Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon.
Nicholas J. Bua, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE UNDERWOOD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Each of the plaintiffs in the seven personal injury cases consolidated in this appeal filed suit in the circuit court of Cook County against the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), a municipal corporation, and other parties not relevant to this appeal. The CTA moved to dismiss the complaints as to it for failure to comply with the six-month-notice and one-year statute-of-limitations provisions of section 41 of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 111 2/3, par. 341). The circuit court ruled that this statute was unconstitutional, denied the defendant's motion to dismiss, and found that its order involved an identified question of law as to which there is substantial ground for a difference of opinion and that immediate appeal might materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation, thus permitting the CTA to seek leave to appeal pursuant to our Rule 308(a) (58 Ill.2d R. 308(a)). The appellate court allowed the motion for the interlocutory appeal, and we allowed a motion to take that appeal to this court under our Rule 302(a) and (b) (58 Ill.2d R. 302(a), (b)).
The CTA was created pursuant to the earlier cited Metropolitan Transit Authority Act and operates under it so far as here relevant. Section 41 of that act provides:
"No civil action shall be commenced in any court against the Authority by any person for any injury to his person unless it is commenced within one year from the date that the injury was received or the cause of action accrued. Within six (6) months from the date that such an injury was received or such cause of action accrued, any person who is about to commence any civil action in any court against the Authority for damages on account of any injury to his person shall file in the office of the secretary of the Board and also in the office of the General Attorney for the Authority either by himself, his agent, or attorney, a statement, in writing, signed by himself, his agent, or attorney, giving the name of the person to whom the cause of action has accrued, the name and residence of the person injured, the date and about the hour of the accident, the place or location where the accident occurred and the name and address of the attending physician, if any. If the notice provided for by this section is not filed as provided, any such civil action commenced against the Authority shall be dismissed and the person to whom any such cause of action accrued for any personal injury shall be forever barred from further suing." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 111 2/3, par. 341.)
All of these suits were filed more than six months after the date of alleged injury, and none of the plaintiffs complied with both the six-month-notice and one-year-filing requirements. Notice and filing provisions as to other local governmental entities, generally, are contained in the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (hereinafter referred to as the Tort Immunity Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 85, pars. 8-101, 8-102). Section 8-101 of that act provides:
"No civil action may be commenced in any court against a local entity for any injury unless it is commenced within 2 years from the date that the injury was received or the cause of action accrued."
"Within 1 year from the date that the injury or cause of action, referred to in Sections 8-101, 8-102 and 8-103, was received or accrued, any person who is about to commence any civil action for damages on account of such injury against a local public entity, or against any of its employees whose act or omission committed while acting in the scope of his employment as such employee caused the injury, must serve, either by personal service or by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, a written notice on the Secretary or Clerk, as the case may be, for the entity against whom or against whose employee the action is contemplated a written statement, signed by himself, his agent or attorney, giving in substance the following information: the name of the person to whom the cause of action has accrued, the name and residence of the person injured, the date and about the hour of the accident, the place or location where the accident occurred, the general nature of the accident, the name and address of the attending physician, if any, and the name and address of the treating hospital or hospitals, if any."
It is the differences between the six months' and one-year notice requirements applicable to the CTA and the one-year and two-year requirements applicable to local governmental units generally which prompt plaintiffs to urge the invalidity, on equal protection grounds, of the shorter CTA provisions. They argue, and the trial court held, that there exists no rational basis for, and no legitimate State interest justifying, the discriminatory effect of the six-month-notice and one-year-filing requirements contained in section 41.
