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Critical win for Melrose Park and enforcement of its residency requirement for employees

The Village of Melrose Park has a residency ordinance for its employees which requires them to live within the Village within six months of employment, and to maintain residency throughout employment.  John Cannici, a Melrose Park firefighter, grew up in Melrose Park and lived in town for most of his life.  After graduating from college, he applied for and was hired as a firefighter.  At the time of hiring, he lived in Melrose Park and continued to do so after he got married and started a family.  In 2008, he and his wife purchased a second home in Orland Park and his wife and two children moved into that home.  Between 2008 and 2013, Cannici remained in his Melrose Park home alone and visited Orland Park on the weekends and days off. Starting in 2010, Cannici listed his Melrose Park home for sale, and periodically dropped the price as listing contracts expired.   In 2013, after reading up on the Rahm Emanuel case (Maksym v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, 242 Ill.2d 303 (2011)), he leased his home and, like Rahm Emanuel, left some personal effects at the Melrose Park home, and maintained the Melrose Park home for his mail, driver’s license, professional licenses and bank statements.  He then moved in with his family at the Orland Park home. When Cannici learned his residency was being investigated by Melrose Park in 2016, he moved back into the Melrose Park home.

Cannici was charged with violating the residency ordinance, and after a hearing before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, he was terminated.  He challenged the Board’s decision in Circuit Court claiming that his termination was contrary to the law as set out in Maksym, and that he was denied due process, and that the termination violated his due process rights.  The case was removed to federal court on the basis of his constitutional claims.  The district court dismissed the federal claims and remanded the case to state court. Cannici appealed the dismissal of the federal claim which was affirmed by the Seventh Circuit ( Cannici v. Melrose Park, 885 F.3d 476 (7th Cir. 2018)), and the Circuit Court of Cook County affirmed the Board’s decision on Administrative Review Act count which had been remanded to state court. Cannici appealed the circuit court’s decision to the Illinois Appellate Court which affirmed the Board’s decision on May 29, 2019, in an unpublished order (2019 IL App (1st) 181422-U) but granted a motion to publish on June 24, 2019.

Cannici primarily argued that, pursuant to Maksym, his residency was established in Melrose Park and residency once established remains unless the challenger establishes that residency was “abandoned”.  Cannici contended his testimony that he never intended to abandon his residency, his continued ownership of the property, payment of expenses associated with ownership, his receipt of mail at the Melrose Park home, and the temporary nature of the lease, did not establish abandonment.  Cannici argued that his stated intention to return to Melrose Park in the future was enough for him to maintain his residency despite his three year physical absence.  Defendants argued that, unlike the Election Code at issue in Maksym, Melrose Park defines what it means to be resident and that requires physical presence.  The Appellate Court distinguished Maksym on the basis that Maksym was dealing with the Election Code which did not define what it means to be a resident for election purposes, but that Melrose Park’s ordinance did define what it means to be a resident and Cannici’s testimony established that for three years he was not.

Patrick O’Connor submitted all of the briefs in both state and federal courts.