Land of Lincoln Legal Aid is Celebrating a Major Victory
Last week, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid attorney Dowin Coffy won a major victory on behalf of clients Ricky and Carla Phelan and their family. It will have an impact well beyond the Phelans. It ensures that Springfield citizens will not be evicted while Governor Pritzker’s Emergency order prohibiting evictions remains in effect. It also makes certain that Springfield police will not participate in evictions.
Ricky and Carla Phelan are a Springfield family down on their luck. Mr. Phelan, 58, suffered a stroke last spring and has been unable to work. Prior to suffering the stroke, he worked in retail at a local store for 25 years. Like countless other Illinoisans, he is waiting for the Social Security Administration to rule on his disability appeal. Mrs. Phelan’s unemployment ran out last fall. Since then, the Phelans, along with their 16-year-old son, have spent time renting apartments, motel rooms, and sometimes living in their car. Mrs. Phelan recently got a job at a local sandwich shop, but her hours have been reduced to less than 20 hours per week due to the COVID-19 crisis. The family has also been surviving on SNAP benefits (food stamps) and TANF (cash assistance).
This March, the Phelans moved into another motel. The checkout date was Tuesday, March 24, and Mrs. Phelan's job didn’t pay her until Wednesday, March 25. The motel owner demanded payment right then in order to stay, even though the Governor’s Order explicitly prohibited evictions from motels. The motel called the police, who told the family that if they didn’t leave the motel immediately, they would spend the night in a jail cell. Terrified, the family moved into their car and sought help from Land of Lincoln. Because of Mr. Phelan’s compromised health, the Phelans could not go to a shelter, even if shelter space was available.
Land of Lincoln attorney Dowin Coffy called the police and the motel to explain the Governor’s order, but neither would budge. So Dowin filed a lawsuit for the Phelans, asking the court to order the motel to allow the Phelans to return, as they should not have been evicted in the first place because of the Governor’s Emergency Order.
On Friday, March 27, the court agreed and ordered the motel to let the Phelans return to their room. On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder issued an order. “(T)he Springfield Police Department will no longer be assisting in the removal of persons who fail, refuse or have the inability to pay for services that the residential premises may provide, including hotels and motels,” a press release said.
This victory is one of many that Land of Lincoln achieves for vulnerable Illinoisans.