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Ignorance of the Law is Still No Excuse

February 17, 2022 5:30 PM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

By:  Linda Sackey

In Lewis v. Village of Alsip, 23 F. 4th 772 (7th Cir. 2022), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reminded the public that “[p]eople must learn about their legal obligations.” Their failure to do so is no defense.

The Village of Alsip has enacted an ordinance that prohibits parking on any primary snow route at any time within 12 hours after a snowfall of one inch or more. Primary snow routes are streets marked with signs designating them as primary snow routes. The ordinance also bans parking on any secondary snow routes at any time within 24 hours after a snowfall of three inches or more. Secondary snow routes are all streets in the village that are not designated primary snow routes.

During a snowstorm, Shellie Lewis left her car parked on a public street in the village that, as it turned out, was a secondary snow route. She was fined $50 for violating the ordinance. Most people do not enjoy receiving a parking ticket; however, Lewis apparently was so displeased that she filed a lawsuit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. §1983. She claimed that the village violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to mount signs on every street to warn drivers when snow requires them to remove their vehicles.

The district court dismissed Lewis’s complaint, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed its decision. Citing Texaco, Inc. v. Short, 454 U.S. 516, 532 (1982), the court of appeals explained that “[g]enerally, a legislature need do nothing more than enact and publish the law, and afford the citizenry a reasonable opportunity to familiarize itself with its terms and to comply.”

The Seventh Circuit rejected Lewis’s claim that traffic regulations were a special constitutional matter. The court found numerous decisions holding that traffic laws were not exceptional. For instance, in Cochran v. Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, 828 F.3d 597, 600 (7th Cir. 2016), the Seventh Circuit ruled that “[d]ue process does not require a state to post signage notifying all those entering of its laws and regulations. Rather, the statute or regulation is adequate notice in and of itself as long as it is clear.”

In short, this opinion rests on the well-known principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

DISCLAIMER: The Appellate Lawyers Association does not provide legal services or legal advice. Discussions of legal principles and authority, including, but not limited to, constitutional provisions, statutes, legislative enactments, court rules, case law, and common-law doctrines are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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