We would note, preliminarily, that prior to 1973 these differences did not exist. Until then the Tort Immunity Act required notice within six months and filing within one year. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 85, pars. 8-101, 8-102.) It is not contended, nor could it be, that there is any inherent impropriety in a six-month-notice or one-year-filing provision. (Fanio v. John W. Breslin Co. (1972), 51 Ill.2d 366, 368; King v. Johnson (1970), 47 Ill.2d 247, 250-51; Schuman v. Chicago Transit Authority (1950), 407 Ill. 313, 316-19.) The alleged invalidity results from a 1973 amendment to the Tort Immunity Act which extended to one year the time within which notice of injury might be given, and to two years the time within which suit might be filed. That amendment did not alter the specific exclusion of the CTA from the operation of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 85, par. 2-101(b)). If the effect of the amendment is to create an irrational, invalid classification, it would seem to be the amendment which was and is invalid rather than section 41.
The defendant argues that the constitutionality of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act in general (People v. Chicago Transit Authority (1945), 392 Ill. 77), and section 41 in particular (Schuman v. Chicago Transit Authority (1950), 407 Ill. 313), have been sustained against equal protection attacks. In Schuman's discussion of the argument that no rational basis existed for requiring notice of injury within six months and filing of suit within one year in the case of a public carrier when no such requirements existed for one injured by a private carrier, it was said:
"We are aware, and take judicial notice, of the magnitude of the operations of defendant. A transportation system of its size, operating, as it does, on the busy streets and thoroughfares of the second largest city in the United States, one of the largest cities of the world, becomes involved in the largest volume of personal injuries litigation in the State. There are, no doubt, many, if not more, `blind' claims those not reported to the Authority by its employees than in any other municipality in Illinois. The Authority is a municipal corporation, not entitled to make a profit, placing it in a different class from private carriers operating in the same area, and is surely entitled, as is a city, town or village, to an opportunity to protect itself by prompt investigation. The requirement of six months' notice affords the Authority this opportunity just as the requirement of notice to cities, towns and villages protects them. To conduct a complete investigation of every accident, whether large or small, would impose an intolerable burden upon defendant. An adequate investigation of a `blind' accident, if the first notice of it came one year or two years later upon instituting an action, would, in most instances, be impracticable, if not impossible. As observed in People v. Chicago Transit Authority, 392 Ill. 77, `That there is a substantial difference between the situation of passengers in the area here involved and those in the balance of the State, is readily seen.' The quoted observation is singularly appropriate here." 407 Ill. 313, 320-21.)
Defendant urges that we hold this rationale dispositive of this case. While we agree that Schuman is relevant, there are differences between the parties, issue, and arguments there and those here sufficient to warrant a complete, rather than summary, review. Similarly, defendant submits that the six-month-notice requirement has been enforced by this court subsequent to the 1973 amendments. (Repaskey v. Chicago Transit Authority (1975), 60 Ill.2d 185.) Plaintiffs respond that a pre-1973 injury was there involved and the differing periods were not applicable, a conclusion which may be incorrect. (See Siltman v. City of Jacksonville (1977), 44 Ill. App.3d 874.) However, the argument presented in this case has not heretofore been considered by us, and, accordingly, our prior decisions are not decisive. Schuman v. Chicago Transit Authority (1950), 407 Ill. 313.
Traditional equal protection analysis, applicable in this case, requires us to determine whether the classification of defendants bears a rational relationship to a legitimate State purpose. (S. Bloom, Inc. v. Mahin (1975), 61 Ill.2d 70, 76.) "A statute classifying persons or objects is not unconstitutional because it affects one class and not another, provided that it affects all members of the same class alike and provided that the classification is not arbitrary, but based upon some substantial difference in circumstances properly related to the classification." (Kobylanski v. Chicago Board of Education (1976), 63 Ill.2d 165, 175.) Plaintiffs concede that the legislature may properly distinguish between public and private tortfeasors. The question for us is whether there is a rational basis supporting the shorter notice period and statute of limitations applicable to the CTA as distinguished from other public entities, a distinction plaintiffs contend cannot be rationally justified under Cleary v. Catholic Diocese (1974), 57 Ill.2d 384, 387, Haymes v. Catholic Bishop (1968), 4 ...