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Robb v. Sutton

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 15, 1986.

JAMES ROBB, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

JOHN R. SUTTON, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. George S. Miller, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE MORTHLAND DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his two-count complaint by the circuit court of Champaign County for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

We affirm.

Count I of the plaintiff's complaint, filed on September 23, 1985, alleged negligent misrepresentation by the defendant; count II purports to sound in fraud. The complaint alleged that during 1981 the plaintiff was employed by the Board of Trustees (Board) of Southern Illinois University (SIU) as a program coordinator and associate professor in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Defendant, at that time, was also employed by the Board as an assistant dean in the office of off-campus activities at SIU.

Essentially, the complaint averred that the plaintiff became aware of a possible need for a program coordinator at the Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, due to an expansion of the programs there. Plaintiff alleged that he expressed an interest in that position, and contacted the defendant to ascertain whether those programs were on the agenda of the Illinois Board of Higher Education for approval. According to the complaint, the defendant "negligently" (count I) and/or "recklessly" (count II) represented that these programs had already been submitted for approval, when in fact they were not. The plaintiff claimed he was then offered the position.

Plaintiff stated that, in reliance on the defendant's statements, he accepted that position, relocated in Champaign, and transferred to Chanute in November of 1981. Plaintiff charged, however, that the programs were in actuality never submitted for approval, that the defendant knew or should have known this, and that the defendant either "negligently" or "recklessly" failed to correct the false representations of fact made. Plaintiff asserted in his complaint that he would not have accepted the position had he known the programs were not on the agenda for approval, and the defendant was aware of this fact. The position at Chanute was subsequently terminated. Plaintiff therefore sought money damages from the defendant only for loss of income, benefits, employment, and for a loss on the sale of his North Carolina home.

The defendant in response filed a motion to dismiss the action, contending that he was at all times relevant to the complaint employed by the Board of SIU, an arm of the State of Illinois, and was acting within his official duties there. Defendant asserted that the instant tort action was only nominally against him, and was in reality a suit against the State, as the State would be subject to liability. Thus, defendant concluded that exclusive jurisdiction over the matter rested in the Illinois Court of Claims by virtue of section 8(d) of the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 37, par. 439.8(d)).

On January 9, 1986, the circuit court entered an order granting the defendant's motion and dismissing the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

On appeal, the plaintiff maintains that his complaint seeks damages only against the defendant in his individual capacity for the negligent or "reckless" misrepresentations made by him. Plaintiff stresses that he has made no claim against either the Board or the University, and thus his suit is not one against the State. Accordingly, he believes the circuit court erred in finding it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

As a perfunctory matter, we note that article XIII, section 4, of the 1970 Illinois Constitution abolished sovereign immunity in Illinois except as the General Assembly may provide by law. (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, sec. 4.) Under this authority, Public Act 77-1776 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 127, par. 801) was enacted by the legislature to provide 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. 1983, ch. 37, par. 439.1 et seq.). The latter statute grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Court of Claims for all tort claims brought against the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 37, par. 439.8(d).) Thus, should this action be deemed one against the Board, only the Court of Claims may entertain it.

• 1 Again, only the defendant in his individual capacity is named in this action. However, we are not bound by this fact alone. It is well settled that the determination of whether or not an action is a suit against the State is dependent upon an analysis of two factors — the issues involved and the relief sought — rather than on the mere formal identification of the parties. (Herget National Bank v. Kenney (1985), 105 Ill.2d 405, 408, 475 N.E.2d 863, 864; Senn Park Nursing Center v. Miller (1984), 104 Ill.2d 169, 186, 470 N.E.2d 1029, 1038; Hudgens v. Dean (1979), 75 Ill.2d 353, 355, 388 N.E.2d 1242.) As such, if a judgment for the plaintiff could operate to control the actions of the State or subject it to liability, it will then be deemed an action against the State, even though the State is not a named party. (Senn Park Nursing Center v. Miller (1984), 104 Ill.2d 169, 470 N.E.2d 1029; Brucato v. Edgar (1984), 128 Ill. App.3d 260, 264, 470 N.E.2d 615, 618.) Our supreme court has stated:

"The constitutional inhibition against making the State of Illinois a party to a suit cannot be evaded by making an action nominally one against the servants or agents of the State when the real claim is against the State of Illinois itself and when the State of Illinois is the party vitally interested." Sass v. Kramer (1978), 72 Ill.2d 485, 491, 381 N.E.2d 975, 977.

• 2 Legal official acts of State agents, performed within the bounds of their official authority or duties, are normally considered acts of the State itself. (Senn Park Nursing Center v. Miller (1984), 104 Ill.2d 169, 470 N.E.2d 1029; Sass v. Kramer (1978), 72 Ill.2d 485, 381 N.E.2d 975.) On the other hand, where a State officer acts illegally, or purports to act in excess of his delegated authority, a suit may be maintained against the officer individually, and is not an action against the State. (Sass v. Kramer (1978), 72 Ill.2d 485, 381 N.E.2d 975; E.H. Swenson & Son, Inc. v. Lorenz (1967), 36 Ill.2d 382, 223 N.E.2d 147; Moline Tool Co. v. Department of Revenue (1951), 410 Ill. 35, 101 N.E.2d 71.) Where State officials act outside the scope of their authority, they clearly may not claim the benefit of immunity for such actions.

• 3 Further, a present-future distinction in claims against the State has also been recognized by our courts. If a suit seeks to enjoin a State officer from future action in excess of his delegated authority, the immunity prohibition does not pertain. (Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc. v. Trainor (1977), 68 Ill.2d 540, 548, 370 N.E.2d 223, 227.) If an action instead seeks compensation for past harm and monetary damages as a present claim for relief, that claim has the potential to control the action of the State or subject it to liability, and must be brought in the Court of Claims. Ellis v. Board of ...


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