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Williams v. Medical Center Com.

OPINION FILED MARCH 24, 1975.

INEZ WILLIAMS, APPELLANT,

v.

MEDICAL CENTER COMMISSION, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Nicholas J. Bua, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE SCHAEFER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

On March 21, 1973, the plaintiff, Inez Williams, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against the defendant, Medical Center Commission, a public body, seeking a judgment in the amount of $25,000 for injuries allegedly suffered as a result of the plaintiff's having fallen, on December 16, 1972, into a hole in the basement floor of a building owned by the defendant, in which the plaintiff was a tenant. The complaint charges the defendant with negligence.

The defendant entered a special appearance and moved that it be dismissed from the suit on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter under section 2 of the act in relation to the establishment of a medical center district (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 91, par. 126) (hereinafter called the Medical Center Act) under which the defendant is organized. The court granted this motion, and the plaintiff's appeal was transferred to this court under Rule 302(b). 50 Ill.2d R. 302(b).

The Medical Center Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 91, pars. 125 through 135a) created a geographically defined Medical Center District on the near west side of the city of Chicago. The preamble to the Act, which was adopted in 1941, states:

"Whereas there exists in the Near West Side of Chicago a center of medical activity which has grown up over a long period of time without any definite plan; and due to the general deterioration of the surrounding district, this center is now in an area of so called blight; and in order to maintain the proper surroundings for a medical center and to stabilize and retain therein large private investments in hospitals, clinical and research facilities, it will be necessary to improve the condition of the surrounding territory; and there is need for additional services for the ill and infirm of Chicago and the surrounding communities; and this need can be met by providing for the expansion of medical and allied activity in the area surrounding the existing center of medical institutions, if the character of such area is protected from further deterioration * * *." Laws of 1941, at 304.

Section 2 of the Act establishes a commission of seven appointed members to manage the affairs of the District. Other sections of the Act give the Commission power to acquire real property by eminent domain, to construct buildings for medical and related purposes, to borrow money and issue revenue bonds, to sell real property subject to certain conditions, one of which is the prior approval of the Governor, and to issue regulations in the nature of zoning ordinances. Property owned by the Commission is exempt from taxation, but is subject to condemnation by the State or by any municipal corporation. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 91, pars. 127, 128, 129, 130, 132, 138.

Section 2 of the Medical Center Act, with which we are immediately concerned, provides:

"There is hereby created a body politic and corporate under the corporate name of Medical Center Commission, hereinafter called the Commission, and by that name it shall have perpetual succession, power to contract and be contracted with, to sue and be sued except in actions sounding in tort, to plead and be impleaded, to have and use a common seal, and to alter the same at pleasure. All actions sounding in tort against the Commission shall be prosecuted in the Court of Claims." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 91, par. 126.

The phrase in the first sentence of section 2 reading "except in actions sounding in tort," and the entire second sentence were added to the Act by amendment in 1961.

The provisions regarding actions in tort have a counterpart in section 8 of the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 37, par. 439.8), which states:

"The court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine the following matters:

(D) All claims against the State for damages in cases sounding in tort, if a like cause of action would lie against a private person or corporation in a civil suit, and all like claims sounding in tort against the Medical Center Commission, the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, the Board of Regents of the Regency Universities System or the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities; provided, that an award for damages in a case sounding in tort shall not exceed the sum of $100,000 to or for the benefit of any claimant."

The inclusion of the Medical Center Commission was also effected by an amendment in 1961. Laws of 1961, at 2783.

In her response to the defendant's motion to dismiss in the trial court, the plaintiff contended that section 2 of the Medical Center Act is unconstitutional since it violates "plaintiff's right to seek compensation for injuries in a court of law." She further stated: "We have an absolute right of recovery for the misdeeds of a governmental agency while in the ...


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