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City of Northlake v. Dep't of Trans.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James C. Murray, Judge, presiding.


Six municipalities, namely, city of Northlake, village of Melrose Park, village of Bellwood, village of North Riverside, village of Forest Park, and village of Stone Park (plaintiffs) brought this action against the Illinois Department of Transportation (Department) and its officers. Plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint. The first count sought a declaration that the Department was legally liable to provide electrical power for the operation of various traffic-control devices. The second count sought mandamus to compel this payment by the Department. The trial court entered an order on motion of the Department striking count II and requiring an answer to count I. The Department filed an answer and affirmative defense. It alleged that plaintiffs had agreed by written contracts to assume the cost of providing the necessary electricity.

For some esoteric reason plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. After extensive hearings, the trial court held that the Department was obligated by statute to supply the necessary electricity. In addition, the trial court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Although the order appealed from might possibly be construed as a partial summary judgment, it is definitely a declaration of the rights of the parties in accordance with the prayer of the first count of plaintiffs' complaint. We will consider the order as a final declaratory judgment. See Lake Shore Racquet Club, Inc. v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Cos. (1980), 91 Ill. App.3d 1118, 1121, 415 N.E.2d 625.


Initially, the Department contends the trial court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the present controversy but that the court of claims is the only proper forum. Section 8 of the Court of Claims Act provides in pertinent part:

"The court [of claims] shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine the following matters:

(a) All claims against the state founded upon any law of the State of Illinois, or upon any regulation thereunder by an executive or administrative officer or agency, other than claims arising under the Workers' Compensation Act or the Workers' Occupational Diseases Act, or claims for expenses in civil litigation.

(b) All claims against the state founded upon any contract entered into with the State of Illinois." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 37, par. 439.8.

In City of Springfield v. Allphin (1978), 74 Ill.2d 117, 126, 384 N.E.2d 310, the supreme court held, "the issues involved in the instant case (the effective date of a statute) and the relief requested (a declaratory judgment and the withholding of certain funds from the State treasury) do not render the instant case a suit against the State." We find Allphin dispositive of the issue before us. The basic theory of Allphin was fully and expressly reaffirmed in Saltiel v. Olsen (1981), 85 Ill.2d 484, 491-92, 426 N.E.2d 1204.

• 1 In the case at bar, plaintiffs do not claim money damages based upon their dealings with the Department. On the contrary, plaintiffs' complaint seeks simply a judgment declaring plaintiffs' future rights regarding the interpretation of the pertinent sections of the Vehicle Code of Illinois. The issue of mandamus to obtain payment of money, raised under the dismissed second count of plaintiffs' complaint, is not before the court. We therefore conclude that the instant case was correctly filed in the circuit court which is the proper legal forum for adjudication of the rights of these parties.


Turning to the merits of this litigation, the pertinent portion of the Illinois Vehicle Code provides:

"The Department [of Transportation] shall place and maintain such traffic-control devices, conforming to its manual and specifications on all highways under its jurisdiction as it shall deem necessary to indicate and to carry out the provisions of this Chapter or to regulate, warn or guide traffic." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-303(a).

The issue before us is whether the statutory language requiring the Department to "place and maintain traffic-control devices" requires the Department to furnish electricity at its own expense for the operation of the various devices. The learned and able trial judge held expressly that under the circumstances here shown, a reasonable definition of "maintenance" requires the Department "to provide the necessary electrical energy" for the traffic ...

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