as a result of her injuries. The same dogs chased down Mary Murphy-Smith who was also jogging that morning, and the pit bull brutally mauled her causing permanent injuries. Plaintiffs later filed suit against the Forest Preserve District of Cook County alleging that the Forest Preserve District was liable as a statutory owner under the Animal Control Act because it "knowingly permitted" the offending dogs to remain in the Dan Ryan Woods. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Forest Preserve District on the grounds that there was no evidence that anyone from the Forest Preserve District exercised care, custody or control over the offending dogs, and there was no evidence that the Forest Preserve District "knowingly permitted" the offending dogs to remain in the Dan Ryan Woods. Plaintiffs appealed.

The First District Appellate Court affirmed finding that under prior precedent, to be held liable as a statutory owner under the Act, Plaintiffs were required to show that Defendant exercised some measure of care, custody or control, and there was no such evidence adduced in this case. With respect to Plaintiffs' claim that by not taking steps to capture or eject the offending dogs earlier, the Forest Preserve District "knowingly permitted" the dogs to remain on the property, the Appellate Court found that there was no evidence that the Forest Preserve District permitted stray dogs to roam in the Dan Ryan Woods. The evidence adduced was to the contrary. Moreover, there was no evidence that anyone from the Forest Preserve ever saw the offending dogs prior to the attacks, and therefore, the Forest Preserve District could not be deemed a statutory owner.

The case is Cieslewicz v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County, 2012 IL App (1st) 100801, 100812-U (1st Dist. March 16, 2012). The Forest Preserve District was represented by Johnson & Bell attorneys William V. Johnson and Joann T. Angarola in the trial court, and David Macksey and Garrett Boehm, Jr. in the appellate court.