APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon.
JOHN R. DeLaMAR, Judge, presiding.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE TRAPP DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant sheriff and the defendant county appeal from a judgment in the sum of $284 and costs entered upon the pleadings in favor of plaintiff.
The complaint alleged that plaintiff was a commissioned deputy sheriff and that on May 31, 1979, the sheriff suspended plaintiff without pay for 5 working days, and that on June 4, 1979, plaintiff's request for a hearing and review before the Sheriff's Department Merit Commission was denied.
Pursuant to statute, the Champaign County Board in 1965 established a Sheriff's Department Merit Commission. The rules adopted by the commission provided, in part, that the sheriff without filing charges before the commission may suspend a member of the department with or without pay for a period not to exceed 30 consecutive working days. Such suspension must be reported to the commission in writing.
The regulations adopted by the merit commission also provide standards of conduct for members of the department, and that a violation will subject an employee to disciplinary action or dismissal.
The complaint alleged that the imposition of suspension and the denial of review by the merit commission deprived plaintiff of property without due process under the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and article I, section 2, of the 1970 Illinois Constitution. Plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of the wages for the 5 working days without due process.
The joint answer of defendants denied that any constitutional rights of plaintiff were abridged and as affirmative defenses pleaded that the constitutional provisions for due process do not require a hearing before the Sheriff's Department Merit Commission where the suspension is for a period of 5 days; that plaintiff was notified that within 72 hours he might appeal the suspension to the "Departmental Disciplinary Appeal Board" established by the sheriff, and further alleged alternatively, that prior to the suspension the sheriff conducted an investigation of the misconduct for which suspension was imposed, including an interview between the sheriff and the plaintiff in December 1978; two interviews between the sheriff, his chief deputy and plaintiff in March 1979; a polygraph examination of plaintiff in February 1979, and interviews and polygraph examinations of potential witnesses and suspects in the matter of the alleged misconduct. It is further alleged that in the interviews with plaintiff, the sheriff explained the misconduct charged and plaintiff was given an opportunity to respond and explain his version of the events. The answer and affirmative defenses were verified by the sheriff, and no denial of the allegations appears in the record.
Plaintiff filed a motion under section 45 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 45) to strike the affirmative defenses and for judgment on the pleadings, alleging that the facts pleaded as an affirmative defense did not constitute a legal defense to the action, and that there were no issues of fact to be heard.
The trial court found that the answer did not plead facts which provide "as a matter of law an affirmative defense to plaintiff's complaint," denied defendants' motion for summary judgment and entered judgment for the plaintiff.
It is unnecessary to review the numerous cases which examine property rights in uninterrupted employment in the context of constitutional due process, for we conclude that the issue here is controlled by the opinions in Goss v. Lopez (1975), 419 U.S. 565, 42 L.Ed.2d 725, 95 S.Ct. 729, and Kropel v. Conlisk (1975), 60 Ill.2d 17, 322 N.E.2d 793.
In Goss, the court reviewed the disciplinary suspension for misconduct by high school students for periods of 10 days or less. The facts stated in the opinion disclose that the several administrative suspensions were summary in nature and made without any opportunity for explanation by the student, and without any verification of the alleged reasons for suspension.
Finding that due process requirements applied to such suspensions, the court examined the form and the degree of due process required as to the facts at hand. The court stated:
"We turn to that question, fully realizing as our cases regularly do that the interpretation and application of the Due Process Clause are intensely practical matters and that `[t]he very nature of due process negates any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation.' [Citation.]" 419 U.S. 565, 577-78, 42 L.Ed.2d 725, 737, 95 S.Ct. 729, 738.
It was said that students facing suspension and the consequent interference with a protected property interest must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing, and that the nature of the notice and of the hearing depended upon appropriate accommodations of the competing interests involved. Referring to the complex administrative problems presented upon the facts, the court determined that the student should be given notice of the charges against him and, if such are denied, an explanation of the evidence possessed by the disciplinarian, and further required that the one charged have an opportunity to present his version of the facts. The process is ...