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Harris v. Manor Healthcare Corp.

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 21, 1986.

ALMA K. HARRIS, APPELLANT,

v.

MANOR HEALTHCARE CORPORATION ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County, the Hon. Creed Tucker, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Alma K. Harris, brought this action against Manor Healthcare Corporation (defendant) for injuries she allegedly received while she was a resident at defendant's Urbana, Illinois, nursing home. Reduced to its most essential allegations, her complaint alleged that soon after becoming a resident at defendant's nursing home in June 1983, she developed a decubitus ulcer, or bed sore, on her left heel, and that, as a result of improper care and treatment by defendant's staff, the ulcer became infected, necessitating the amputation of her leg.

Count I of plaintiff's five-count complaint was premised on liability under the Nursing Home Care Reform Act of 1979 (the Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4151-101 et seq.) and sought treble damages and attorney fees under section 3-602 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-602). Count II alleged that plaintiff's injuries were caused by defendant's wilful and wanton misconduct, and it sought both compensatory and punitive damages. The remaining counts alleged negligence, breach of contract and breach of warranty.

Defendant moved to dismiss count I of plaintiff's complaint pursuant to section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-619(a)(9)), contending that the treble-damages provision of the Act was unconstitutional. The circuit court of Champaign County found that sections 3-603 and 3-604 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, pars. 4153-603, 4153-604) authorized the recovery of both treble damages under section 3-602 of the Act and common law punitive damages. The court, reasoning that treble damages are the equivalent of punitive damages, concluded that recovery of both amounted to a double recovery for the same wrong. The court held that because the Act authorized a double recovery of punitive damages, the treble-damages provision of the Act violated due process and was, therefore, invalid. Accordingly, the court granted defendant's motion and dismissed count I of plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. Plaintiff appealed directly to this court pursuant to Rule 302(a)(1) (94 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(1)). The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and the Illinois Defense Counsel each filed a brief amicus curiae in this case.

The primary issue is whether the civil damages provisions of the Act violate due process by authorizing a double recovery for a single injury. Plaintiff construes the Act as not authorizing recovery of both treble damages and common law punitive damages. Defendant maintains, however, that the Act allows injured residents to recover both treble and punitive damages. It asserts that treble damages are punitive in nature and contends that recovery of both treble and punitive damages amounts to a double recovery for a single injury in violation of due process. Defendant also contends that the Act violates due process because it allows plaintiffs to obtain treble damages for "merely negligent conduct." Further, defendant argues that the treble-damages provision violates the special-legislation clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, sec. 13), because it grants a remedy to private nursing home residents which is not available to hospital patients, residents of State-operated nursing homes, or residents of similar institutions even though those persons also are dependent upon the facility operators for personal care.

The General Assembly enacted the Nursing Home Care Reform Act of 1979 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4151-101 et seq.) amid concern over reports of "inadequate, improper and degrading treatment of patients in nursing homes." (Senate Debates, 81st Ill. Gen. Assem., May 14, 1979, at 184 (statement of Senator Karl Berning).) The Act, described by a principal sponsor as a "full reform of the nursing home industry" (Senate Debates, 81st Ill. Gen. Assem., May 14, 1979, at 181 (statement of Senator Richard M. Daley)), repealed the Nursing homes, sheltered care homes and homes for the aged Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 111 1/2, par. 35.16 et seq.) and replaced it with a comprehensive statute which established standards for the treatment and care of nursing home residents; created minimum occupational requirements for nurses aides; and expanded the power of the Illinois Department of Public Health to enforce the provisions of the Act. See generally Daley and Jost, The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1979, 68 Ill. B.J. 448 (1980).

A central component of the Act is the resident's "bill of rights." Under part I of article II of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, pars. 4152-101 through 4152-113), residents are guaranteed certain rights. These rights include: the right to manage their own financial affairs; the right to refuse treatment; the right to the free exercise of religion; the right to private noncensored mail and telephone conversations; the right to refuse to perform uncompensated labor; the right to inspect personal records; the right to present grievances without retaliation; the right to privacy with respect to medical and personal care; and the right not to be subjected to abuse or neglect by nursing home personnel. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, pars. 4152-101 through 4152-113.

To ensure that nursing homes comply with the Act, the General Assembly gave the Department of Public Health expanded regulatory and enforcement powers, and created civil as well as criminal penalties for violations of the Act. (See People v. Gurell (1983), 98 Ill.2d 194.) In addition to the public enforcement provisions, nursing home residents were given several statutory remedies against nursing homes. Senator Daley, in explaining the rationale for including private remedies in the Act, remarked after its passage that, "[d]espite the best of intentions, the government can only do so much to regulate nursing home care. On the other hand, residents are always in the facilities and their friends, relatives and community supporters can regularly keep an eye on the conditions existing in facilities." Daley and Jost, The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1979, 68 Ill. B.J. 448, 453 (1980).

Under section 3-702 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-702), any person can file a complaint with the Department of Public Health. The Department is required to investigate all complaints and to promptly inform the complainant of its findings. If a complainant is dissatisfied with the findings, he or she can request a hearing before the Department. Section 3-503 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-503) provides that, when an emergency exists, a resident, his or her representative, or the resident's next of kin may petition the circuit court to place the facility under the control of a receiver. Section 3-603 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-603) allows a resident to maintain an action against a facility for declaratory or injunctive relief. Finally, Illinois has joined several States in giving residents a cause of action for damages against nursing home owners and operators for violations of the statute. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-602. See also Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. sec. 19a-550(b) (Supp. 1985); Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 111, sec. 70E (Supp. 1985); Mo. Rev. Stat. sec. 198.093 (1983); N.J. Rev. Stat. sec. 30:13-8 (1981); N.Y. Pub. Health Law sec. 2801-d (McKinney 1985); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. sec. 3721.17(I) (Page Supp. 1984); Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 63, sec. 1-1939 (1984); W. Va. Code sec 16-5C-15(c)(1985); Hoffman and Schreier, A Private Right of Action Under Missouri's Omnibus Nursing Home Act, 24 St. L.U.L.J. 661 (1981); Butler, Nursing Home Quality of Care Enforcement: Part I - Litigation by Private Parties, 14 Clearinghouse Rev. 622 (1980).

Section 3-602, the section being challenged by defendant, provides a remedy for violations of the residents' rights provisions found in article II, part I, of the Act. Under the section, residents can recover treble damages and attorney fees for violations of their rights. Section 3-602 provides:

"The licensee shall pay 3 times the actual damages, or $500, whichever is greater, and costs and attorney's fees to a facility resident whose rights, as specified in Part I of Article II of this Act, are violated." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-602.)

Section 3-601 of the Act further provides that the "owner and licensee are liable to a resident for any intentional or negligent act or omission of their agents or employees which injures the resident." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-601.) An action for damages to enforce the residents' rights provisions of the Act may be brought as a class action. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-604.) In addition to actions for damages, residents may maintain actions for declaratory and injunctive relief. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4153-603.

Plaintiff's complaint alleged in relevant part that defendant violated section 2-107 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111 1/2, par. 4152-107), which provides that an "owner, licensee, administrator, employee or agent of a facility shall not abuse or neglect a resident." It was further alleged that as a result of defendant's violation of section 2-107, a decubitus ulcer on plaintiff's left heel became infected, necessitating amputation of her leg. In count I, plaintiff sought treble damages, costs and attorney fees pursuant to section 3-602. In count II ...


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