APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. JOHN
L. DAVIS, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Workers' Compensation case.
Lump-sum settlement, failure to pay.
We hold that suit for penalties will lie for "unreasonable or vexatious delay" in complying with the settlement.
Plaintiff Flynn appealed two orders of the circuit court of Macon County to the Supreme Court of Illinois. On October 8, 1980, that court consolidated the appeals and transferred them to this court.
The facts and legal issues in both cases are virtually identical.
On February 15, 1978, and again on May 19, 1980, plaintiff sustained employment-related injuries while in defendant's employ. Each of plaintiff's claims was settled by agreements with the defendant, Soy City Tire and Treading, Inc., which provided for lump-sum payments, and the agreements were approved by the Industrial Commission. In both cases, defendant did not make payment and plaintiff prosecuted actions with the Commission under section 19(k) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 138.19(k)).
After finding that the defendant did in fact refuse to make payment, the Commission awarded penalties to the plaintiff. When payments were still not forthcoming, plaintiff instituted two actions in the circuit court pursuant to section 19(g) of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 138.19(g)). In both cases, the defendant moved to dismiss the actions, claiming that neither the Commission nor the court had jurisdiction to award or enforce the penalty provisions of the Act following the Commission's approval of the lump-sum settlement contract. The circuit court agreed, and both cases were dismissed by docket entry on May 5, 1980.
On appeal, plaintiff asks: (a) Does the circuit court have the authority to question the Commission's jurisdiction when a section 19(g) proceeding is brought before it? And (b) is the Commission authorized to award section 19(k) penalties following approval of a lump-sum settlement contract? To both questions we respond yes, and reverse.
Section 19(g) of the Act provides:
"(g) Except in the case of a claim against the State of Illinois, either party may present a certified copy of the award of the Arbitrator, or a certified copy of the decision of the Commission when the same has become final, when no proceedings for review are pending, providing for the payment of compensation according to this Act, to the Circuit Court of the county in which such accident occurred or either of the parties are residents, whereupon the court shall render a judgment in accordance therewith." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 138.19(g).
Plaintiff claims that under section 19(g) the circuit court had not questioned the legality of the Commission's order, but rather was required to enter judgment. In contrast, the defendant claims that the court had both the authority and the responsibility to determine whether the Commission had jurisdiction of the subject matter. Both parties point to the decision in Ahlers v. Sears Roebuck Co. (1978), 73 Ill.2d 259, 383 N.E.2d 207, as the definitive precedent on this question.
In Ahlers, the parties entered into a settlement contract which provided that the claimant was to receive $725 per month for nursing care. These payments were ordered to be discontinued if nursing care was no longer required or if the Commission determined that different nursing care was needed. Approximately three years later, the defendant unilaterally terminated payments and sought to have the case reopened before the Commission. The petition to reopen was denied. The plaintiff then brought an action in the circuit court pursuant to section 19(g) for past-due amounts. The circuit court and the appellate court found in favor of the plaintiff and the defendant appealed. The supreme court initially found that section 19(g) conferred authority upon the circuit court to render judgment in accordance with an award or decision of the ...