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Walker v. State Board of Elections

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 15, 1976.

DANIEL WALKER ET AL., APPELLEES,

v.

THE STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. J. Waldo Ackerman, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE CREBS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied January 28, 1977.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Sangamon County which held unconstitutional certain portions of the Election Code providing for creation of a State Board of Elections (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 46, par. 1A-1). The defendants have appealed directly to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(a). Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110A, par. 302(a).

On June 30, 1975, the Illinois Better Government Association filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections, alleging that Daniel Walker, James Sneider and the All-Illinois Democratic Committee had failed to comply with requirements of article 9 of the Election Code (hereinafter referred to as the Campaign Disclosure Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 46, par. 9-1 et seq.). The All-Illinois Democratic Committee was an organization formed by Sneider and others for the purpose of raising money to retire debts incurred during the 1972 gubernatorial campaign of Governor Walker. On July 3, 1975, Michael E. Lavelle, a member of the State Board of Elections, was appointed hearing officer to conduct a preliminary hearing on the complaint.

On July 7, 1975, the plaintiffs in the instant case, Walker, Sneider and the All-Illinois Democratic Committee, filed a suit to obtain an injunction and a declaratory judgment against Lavelle and the State Board of Elections. The complaint alleged that Public Act 78-918 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 46, art. 1A), which established the State Board of Elections, was unconstitutional and sought a declaratory judgment to that effect. Specifically, it was alleged that the method of selecting members of the State Board of Elections and the method by which the Board resolves tie votes are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also requested a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief prohibiting the defendants from proceeding with the complaint filed by the Better Government Association and further prohibiting the Board from conducting any other function. The plaintiffs were granted an ex parte temporary restraining order barring the defendants from proceeding with the complaint filed by the Better Government Association. After that order was dissolved, a second temporary restraining order was issued. The plaintiffs filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, alleging that there were no material issues of fact with respect to the constitutional issues raised. The defendants then filed an answer to the complaint, denying most of the allegations made by the plaintiffs and raising certain defenses. After hearing extensive arguments, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court determined that both the method of selecting members of the State Board of Elections and the method used by the Board to resolve tie votes were unconstitutional. Accordingly, the court issued a declaratory judgment limiting the Board to the performance of ministerial functions. Furthermore, the court enjoined the Board from hearing the complaint filed by the Better Government Association. A notice of appeal was filed, and the trial court granted a stay order pending the appeal.

The first of several issues raised by the defendants is that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring this action. It is well established that a court will not entertain a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute by a party who is not affected by the statute or aggrieved by its operation. (Edelen v. Hogsett, 44 Ill.2d 215.) The defendants assert that there is nothing in the record to show that the plaintiffs were aggrieved in any manner by the alleged unconstitutionality of the statute which created the State Board of Elections. In support of that argument, the defendants allege that the Board has not threatened to take action against any of the plaintiffs and cite authority for the proposition that a party cannot challenge administrative action based upon what an agency "might do."

We find the defendants' argument to be without merit. We need only consider the complaint filed by the Better Government Association to determine that the plaintiffs were affected by the alleged unconstitutionality of the method used to select members of the State Board of Elections. That complaint alleged that each of the plaintiffs had violated certain provisions of the Campaign Disclosure Act. After the complaint was filed, a hearing examiner was appointed and a date was set for a preliminary hearing on the matter. If the Board had held a hearing and found that the plaintiffs had violated any provision of the Campaign Disclosure Act, the Board would have had a statutory duty to report the violation to the Attorney General and to the appropriate State's Attorney. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 46, par. 9-23.) The Board also would have had the power and duty to issue an order directing the plaintiffs to take such action as the Board deemed necessary to correct the violation. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 46, par. 9-21.) Since one of the allegations made by the Better Government Association was that the plaintiffs had failed to file a statement of organization pursuant to section 9-3 of the Act, the plaintiffs could have been prosecuted criminally if their violation were judged to be "willful." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 46, par. 9-26.) A party has standing to challenge the validity of a statute if he has sustained or if he is in immediate danger of sustaining some direct injury as a result of enforcement of the statute. (Cramp v. Board of Public Instruction, 368 U.S. 278, 7 L.Ed.2d 285, 82 S.Ct. 275.) When the Better Government Association filed its complaint against the plaintiffs, the State Board of Elections obtained jurisdiction to hear the charges, and the danger to the plaintiffs was immediate.

