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Epstein v. Civil Service Com.

OPINION FILED MARCH 22, 1977.

MARTIN EPSTEIN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THE CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



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

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendants (hereinafter Commission) appeal the reversal by the trial court of its order, after a full hearing, discharging the plaintiff as Psychologist III at Kankakee State Hospital. Plaintiff cross-appealed the trial court's refusal to admit into evidence information relative to the untimely issuance of the Commission's decision.

Plaintiff has been a State employee for at least 10 years. At the time of his discharge in 1973, he was assigned to the mental retardation program at Kankakee State Hospital. His principal duty was to conduct tests to measure and evaluate the measured and adaptive intelligence of profoundly retarded adults.

Psychologists at the hospital were required to regularly attend three separate types of meetings. Weekly resident staff meetings were to be attended by every professional at the hospital. These meetings were held weekly and dealt with information and policies of general interest to all staff at the hospital. Weekly program planning meetings were interdisciplinary discussions among the staff workers of the hospital. At these meetings, the needs of patients (referred to as residents because they were not physically or mentally ill) would be discussed and treatment programs designed. Epstein, assigned to two units in the spring and summer of 1973, was expected to attend two such program planning meetings weekly. Finally, all psychologists were expected to attend monthly psychologists' meetings.

In May 1973, plaintiff discontinued his attendance at all of the above-mentioned regularly scheduled meetings. He did so for two reasons. First, he objected to inquiries made at these meetings by nonpsychologists relating to the raw numerical scores in IQ tests of residents at the hospital. He felt that to reveal these scores in an "open" staff meeting would be to breach his professional ethics as a psychologist. Parenthetically, it should be noted that none of the other psychologists or medical doctors who testified at the administrative hearing felt that such disclosure to staff members — nonpsychologists and even nondoctors — would be an unethical breach of confidentiality.

Secondly, plaintiff believed that as a professional psychologist, he could autonomously plan his work schedule. Since he had a very large case load, often requiring him to work 60 hours a week in his testing program, he concluded that three weekly meetings and a fourth monthly meeting unduly interfered with his higher priority testing functions. In lieu of his attendance plaintiff sometimes submitted written reports on the residents under discussion at the program planning meetings. This procedure was acceptable to Dr. Hasbarger, who had been plaintiff's intermediate supervisor. However, it was not acceptable to Mr. Ira Collins, Dr. Hasbarger's replacement.

Plaintiff's supervisors, Dr. Kozlowski, Mr. Collins and Dr. Misevic (ascending on the chain of command), soon advised him that, notwithstanding his time constraints and ethical beliefs, his attendance at meetings and full participation was required. Plaintiff admittedly failed to attend. Dr. Kozlowski, plaintiff's immediate superior, first had a letter of reprimand issued under the signature of Dr. Misevic. Plaintiff still failed to attend the staff meetings. Dr. Kozlowski and Mr. Collins conferred on this matter. Ultimately, Collins recommended that plaintiff be suspended for 30 days pending discharge proceedings.

Thereafter, plaintiff sought an administrative hearing on his discharge before the Commission. After a full hearing, the hearing examiner recommended that the discharge be sustained. The Commission unanimously adopted the hearing examiner's recommendation. Plaintiff filed an action in the circuit court of Cook County for administrative review. The circuit court reversed the discharge.

On appeal, the Commission contends that the trial court erred in reversing its decision since the discharge decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. It also argues that the trial court improperly considered the magnitude of the penalty imposed against plaintiff in reversing and erroneously reversed when it admittedly did not read the record of proceedings before the administrative body.

On cross-appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in denying plaintiff the opportunity to introduce evidence that the Commission failed to reach its conclusion within 60 days of its receipt of the transcript of the administrative hearing as required by section 11 of the Personnel Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 127, par. 63b111).

I.

• 1 The initial question presented for review is whether the trial court erred in its review of the findings and order of the Commission. Judicial review of decisions made by administrative agencies is governed by the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, pars. 264-279). Notwithstanding the apparent broad powers of the circuit court on administrative review granted by section 12 of the Act, the scope of review in such proceedings is severely limited. The evidence adduced at the administrative level along with the agency's findings of fact on that evidence are prima facie true and correct. (Adamek v. Civil Service Com. (1st Dist. 1958), 17 Ill. App.2d 11, 16-17, 149 N.E.2d 466.) It is well established and conceded by plaintiff that findings of the administrative agency can be set aside on review only if against the manifest weight of the evidence. Kelly v. Police Board (1st Dist. 1975), 25 Ill. App.3d 559, 564, 323 N.E.2d 624; Kerr v. Police Board (1974), 59 Ill.2d 140, 319 N.E.2d 478.

Plaintiff contends that the trial court correctly ruled that the manifest weight of the evidence did not sustain any disciplinary measures against him. To reach the conclusion that a particular finding is against the manifest weight of the evidence, the opposite conclusion must be clearly evident. See Kelly v. Police Board and the cases therein cited.

• 2 Here, the administrative body found that plaintiff failed to attend staff meetings in contravention of orders by his superiors to do so. While this finding was not held to constitute a failure to perform his professional duties, the Commission held that this conduct was insubordination and grounds for discharge. Plaintiff admits here, and admitted before the Commission that he failed to attend the staff meetings. While plaintiff may have in good faith believed that his reasons for declining to attend required staff meetings were valid, he nonetheless failed to abide by the policies and directives of his superiors. Notwithstanding plaintiff's professional status, the civil service could not effectively function if all civil service professionals asserted the right to set their own work priorities in contravention of ...


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