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Ellis v. Board of Governors

OPINION FILED JUNE 29, 1984.

RUTH ELLIS, APPELLANT,

v.

THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF STATE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fourth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County, the Hon. Richard J. Cadagin, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE CLARK DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The plaintiff, Ruth Ellis, filed suit against the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities of Illinois (the Board) in the circuit court of Sangamon County. In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that she had been constructively discharged without good cause from her position as a tenured professor at Northeastern Illinois University in violation of section 8(3) of "An Act to provide for the management, operation, control and maintenance of the State Colleges and Universities System" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 144, par. 1008(3)). In her complaint, plaintiff sought "an award of damages and appropriate injunctive relief for breach of [her] employment rights." Upon the Board's motion, the circuit court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint with prejudice, holding that the Court of Claims had exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit. The appellate court, in a Rule 23 order, affirmed the circuit court holding that any remedy available to the plaintiff must be sought in the Court of Claims. (115 Ill. App.3d 1158.) The plaintiff filed a petition for leave to appeal with this court pursuant to our Rule 315(a) (87 Ill.2d R. 315(a)), and we granted plaintiff's petition. We now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

The plaintiff raises two issues on appeal before this court. First, whether the Board is the "State of Illinois" within the meaning of the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 37, par. 439.1 et seq.) and therefore must be sued in the Court of Claims and, second, whether her suit is outside the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Claims because it is based upon a violation of her statutory rights.

Plaintiff was a tenured professor at Northeastern Illinois University. During the 1974-75 academic school year she was sent to Sweden to participate in an approved educational and research program. While in Sweden, plaintiff became ill and was placed on a medical leave of absence. Plaintiff applied for temporary disability payments under the State Universities Retirement System on the advice of the University. In order for plaintiff to receive the temporary disability payments, she needed certification of her medical condition by two physicians. The physician for the University refused to certify plaintiff's condition, and the plaintiff alleges the University failed to advise her that two physicians in Sweden could provide the necessary certification. On or about September 14, 1977, plaintiff received a letter from the provost of the University advising her that she could not continue on her leave of absence but must return and resume her responsibilities or be dismissed. Plaintiff responded by requesting an early retirement because she alleges she was not in good enough physical condition to return to work.

Plaintiff alleges that the University forced her into early retirement by refusing to give her temporary disability and that she was constructively dismissed from her tenured position in violation of section 8(3) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 144, par. 1008(3)), which provides for dismissal only for good cause. Plaintiff believes she should be reinstated to her tenured position and receive money damages for her lost salary or, in the alternative, temporary disability payments from the 1975-76 academic school year until the present.

The plaintiff contends that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not apply to the Board and that the circuit court therefore has jurisdiction over her claim. In S.J. Groves & Sons Co. v. State (1982), 93 Ill.2d 397, we stated:

"In the United States, sovereign immunity has been justified as a rule which embodies a policy that protects the State from interference in its performance of the functions of government and preserves its control over State coffers." 93 Ill.2d 397, 401, citing Block, Suits Against Government Officers and the Sovereign Immunity Doctrine, 59 Harv. L. Rev. 1060, 1061 (1946).

As we also stated in Groves:

"Section 4 of article XIII of the 1970 Constitution abolished sovereign immunity. It provides: `Except as the General Assembly may provide by law, sovereign immunity in this State is abolished.'

Pursuant to section 4 of article XIII the legislature enacted Public Act 77-1776 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 127, par. 801), which provides that the State may not be made a defendant or a party in any court except as set forth in the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 439.1 et seq.). Public Act 77-1776 became effective on January 1, 1972, the same date section 4 of article XIII was to become effective (Ill. Const. 1970, Transition Schedule, sec. 1(e)). As this court said in Sass v. Kramer (1978), 72 Ill.2d 485, the legislature, `acting under the authority of the 1970 Constitution, specifically prohibited making the State of Illinois a defendant or party in any court.' 72 Ill.2d 485, 490." S.J. Groves & Sons Co. v. State (1982), 93 Ill.2d 397, 399.

We will first address plaintiff's assertion that the Board is not the "State of Illinois" for purposes of sovereign immunity. In Williams v. Medical Center Com. (1975), 60 Ill.2d 389, this court held that the Medical Center Commission, a body politic and corporate, was an arm of the State and only subject to suit in the Illinois Court of Claims pursuant to the Court of Claims Act. This court stated:

"Whether the Medical Center Commission is to be regarded as an arm of the State is therefore the first question which we must decide. Both the Medical Center Act and the Court of Claims Act refer to the Medical Center Commission by name, and each directs that actions against the Commission which sound in tort shall be prosecuted in the court of claims. Beyond this legislative characterization there are additional indications that the Commission is in fact an agency of the State. Its personnel must be hired pursuant to the Personnel Code of the State; it is required to submit to the General Assembly biennial reports of its past operations and its future programs; its contracts must be made in accordance with the Civil Administrative Code which governs State agencies; its procedures and its fiscal affairs are subject to audit by the Department of Finance like other State agencies; it can convey its real estate only with the written consent of the Governor; and the General Assembly regularly appropriates funds for the compensation of its employees and its acquisition and demolition of buildings. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 91, pars. 126, 128, 129, 129b, 130; Pub. Act 78-1002; Pub. Act 77-1906.) In our opinion the Medical Center Commission is an arm of the State and the immunity granted by the General Assembly was authorized by section 4 of article XIII of the Constitution." 60 Ill.2d 389, 393-94.

Then, in Kane v. Board of Governors (1976), 43 Ill. App.3d 315, the appellate court, in comparing the Medical Center Commission in Williams to the Board of Governors, held:

"The facts of the instant case are similar to those in Williams because not only does section 8 of the Court of Claims Act refer to the Board by name (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 37, par. 439.8), but numerous statutory provisions expressly or impliedly characterize the Board as an arm of the State. For instance, the Board is a creation of the General Assembly and is appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate. (Sections 1 and 2 of the State Colleges and Universities Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 144, pars. 1001-1002).) The Board possesses the power of eminent domain, can be sued only in the Court of Claims and holds all real property `for the People of the State of Illinois.' (Section 7 of the State Colleges and Universities Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 144, par. 1007).) All of the Board's excess revenues are payable to a special fund in the State Treasury and the General Assembly has the power to make appropriations from that fund for the use of the Board. (Section 6a of the State Auditing Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 127, par. 142a).) The Board's expenditures are subject to regulation by the department of General Services and subject to audit by the State Auditor General. (Section 67 of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 127, par. 63b13); section 6 of the State Auditing Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 127, par. 142).) Finally employees ...


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