Rock Island Coutny BOR v. Cuchra: Illinois Court of Appeal Upholds Board's Suspension of Member for Violating Code of Ethics

In 1988 the Appellate Court of Illinois addressed the 90-day suspension of a Board member for Code of Ethics violations. The court held that the defendant had proper notice of the alleged ethics violations and that the Board's Code of Ethics was not vague.

Barbara Cuchra (defendant) was a real estate agent at Lohman Brothers Real Estate. She was the listing agent for residential property located in Rock Island. In January 1984, the Francis family made an offer to purchase the property through Acuff, a real estate agent for Southtowne Realty. A few days later, the Ortega family made an offer to purchase the property through the defendant's co-agent, Frank Cuchra. However, the Ortega's offer did not state, as required, that it was a back-up offer to the Francises' offer. Both offers were contingent upon the buyers obtaining Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) loan commitments.

On February 1, 1984, IHDA held a lottery drawing to determine loan eligibility. The Ortegas immediately became eligible for a loan, while the Francises were placed on a stand-by list. A conflict arose as to which family was entitled to purchase the property. A meeting to resolve the dispute was held between the Ortegas, the Francises, the defendant, and Mizer (of Lohman Brothers). The Francises refused Mizer's request that they rescind their offer and purchase different property. Mizer also informed them that the defendant had learned earlier that day that they had become eligible for an IHDA loan. The Francises secured the necessary financing and eventually purchased the property. The Ortegas purchased a different home.

Both the Ortegas and the Francises filed a complaint with the Board. The Board's Professional Standards Committee found that the defendant violated Articles 3 and 9 of the Code of Ethics, and imposed a 90-day suspension. The defendant sued the Board, alleging that she did not receive fair notice of the charges, and that both the complaint and Articles 3 and 9 of the Code were unduly vague. The circuit court granted the Board's request for declaratory relief. The defendant appealed.

The Appellate Court of Illinois first addressed the notice claim, stating that courts may "annual expulsions from voluntary associations . . . when the expulsions are contrary to rudimentary due process or natural justice." The court also stated that "among other factors, rudimentary due process includes reasonable notice of the charges against the accused." The court found that the complaint received by the defendant specified the code violations of which she was accused. It also found that the attached correspondence of the Ortegas and Francises set forth, in detail, their grievances against the defendant. Thus, the court held that the defendant had notice of the charges against her.

The Appellate Court of Illinois also addressed the vagueness issue. The court noted that the terms used in Articles 3 and 9, such as "unethical practices in real estate transactions" or "concealment of pertinent facts," were susceptible to common understanding and provide fair notice to the members of the Board. Thus, the court found that the articles were not unduly vague. The appellate court affirmed the circuit court judgment.

Rock Island County Board of REALTORS® v. Cuchra, No. 3-87-0623 (Ill. App. Ct. July 13, 1988). [Note: This opinion was not published in an official reporter and therefore should not be cited as authority. Please consult counsel before relying on this opinion.]