Suburban Express lawsuits reappear in Cook County

By Tyler Davis

Dennis Toeppen, owner of Suburban Express, has been charged in Lake County with two counts of electronic harassment after allegedly harassing customers online in incidents on Sept. 23, 2013, and Jan. 10, 2014.

Toeppen was arrested in Champaign County last month after a former customer complained that Toeppen had posted rude comments regarding him and another customer on Reddit. He appeared in Lake County Court Aug. 8 for his arraignment, pleading not guilty.

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Shortly after his arrest, Suburban Express re-filed five of its 126 tort or contract damage lawsuits on July 17 in Cook County. These lawsuits were originally filed in Ford County and dismissed by Judge Steve Pacey in July 2013.

Of these five lawsuits, one has been re-filed against Jeremy Leval, now a University alumnus. Leval rode Suburban Express on March 31, 2013, and confronted a driver, who was not directly employed by the company, regarding his alleged offensive language toward an unidentified international student. The incident later went viral on social media, which sparked public awareness of the company’s lawsuits against other students.

The re-filed lawsuit asks for $523.57 in damages. The lawsuit alleges that Leval violated the company’s terms of services, which, at the time, stated that passengers agree to pay $500 if a passenger or someone with a passenger interferes with or delays the departure of the bus in any way. The terms of service also prohibited the engagement in disruptive behavior or use of offensive or aggressive language in dealing with the company, company employees, subcontractors or subcontractor employees.

But Leval’s attorney and father, Alain Leval, said that he does not think this lawsuit has a basis.

“Our position is very clear — this is a continuation of the same behavior that Dennis Toeppen has engaged in for the past year and a half, and this is just an extension of that,” he said.

Leval said there is no question in his mind that Toeppen’s arrest on charges of alleged electronic harassment is related to the re-filing of these lawsuits.

“It would be logical to assume that someone who signs a complaint the day after he’s arrested and resurrects a case that has not been heard of for over a year and suddenly reappears — identical facts, no difference, same lawsuit — you tell me,” Leval said. “We don’t leave our common sense out the door when we practice law or lay articles.”

George Bellas, Suburban Express’ attorney, said the timing is purely coincidental because the period of limitations had been running out. He said there is a presumption of innocence in any criminal charge.

“That’s all those are — allegations,” he said.

A case has also been re-filed against Manfred Kubler, junior in LAS, and his mother, Laurie Casas, for delaying a bus on Jan. 13, 2013.

Kubler said he needed to retrieve a backpack, which contained an EpiPen, from his mother’s car after he had boarded his bus. After retrieving the bag, Toeppen asked Kubler to board another bus at the stop after he had sat down. He complied, but after learning that the second bus arrived in Champaign an hour later than the first bus, Kubler was concerned he would not be able to retrieve his luggage, which he said contained his nebulizer and other important medicines, on arrival. He said the first bus began to roll earlier than its planned departure time, but the driver stopped as Kubler walked toward it, inviting him to re-board.

Following an altercation between Toeppen, Casas and Kubler after re-boarding, Kubler said Toeppen retrieved his luggage from the first bus’ undercarriage, hitting his mother with the door, and called the police on the two of them.

“The part that was so outrageous is that (my son) did not delay the bus,” Casas said. “He was back on the bus before the other bus even left.”

In an April 30, 2013, statement from Toeppen, he said that Kubler was told that if he got off the bus, which had already started rolling, he would have to board another bus. After he got off the bus, the bus was released and Toeppen began to make arrangements to hold his bag in Champaign. Kubler then ran into the street and stopped the bus from moving.

Toeppen asked Kubler to board the new bus and Kubler refused.

“At no point was Manfred ‘yelled at’ and at no point were profanities used in dealing with Manfred,” Toeppen wrote in an email to The Daily Illini.

He noted that Kubler was provided with a refund, and he was asked to find another mode of transportation in the future.

“Suburban Express has a legal right to enforce its contractual obligations and to prevent fraud from being perpetrated upon Suburban Express by its adult customers,” said Bellas.

Toeppen will appear for his pre-trial on the charges of electronic harassment Sept. 25 at 9 a.m. in Lake County Court.

Tyler can be reached at [email protected] and @TylerAllynDavis.