Courts side with alarm industry in Illinois

Efforts by public entities to monopolize fire alarm monitoring suffer setbacks in recent rulings
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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.—Two court decisions in late August bolstered the alarm industry’s position in an ongoing dispute in Illinois over public entities taking control of fire alarm monitoring away from private companies.
“This bodes well for the future,” Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association (IESA), which is based here, said of the most recent judicial rulings.
The alarm industry had already won one round this summer, when a federal judge in July issued a partial summary judgment and a permanent injunction against the Lisle-Woodridge fire district. That public fire district had invalidated contracts that ADT and other companies had with their customers and put itself solely in charge of commercial fire alarm monitoring in that Illinois fire district. ADT and the other companies sued the district last year in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and the case is making its way through the courts.
Judge Milton Shadur in his July 20 ruling slapped down the fire district, saying state law did not give public fire districts any legal right to be in the fire alarm monitoring business.
But the fire district, which maintains it needs to take control of fire alarm monitoring for safety reasons, then asked the judge to stay the injunction, which essentially reinstated the alarm companies’ right to resume fire alarm monitoring in the district. However, the judge denied that motion Aug. 23 and took the fire district even more strongly to task.
“This case involves an act of illegal self-aggrandizement by a fire protection district,” the judge wrote in his decision. He also said the district had violated “fundamental principles” by “trampling on the rights of companies going about their legitimate business of providing alarm security services.”
The fire district appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. But on Aug. 31, that court denied the motion to stay the permanent injunction.
Lehan called that decision at the appeals level, a “great feather in the cap” for the industry.
Lehan also noted Judge Shadur’s “rather devastating language to the district about the merits of their claim.”
He said that “one of my favorites” was this statement by the judge: “And District's claimed bugaboo of endangering the health and safety of the alarm monitoring systems customers glossed over—or more accurately ignores entirely—the record's silence as to any such risks during the years that the independent alarm companies have been providing their services to customers within the fire protection district.”
Lehan said, “Basically he’s saying that that public safety argument that you’ve been telling everyone … there’s no history of it.”
IESA has not only been monitoring this court battle, but has worked over the past year to fight legislation that would have enabled public entities to monopolize the fire alarm monitoring business in the state, and also is working to combat efforts by other communities to take over fire monitoring.
Lehan said IESA is “plowing the ground for the rest of the country,” because he contends that if the public entities succeed in their efforts in Illinois it will spread to other states.
He said that in recognition of IESA’s efforts the national Electronic Security Association signed up as the sponsor of an IESA’s membership meeting Sept. 14. State Rep. Robert Rita was listed as the keynote speaker to address industry licensure issues.