Suburban Express re-files lawsuits, bans Highland Park passengers

By Corinne Ruff and Tyler Davis

Locally-based bus company Suburban Express, known for filing 126 lawsuits in 2013 against students, stirred more controversy on campus this semester when it banned all passengers from Highland Park.

Students, such as Scott Greene, freshman in FAA, discovered the new regulation early September as they attempted to purchase tickets using a Highland Park zip code and were met with this message:

“Suburban Express chooses not to transact business in zip code 60035 due to what we believe are unacceptable risks associated with conducting business in that jurisdiction. Please find another transportation provider.”

Additionally, Dennis Toeppen, owner of Suburban Express, was 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 in July 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. Suburban Express is pursuing 14 lawsuits in Cook and Lake County, according to circuit court records.  

    Of these five lawsuits, one has been re-filed against Jeremy Leval, now a University alumnus and resident of Highland Park. 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 he does not think this lawsuit has a basis. Alain said he met in court on Sept. 8, where he motioned for a new judge and venue. He said he does not expect the case to move forward in the near future.

    “We are sued improperly,” Alain said. “I will defend my client. I will pursue counterclaims for him for however long it takes for justice to incur.”

    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 was 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. “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.”

    Corinne and Tyler can be reached at [email protected]