Brooks v. Chicago Downs Association, Inc.

The Facts

Plaintiffs formed a Pennsylvania partnership with the sole purpose of pooling “the assets of the partners in order to place bets at horse racing tracks throughout the country.”  Plaintiffs entered into a “super bet” at the defendant horse track, which carried very difficult odds.  The defendant owner informed plaintiffs they were barred right as they were to place the super bet and stated they were never allowed to enter the track again.  Defendant claimed at trial that he had the absolute right to exclude patrons from his business for any reason beyond race, creed, color, national origin, or sex and the trial court agreed, ruling in defendant’s favor.  At trial defendant argued that they could exclude patrons for any reason beyond those listed because it is their private business; they could exclude someone for wearing a hat, for instance.

The Issue

“Whether … the operator of a horse race track has the absolute right to exclude a patron from the track premises for any reason, or no reason, except race, color, creed, national origin or sex.”

The Holding

Yes, affirmed.  Illinois should follow the common law rule and allow exclusion.  At common law a person “engaged in a public calling” is held to a duty to the general public and has an obligation to serve everyone who seeks service.  Contrarily, those who operate private enterprises “such as places of amusement and resort” may serve whoever they please as long as they do not make the aforementioned discriminations.  Inkeepers and common carriers are examples of persons with public calling who must serve those seeking service.  In terms of policy, an imperfect market condition held by the business owner that discriminates against blondes, for instance, “offends the very precepts of equality and fair dealing expressed in everything from the antitrust statutes to Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act.”  However, the court holds that the market in this case is not so imperfect “that there is a monopoly or any allegation of consumer fraud.”  And because there is no legislation addressing this issue, common law rules.

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