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Gordon v. Dep't of Transportation

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 29, 1982.

JOHN J. GORDON ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Carroll County; the Hon. John W. Rapp, Jr., Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE REINHARD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied December 1, 1982.

The Department of Transportation of the State of Illinois (department) appeals from a judgment of the circuit court of Carroll County ordering the issuance of a writ of mandamus compelling the department to commence condemnation proceedings with regard to certain property alleged in the petition for a writ of mandamus to be owned by plaintiffs John J. Gordon and John F. Gordon, and in which plaintiff Savanna State Bank, holds a security interest. The department raises the following issues for our review: (1) whether the trial court erred in ordering issuance of the writ of mandamus against the department based upon plaintiffs' claim of adverse possession; (2) whether the Illinois Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction of this action; (3) whether the trial court erred in denying the department's motion to strike the petition; and (4) whether plaintiffs are estopped from claiming ownership of the subject property.

We find it unnecessary for this court to address any issue other than the jurisdiction of the circuit court to hear this matter in view of our conclusion that the action cannot be maintained in any court except as provided in the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 439.1 et seq.).

In their petition for a writ of mandamus, plaintiffs allege their ownership and a security interest in certain legally described property (which the proofs indicate is a parking lot adjacent to a restaurant known as Meeker's Seafood Inn); that the department has physically taken a portion of this property; that no condemnation proceedings were instituted by the department with regard to this property; that the department has refused to condemn the property taken; and that plaintiffs are entitled to a writ of mandamus ordering the department to commence condemnation proceedings with respect to the property. The department answered the petition and asserted affirmative defenses that (1) no condemnation proceedings have been instituted because no condemnation proceedings are warranted, (2) the Savanna State Bank in another proceeding implicitly acknowledged that its claim is baseless, and (3) title to the property in question was previously determined in another case and the matters are res judicata.

A bench trial was held, and we briefly set out only that evidence which is necessary to the resolution and understanding of the determinative issue of the jurisdiction of the circuit court to hear this action.

John J. Gordon, one of the plaintiffs, purchased Meeker's Seafood Inn in 1956 and operated the premises and used an adjacent parking lot continuously and exclusively until 1977; the restaurant and parking lot were continuously used by Gordon's predecessors since at least 1942; the description in the 1956 deed to Gordon did not include the portion of the parking lot at issue; and the record title owner of the portion of the parking lot at issue was Oscar Skaien, and previously his predecessors in title, until 1977 when Skaien quitclaimed his interest to the State of Illinois. In 1977, the State of Illinois was in the process of constructing a new bridge across the Plum River near Savanna, Illinois. The northern approach to the bridge went across the portion of the parking lot at issue herein. At least two other bridges crossing the Plum River at this approximate location had been built and torn down when replaced by new bridges constructed next to the bridge replaced. Prior to 1930, a bridge, long since torn down, had existed in the approximate location of the newest bridge under construction. The plaintiffs claimed below that they owned the portion of the parking lot in question by adverse possession. The department claimed it owned this property either based upon the 1977 quitclaim deed from Skaien or by common law dedication or by prescription since a previous bridge torn down around 1930 had been in that location for many years.

The trial court in a memorandum opinion found that Gordon and his predecessors had adversely possessed the property in question since 1942 against Skaien and his predecessors in title prior to Skaien's quitclaim deed to the State in 1977; that the department took by quitclaim deed only that interest Skaien had in 1977; that the department also failed to prove it had acquired the property by common law dedication or by prescription by virtue of the existence of a previous bridge at that location prior to 1930; and even if the State had acquired an interest in the property by common law dedication or by prescription, the property was lost by abandonment.

After the memorandum opinion was filed, the department filed its post-trial motion and subsequently filed a motion to dismiss; the latter requesting for the first time that the action be dismissed since the State could not be a defendant or party in any court except as provided in the Court of Claims Act. Both motions were denied by the trial court.

Section 4 of article XIII of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 provides:

"Except as the General Assembly may provide by law, sovereign immunity in this State is abolished."

Section 1 of "An Act in relation to immunity for the State of Illinois" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 127, par. 801) provides:

"Except as provided in `An Act to create the court of claims, to prescribe its powers and duties, and to repeal An Act herein named,' filed July 17, 1945, as amended, the State of Illinois shall not be made a defendant or party in any court."

Thus, it is clear that the General Assembly has specifically prohibited making the State of Illinois a ...


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