The defendants also assert that this case is not ripe for constitutional adjudication because the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to them. The argument is based on the contention that if the complaint of the Better Government Association were to proceed to hearing, the plaintiffs would allege that the All-Illinois Democratic Committee was not a "State political committee" and was therefore not subject to the Campaign Disclosure Act. As a general rule, a party who is aggrieved by administrative action cannot seek relief in the courts without first pursuing all administrative remedies available to him. (Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Allphin, 60 Ill.2d 350.) The defendants maintain that the plaintiffs should have presented their non-constitutional defense to the State Board of Elections before filing suit for injunctive and declaratory relief. If the plaintiffs had prevailed at a hearing before the Board, there would have been no need for court intervention. If the Board had ruled against the plaintiffs, the constitutional questions could then have been presented in court.

We have recognized certain exceptions to the general rule that a party must exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. One of those exceptions applies in this case. In Bank of Lyons v. County of Cook, 13 Ill.2d 493, we considered the distinction between a statute invalid in its terms and a statute invalid only in its application. There we held that a party need not exhaust administrative remedies if the alleged constitutional infirmity is found in the terms of a statute. If a statute is valid on its face but is applied in a discriminatory or arbitrary manner, on the other hand, the challenging party must pursue administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. In the instant case, the plaintiffs contend that the statute providing for the selection of the State Board of Elections is unconstitutional. If the plaintiffs' argument is accepted, our decision will affect the jurisdiction of the Board in all matters. The plaintiffs do not merely attack the statute as it is applied to them, but rather challenge the statute in its terms. Consequently, we hold that the plaintiffs were not required to exhaust their administrative remedies.

The defendants also maintain that the trial court erred in granting the plaintiffs' motion for judgment on the pleadings because the answer filed by the defendants denied the material allegations of the plaintiffs' complaint and raised certain defenses. A judgment on the pleadings is proper if only questions of law and not of fact exist after the pleadings have been filed. (City of Champaign v. Roseman, 15 Ill.2d 363.) A motion for judgment on the pleadings admits the truth of facts well pleaded by the opposite party. Cunningham v. MacNeal Memorial Hospital, 47 Ill.2d 443.

The plaintiffs' complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief raised only issues of constitutional law. The only material allegations of fact made by the plaintiffs were that a complaint had been filed against them with the State Board of Elections and that an actual controversy existed between them and the defendants. The defendants acknowledged in their answer that a complaint against the plaintiffs had been filed by the Better Government Association with the State Board of Elections. There was no question of fact, therefore, concerning whether or not an actual controversy did in fact exist between the plaintiffs and the defendants. The defendants assert that a judgment on the pleadings was improper because five defenses were pleaded in their answer. Those defenses were that the plaintiffs did not have standing to raise the constitutional questions, that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies available to them, that the action was not ripe for constitutional adjudication, that no justiciable controversy was raised by the complaint and that the plaintiff Walker was estopped from maintaining the action. Since these defenses all raise only questions of law, the court was not precluded from granting a judgment on the pleadings. The defendants contend that a material question of fact was disputed, namely whether the All-Illinois Democratic Committee was a "State political committee" subject to the Campaign Disclosure Act. This is a question of fact which may have been raised if the case had been heard by the Board. The question was not raised by the pleadings and was not before the trial court. The plaintiffs raised only constitutional issues, and since the statute was attacked on its face rather than as applied to the plaintiffs, no questions of fact had to be resolved before reaching the constitutional questions.

The plaintiffs contend that the method used to select the members of the State Board of Elections is violative of article V, section 9(a), of the Illinois Constitution of 1970. The statute providing for the appointment of the first State Board of Elections states:

"In the appointment of the first State Board of Elections the speaker of the House and the House Minority Leader shall each designate 2 nominees to serve for a term ending June 30, 1975; and the President of the Senate and the Senate Minority Leader shall each designate 2 nominees to serve for a term ending June 30, 1977. All nominees to the first Board and all subsequent nominees shall be persons who have extensive knowledge of the election laws of this State. The Governor shall appoint to the Board one of the nominees of each legislative officer. The terms of all subsequent members of the Board, upon expiration of the original terms, shall be for terms of 4 years. Each member of the Board shall serve until his successor is duly appointed and has qualified." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 46, par. 1A-3.)

The statute providing for appointments to fill vacancies and new terms on the State Board of Elections reads as follows:

"An appointment to fill each vacancy and for each new term on the State Board of Elections shall be made from 2 nominees designated by the same legislative officer and in the same manner as the original appointment for that position. Each appointment to fill a vacancy shall be for the completion of the term of that position. In odd-numbered years, the legislative officer authorized in this Article to designate nominees shall so designate the nominees no later than May 30 and the Governor shall appoint the members no later than June 15. If the Leadership of either the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have changed in such manner that the officer authorized to designate nominees to fill a vacancy is of different political party affiliation from the officer making the prior ...


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