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Gagne v. Village of Lagrange





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD F. HEALY, Judge, presiding.


This appeal by Robert J. Gagne (plaintiff), a police officer of the Village of LaGrange, challenges the granting of defendant's motion to strike his complaint for declaratory judgment. In that complaint, plaintiff disputed a reduction in his salary and requested both reinstatement of his former salary and injunctive relief from a threatened further reduction in salary.

Plaintiff filed a one-count complaint entitled "Complaint for Declaratory Judgment," alleging it was "a case of actual controversy" brought under Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 57.1, that portion of the Civil Practice Act authorizing declaratory judgments in Illinois (hereinafter section 57.1). The complaint alleges that the Village of LaGrange is a municipal corporation operating under the laws of Illinois and, specifically, under the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners Act (hereinafter Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 24, par. 10-2.1-1 et seq.); that plaintiff was appointed a police officer by the said Board of Fire and Police Commissioners in 1964; that during 1973 the president and board of trustees of the Village enacted an appropriation ordinance (not made part of the record) authorizing salaries to be paid to the police department; that as a result of this ordinance plaintiff was paid $1,080 a month; that about June 5, 1973, plaintiff received a notice of personnel change informing him his salary would be reduced to $1,035 a month effective June 16, 1973; and that the reduction was recommended by defendant Heinen (Chief of Police), certified by defendant Dusek (Finance Officer), and approved by the Village Manager, defendant Berley.

In the complaint, plaintiff characterizes this reduction as a "demotion," quoting a definition of that term contained in certain personnel rules (rules) "promulgated" by "the Village of LaGrange, Illinois," a copy of which was attached to the complaint as an exhibit. "Demotion" is there defined as "the change of an employee from a position in one class to a position in another class having a lower maximum salary rate." Plaintiff further alleges in his complaint that the copy of the rules attached to the complaint does not disclose who promulgated the rules.

Plaintiff also asserts in his complaint that the rules were void because the Village was operating under the Act, and that the "demotion" was void because the Act does not authorize such action by the defendant officials and administrators. He further alleges that defendants Heinen and Lane threatened to reduce plaintiff's salary to $995 a month unless he wrote more traffic tickets, the alleged cause of the original "demotion." In his prayer for relief, plaintiff requests that defendants be enjoined from further reducing his salary, that his salary of $1,080 a month be reinstated, and that such other relief as the court deems appropriate be granted.

Defendants did not answer but instead filed a motion to strike the complaint alleging that the action complained of was a mere reduction in salary, which is within the discretion of the defendant officials, and that the determination of salaries is not within the subjects covered by the Act; that the appropriation ordinance merely set maximum salaries and does not constitute a contract; and that plaintiff has no standing to challenge the personnel rules which give the village manager authority to establish a classification plan and pay plan as well as to administer those plans. Defendants further assert that plaintiff was not "demoted" since he was still in the same position of patrolman and had merely been placed in a different salary "step" as set forth in the rules; and that section 12 of the rules provides for salary reduction of village employees with just cause and for the right to appeal such action, which administrative remedy, defendants assert, plaintiff had not alleged exhausting. *fn1

On appeal plaintiff asserts the circuit court erred because (i) the personnel rules are void; (ii) the defendants had no right to demote him; (iii) only the president and board of trustees of the Village have the authority to fix salaries; and (iv) the defendants' motion to strike admits all matters well pleaded.


We first consider whether a complaint for declaratory judgment, which alleges facts solely in support of its prayer for injunctive relief and reinstatement, is properly dismissed as failing to state a cause of action under section 57.1. This issue is hardly a new one to Illinois law and a review of the applicable cases would be of assistance to its resolution in this case.

