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06/16/87 United States Steel v. the Industrial Commission

June 16, 1987





510 N.E.2d 452, 161 Ill. App. 3d 437, 109 Ill. Dec. 584

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Herman S. Haase, Judge, presiding. 1987.IL.821


JUSTICE McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court. McNAMARA and WOODWARD, JJ., concur. PRESIDING JUSTICE BARRY, Dissenting. KASSERMAN, J., concurs.


The parties, the petitioner Otha Williams and his former employer, the respondent U.S. Steel Corporation, stipulated that the petitioner incurred 100% loss of use of his right hand in an industrial accident on September 11, 1978. On that date, the petitioner's hand was traumatically amputated as he was working for the respondent at its Gary, Indiana, plant. The arbitrator awarded temporary total and permanent partial benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.). That award was affirmed by the Industrial Commission (Commission) and confirmed by the circuit court.

The respondent brought the instant appeal. On appeal, it challenges, as it has throughout the proceedings, whether the instant accident was covered under the Act.

The record facts are without controversy. At all relevant times, the petitioner has been a Joliet, Illinois, resident. On February 10, 1947, the petitioner applied for work at the respondent's plant at Joliet. He filled out an application, had a physical examination, and was hired to begin work on the following day. He completed an initial probationary period before he became a union member, and he worked at the Joliet plant as a laborer until July of 1954. Then he was transferred to the respondent's Gary, Indiana, plant pursuant to cuts in his Joliet department's operations and his election of his resulting option to transfer.

In December of 1954, when appropriate jobs reopened at the Joliet plant, the petitioner exercised his option and was returned to work there. He retained his prior Joliet employee number and his seniority at Joliet.

In February of 1958, the respondent's Joliet coke plant, the petitioner's jobsite, ceased operation. Other sections of the Joliet plant remained open, but their identity is not of record. With his notice of the coke plant's closing, the petitioner was presented options, including to retire if he qualified, to accept severance pay, or to apply for a plant transfer to another of respondent's plants.

The respondent's general supervisor of personnel at the Gary plant, Keith Kolb, testified to the respondent's standard procedure in and around February of 1958. According to Mr. Kolb, upon the petitioner's election to seek a transfer to the Gary plant, the petitioner would have completed an application for transfer; the Joliet plant would have forwarded the application to Gary; and if it had an opening for which the petitioner passed screening, the Gary plant would recontact Joliet to notify the petitioner to report for an interview and physical examination. Petitioner had no guarantee that he would be hired. Gary would have the option to reject the petitioner based upon an interview and/or a physical examination.

The petitioner testified that in March of 1958, after his last day of work at Joliet and two weeks of earned vacation, he took company papers to the Gary plant which he believed showed his personnel record. That record had been provided to him by the Joliet plant. He was hired at the Gary plant after completing two interviews, a physical examination, and a form similar to that he had completed upon his 1954 move to the Gary plant. He received an employee number different from his number at Joliet, lost department and unit seniority, joined the Gary union local without a probation period, and entered a laborer position of a lower classification than his most recent job at Joliet. He worked at the Gary plant from March of 1958 until the instant accident.

Employees covered under the Act include "persons whose employment is outside of the State of Illinois where the contract of hire is made within the State of Illinois." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 138.1(b)(2).) The principal relevant cases interpreting that definition are Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Industrial Com. (1980), 79 Ill. 2d 425, 404 N.E.2d 253, and United Airlines, Inc. v. Industrial Com. (1983), 96 Ill. 2d 126, 449 N.E.2d 119.

In Youngstown, the court focused on the fact that the employer's Chicago plant was permanently closed. After three months of unemployment, petitioner was informed by the employer that he had the opportunity to report for a job interview in Indiana. Petitioner had no guarantee that he would be hired for the Indiana job. The court found that he had no rights beyond those granted in the union contract. Petitioner was hired in Indiana and was subsequently injured 12 years later. The court found that Illinois had no jurisdiction ...

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