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09/26/88 Danilo B. Amigleo Et Al., v. E. Allen Bernardi

September 26, 1988





529 N.E.2d 1020, 175 Ill. App. 3d 449, 124 Ill. Dec. 903 1988.IL.1440

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. George M. Marovich, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE QUINLAN delivered the opinion of the court. O'CONNOR and MANNING, JJ., concur.


Both plaintiffs, Danilo Amigleo and Danilo Yanong, filed claims with the Illinois Department of Labor to recover alleged unpaid overtime compensation from their employer, Equipment Manufacturing Company (Equipment). The Department of Labor made a determination that Equipment owed plaintiffs overtime compensation, which Equipment agreed to pay, but plaintiffs refused to accept because they believed the amounts offered were insufficient. The Department of Labor then informed plaintiffs that it would take no further action regarding their claims. Plaintiffs proceeded to file a complaint against the Director of the Department of Labor (Department) in the circuit court of Cook County, asking the court to grant injunctive and monetary relief and to issue a writ of mandamus. The defendant and the plaintiffs both moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted defendant's motion and denied plaintiffs' motion. The plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration and a motion for leave to amend their complaint. The court denied both motions. Plaintiffs now appeal the order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment, denying their motion to reconsider, and denying their motion to amend their complaint. We affirm.

On April 5, 1985, Mr. Amigleo filed his claim with the Department, seeking unpaid overtime compensation in the amount of $26,907.79 from his employer, Equipment, for the period of March 1, 1982, to March 19, 1984. On June 3, 1985, Mr. Yanong filed his claim with the Department also seeking unpaid overtime compensation in the amount of $27,332 from Equipment, for the period from February 5, 1975, to January 9, 1984. After an investigation, the Department determined that Equipment owed Amigleo $9,514.36, and Yanong $3,347.50. Subsequently, on March 10, 1986, the Department held an investigative hearing on plaintiffs' claims, because Equipment did not, at that time, pay those amounts the Department had determined were due to the plaintiffs. After the hearing, the Department still determined that Amigleo was owed $9,514.36, and Yanong was owed $3,347.50. These amounts were for unpaid overtime compensation for the two-year period prior to the date of the filing of their claims with the Department. Although plaintiffs had claimed unpaid wages for a period of more than two years, the Department limited its decision to the two-year period because, the Department stated, this was a departmental policy. Equipment then issued checks in the amounts requested by the Department, but the plaintiffs refused to accept payment because they claimed they were entitled to the monies owing from the actual date of underpayment.

On July 16, 1985, the Department informed the plaintiffs that it would take no further legal action regarding their claim, but advised them that they were free to institute a private action against Equipment. On October 9, 1986, plaintiffs filed their complaint against the Department for a writ of mandamus to compel the Department to prosecute their wage claims and for injunctive relief to stop the Department from limiting their unpaid wage collections to a two-year period. Their complaint also included a claim for money damages, as well as a very general claim for certification of a class action on behalf of all of those injured by the Department's two-year policy.

The Department and the plaintiffs, as noted earlier, both moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted defendant's motion and denied plaintiffs' motions. The court found that the plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law, the Department's power to institute legal proceedings was discretionary, the five-year general limitations period for oral contracts was inapplicable, and the Department's two-year policy was reasonable. Subsequently, the trial court denied plaintiffs' motion to reconsider and denied plaintiffs' motion to file an amended complaint. Plaintiffs have now appealed.

The plaintiffs raise three issues for review: (1) whether it was error for the trial court to deny plaintiffs injunctive and mandamus relief; (2) whether the trial court erred when it found that defendant's two-year back wage claim policy was reasonable; and (3) whether the trial court erred when it denied plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint after it had granted defendant's motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiffs brought their claims for unpaid overtime wages with the Department pursuant to section 12 of the Minimum Wage Law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 1012). Section 12(a) provides an employee with a cause of action against an employer for unpaid overtime compensation. Section 12(a) provides further that "[every] such action shall be brought within 3 years from the date of the underpayment." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 1012(a).) Prior to January 1, 1984, however, section 12(a) was subject to the five-year general statute of limitations governing oral contracts. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 13-205; see also Estate of Franke (1970), 124 Ill. App. 2d 24, 259 N.E.2d 841; Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 48, par. 1012, Historical Notes (Smith-Hurd 1986).) Section 12(b) provides an administrative remedy for an employee by establishing a procedure for the employee to file a claim with the Department and further provides that the Department "may bring any legal action necessary to recover the amount of the unpaid . . . wages and . . . compensation." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 1012(b).) Section 12(b) contains no specific limitations period.

Plaintiffs first argue that the trial court improperly denied them injunctive relief. Plaintiffs had requested the trial court to issue an injunction against the Department to prohibit the Department from enforcing its self-imposed two-year limitations period for unpaid wages and compensation. Before an equitable action for an injunction will issue, however, plaintiffs must show the existence of a lawful right, irreparable harm, and an inadequate remedy at law. (Witter v. Buchanan (1985), 132 Ill. App. 3d 273, 292, 476 N.E.2d 1123, 1128.) A remedy at law for money damages is considered inadequate if the property involved is unique, such that it could not be replaced with money damages; if the injury suffered is of such a nature that damages cannot be reasonably ascertained; or if the injury is so remote or collateral to the harm that the court would not award money damages. See McClintock, Equity 5, 18-21 (West 1974).

Plaintiffs claim that the trial Judge incorrectly found that they had an adequate remedy at law when he found that they could sue their employer in a private action even though the Department had chosen not to pursue their claim. Plaintiffs argue that this finding was erroneous because, on the date the trial Judge entered summary judgment for the defendants, June 11, 1987, the limitation period of section 12(a) had already expired, leaving them without any remedy at law. Amigleo's last date of underpayment was March 19, 1984, and Yanong's last date of underpayment was January 9, 1984. Thus, the last possible date, plaintiffs claim, for them to have filed a private civil action was March 19, 1987, and January 9, 1987, respectively. The Department, however, argues that the plaintiffs had more than sufficient opportunity prior to that date to file their action, and that it even advised plaintiffs to institute a private action against their employer, but that they failed to do so. Moreover, the Department asserts, plaintiffs are still not prevented from filing an action against Equipment, because a limitations defense can be waived.

It is clear that the plaintiffs in this case had an adequate remedy at law, but they failed to take the necessary action to pursue that remedy. The remedy which plaintiffs seeks is simply not in the nature of an equitable remedy, because plaintiffs here seek specific money damages for unpaid overtime compensation to which they were allegedly entitled. It is undisputed that the Department informed plaintiffs' attorney as early as July 15, 1986, that the Department would take no legal action and that the plaintiffs were free to pursue their own cause of action against Equipment. Plaintiffs failed to file a private claim against Equipment before the statutory limitations period ran. Additionally, it is true, as the Department contends, that plaintiffs are not technically, even now, barred from proceeding against Equipment, because a statute of limitations defense is generally raised by the defendant in response to a filed cause of action, and, as such, the defense may be waived by the defendant or the defendant may be, under certain circumstances, estopped from asserting it as a defense. (See Phillips v. Elrod (1985), 135 Ill. App. 3d 70, 478 N.E.2d ...

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