Declaratory judgment is a remedy created by statute (section 57.1; Freeport Motor Casualty Co. v. Tharp (1950), 406 Ill. 295, 299, 94 N.E.2d 139) for the purpose of declaring the rights of the involved parties before the accrual of an actual claim (Charleston National Bank v. Muller (4th Dist. 1974), 16 Ill. App.3d 380, 382, 306 N.E.2d 358) or before an irrevocable change in the relationship of the parties has taken place. (Charleston National Bank; La Salle Casualty Co. v. Lobono (1st Dist. 1968), 93 Ill. App.2d 114, 117, 236 N.E.2d 405.) This court has, on previous occasions, noted that this remedy differs from others in that its chief purpose is to declare rights rather than execute them. La Salle Casualty Co.

The effect of other remedies on declaratory judgment procedure has been at issue in several contexts. It is clearly permissible to request additional relief under different theories and remedies in a complaint seeking declaratory judgment and in separate counts also requesting other and additional relief. (Kupsik v. City of Chicago (1962), 25 Ill.2d 595, 598, 185 N.E.2d 858; Young v. Hansen (2d Dist. 1969), 118 Ill. App.2d 1, 5, 249 N.E.2d 300.) The provision of the Civil Practice Act creating the remedy was never intended to "supplant" other remedies (see generally Albright v. Phelan (1st Dist. 1971), 2 Ill. App.3d 142, 146, 276 N.E.2d 1), but the mere existence of another adequate remedy does not require dismissal of a declaratory judgment action. (Albright; American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Chicago (1954), 3 Ill.2d 334, 353, 121 N.E.2d 585.) Though the mere existence of another adequate remedy does not require dismissal, it can constitute sufficient grounds for dismissal at the trial court's discretion. (Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative v. City of Charleston (4th Dist. 1972), 8 Ill. App.3d 441, 444, 289 N.E.2d 491; Meyer v. County of Madison (5th Dist. 1972), 7 Ill. App.3d 289, 291-92, 287 N.E.2d 159.) The motion to strike did not contain an allegation that another adequate remedy may have been present in this case, and the court did not indicate its basis for granting the motion. We cannot say, therefore, that the court exercised its discretion and grounded its decision on such reasoning.

Where a complaint for declaratory judgment fails to state a cause of action, however, it is not necessary to determine the court's actual basis for dismissing the complaint. Indeed, dismissal where such a failure exists is proper even where the grounds relied upon by the court were not valid grounds. People ex rel. Hamer v. Board of Education (2d Dist. 1974), 22 Ill. App.3d 130, 133, 316 N.E.2d 820.

It is a general rule of civil practice law that nothing in the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 1 et seq.) excuses a failure to state a cause of action. (Wuellner v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co. (1945), 390 Ill. 126, 129, 60 N.E.2d 867; Johnson v. Johnson (2d Dist. 1955), 5 Ill. App.2d 453, 468, 125 N.E.2d 843.) The whole purpose of a complaint, indeed, is to state a cause of action upon which the plaintiff bases his or her claim of liability. (Spence v. Washington National Insurance Co. (4th Dist. 1943), 320 Ill. App. 149, 153, 50 N.E.2d 128.) It has often been reaffirmed that, although the provision providing for declaratory judgment is to be liberally construed, the prescribed rules of procedure in actions for declaratory judgment are to be strictly complied with. E.g., State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Morris (2d Dist. 1961), 29 Ill. App.2d 451, 459, 173 N.E.2d 590, cert. denied, 368 U.S. 878, 7 L.Ed.2d 78, 82 S.Ct. 124; Weary v. School District #189 (5th Dist. 1974), 20 Ill. App.3d 37, 39, 312 N.E.2d 764.

In the complaint for declaratory judgment at issue here, the trial court was not asked to declare any rights. More importantly, the facts which were alleged appear to have been set forth solely in support of the prayers for injunctive relief and reinstatement of plaintiff's former salary. As stated in Nowicki v. Evanston Fair Housing Review Board (1975), 62 Ill.2d 11, 15, 338 N.E.2d 186, 188, "[l]abels have long since lost their significance in determining the legal sufficiency of a ...

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