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Yount v. Hesston Corp.

OPINION FILED JUNE 6, 1984.

LONNIE YOUNT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

HESSTON CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Ogle County; the Hon. John L. Moore, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE UNVERZAGT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendant, Hesston Corporation (Hesston), brings this interlocutory appeal, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a)(87 Ill.2d R. 308(a)), from an order of the trial court which denied its motion to dismiss the complaint of the plaintiff, Lonnie Yount. On appeal, the defendant contends (1) that the trial court incorrectly concluded that the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 68, par. 1-101 et seq.) abrogated the rights which article I, section 19, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 19) granted to the plaintiff and, hence, amounted to an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power by the Illinois General Assembly; and (2) that the court below improperly denied its motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint.

On May 27, 1983, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant that contained the following factual allegations, which must be accepted as true for purposes of adjudicating the propriety of the trial court's refusal to grant the defendant's motion to dismiss (see Greenholdt v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co. (1982), 107 Ill. App.3d 748, 753). According to the allegations of the complaint, the plaintiff began working for Hesston in 1974 and received periodic promotions and pay raises from 1974 thru 1981. In 1976 the plaintiff became mentally ill and, with the knowledge and cooperation of Hesston, visited a mental health facility for treatment. The plaintiff's mental handicap did not prevent him from performing his work duties in accordance with the standards that Hesston demanded. On February 19, 1982, Hesston terminated the plaintiff's employment. The plaintiff alleged that by discharging him the defendant violated his rights under both section 19 of article I of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 19) and section 2-100 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 91 1/2, par. 2-100).

The defendant responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss under section 2-619(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 110, par. 2-619(1)), which alleged that the trial court did not have jurisdiction of the subject matter of the litigation. In particular, Hesston's motion stated that the IHRA governs actions for employment discrimination based on a mental handicap and implements the provisions of article I, section 19, of the Illinois Constitution. The motion to dismiss alleged, in addition, that the IHRA specifically precludes access to the courts> of Illinois for redress of a purported civil rights violation except for administrative review of the decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Hesston concluded that the court was without jurisdiction to hear the complaint, because the plaintiff did not bring his action pursuant to the provisions of the IHRA.

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed a response to the motion to dismiss in which he alleged that the IHRA was not the exclusive avenue for seeking judicial redress of a discriminatory discharge from employment based on a mental handicap.

In an appendix to his brief, the plaintiff includes certified transcripts of the reports of proceedings of the two hearings the trial court held relative to the motion to dismiss. We note that although the reports of proceedings were not made a part of the record on appeal, the defendant does not challenge the authenticity of those transcripts in its reply brief. After the defendant argued at the initial hearing that the IHRA provided the exclusive remedy for the plaintiff's cause of action, the trial court concluded, without the plaintiff specifically raising the argument, that to the extent the IHRA was viewed as the exclusive judicial remedy, the IHRA was an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power by the Illinois General Assembly, because it abrogated the rights which article I, section 19, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 accorded mentally-ill persons within Illinois. Accordingly, the court below denied the defendant's motion to dismiss.

The court stated that its order involved a constitutional question of law concerning the IHRA, regarding which there was a substantial ground for a difference of opinion, and that an immediate appeal from the order would materially advance the ultimate determination of the lawsuit. (See 87 Ill.2d R. 308(a).) Thereafter, this court granted the defendant permission to maintain the present interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a).

Hesston argues in its initial brief that the trial court incorrectly determined that the Illinois Human Rights Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 68, par. 1-101 et seq.) amounted to an unconstitutional abrogation by the State legislature of the plaintiff's rights under article I, section 19, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I. sec 19). Continuing, Hesston asserts that if the IHRA was not an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power, then it naturally follows, under section 8-111(D) of the IHRA (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 68, par. 8-111(D)), that the plaintiff is precluded from bringing a direct cause of action under section 19 of article I of the 1970 Illinois Constitution. In addition, the defendant maintains that the provisions of section 2-100 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 91 1/2, par. 2-100) are inapplicable to the present case. Accordingly, the defendant concludes that the trial court improperly denied its motion to dismiss and requests that this court remand the cause for entry of an order dismissing the plaintiff's complaint.

In his brief, the plaintiff concedes that the IHRA is a constitutional exercise of legislative power; he states that he will not and cannot defend the propriety of the trial court's order finding the IHRA to be unconstitutional. In addition, the plaintiff acknowledges, in harmony with the defendant's position, that section 2-100 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code is not germane to his lawsuit. The plaintiff states, however, that the real issue before this court is whether, notwithstanding the provisions of the IHRA, he can maintain a private cause of action directly under section 19 of article I of the current Illinois Constitution. He concludes that he can and asks this court to adopt his position.

In its reply Hesston counters that, under the jurisprudence emanating from Thakkar v. Wilson Enterprises, Inc. (1983), 120 Ill. App.3d 878, the plaintiff's direct action for relief under article I, section 19, of our constitution was either preempted by the procedures set forth in the IHRA, or was untenable because the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the IHRA before filing suit in the circuit court. Also, the defendant asserts that even if the plaintiff could maintain a private cause of action under the provisions of section 19 of article I of the Illinois Constitution, he cannot do so in this case, because his claim of unlawful discharge does not fall within the ambit of the "hiring and promotion practices" language of the constitutional enactment.

• 1 With respect to the question whether the IHRA was an unconstitutional legislative enactment in the sense that it preempted or limited the plaintiff's access to court under section 19 of article I of this State's constitution, we agree with the parties that the trial court's order finding the IHRA to be unconstitutional was erroneous. The plaintiff notes correctly that a statute enjoys the presumption of validity, and all reasonable doubts must be resolved in favor of the legislation. (Freeman United Coal Mining Co. v. Fair Employment Practices Com. (1983), 113 Ill. App.3d 19, 27.) Moreover, as the court in Thakkar v. Wilson Enterprises, Inc. (1983), 120 Ill. App.3d 878, 883 stated, "[t]he limitations, administrative procedures and remedies of the Human Rights Act * * * are reasonable and were enacted with proper authority."

Regarding the applicability of section 2-100 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 91 1/2, par. 2-100) to this case, the parties are in agreement, and we concur with their judgment, that that section has no relevance to the current lawsuit.

• 2 The real, disputed issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff is precluded from bringing a private cause of action, under I, section 19, of the constitution, for employment discrimination based on a mental handicap, in circumstances where there is no evidence in the record that the plaintiff exhausted ...


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