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January 20, 1994



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mcmorrow

JUSTICE McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:

The Village of Glenview chief of police and the chairman and board members of the board of fire and police commissioners of the Village of Glenview (hereinafter collectively referred to as the police board) appeal from the appellate court's decision (241 Ill. App. 3d 807) that the police board's termination of a police officer's employment is barred by the doctrine of laches because the police officer's conduct, for which his employment was terminated, occurred more than five years prior to the date on which the disciplinary charges against the officer were filed.

We conclude that principles of laches did not bar the officer's discharge. However, we determine that the police board should not have prevented the police officer from presenting evidence in his own defense at his discharge hearing. Consequently, we set aside the police board's discharge of the police officer and remand the matter to the police board for further proceedings consistent herewith.


According to the pertinent facts of record, David Van Milligan (Van Milligan) was discharged for violations of department rules during an encounter with Milton W. Grosse (Grosse), a resident of Glenview, that occurred on July 22, 1982. At the time, Van Milligan was on duty as a police officer of the Village of Glenview. Van Milligan arrested Grosse during the incident and criminal charges were filed against him. Some of the criminal charges were later nolprossed by the State. Grosse was acquitted of the remainder.

Grosse accused Van Milligan of having committed various civil rights violations during the arrest. Initially the matter was investigated by the deputy chief of the Glenview police department, who determined that Grosse's allegations of civil rights violations were "unfounded." Grosse later filed suit in the Federal district court alleging violations of his civil rights under Federal law (42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1988)) as well as State law claims. Following a jury trial, judgment in the Federal civil rights suit was entered against Van Milligan and in favor of Grosse for $50,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages.

During the pendency of the Federal suit, Van Milligan continued his duties as police officer of the Glenview police department. He was given satisfactory personnel reviews during this period, and on some occasions the chief of police placed notes of commendation in Van Milligan's file. The chief of police asked that Van Milligan keep him informed of the progress of the Federal proceeding. Once, when Van Milligan informed his police chief that Grosse had made an offer to settle the Federal suit, the chief responded, "Don't settle. The Village will be behind you all the way."

However, after the Federal district court denied post-trial motions in Grosse's Federal suit against Van Milligan, the police chief instituted an action for Van Milligan's dismissal from the police force. Discharge was sought on the basis that Van Milligan's treatment of Grosse during the July 1982 arrest amounted to an assault and battery, and thereby constituted a violation of Grosse's Federal civil rights. Relying upon principles of collateral estoppel and the transcript of the trial in the Federal civil right suit, the police board denied Van Milligan the opportunity to present evidence on the question of whether his treatment of Grosse constituted an assault, battery, or violation of Grosse's civil rights under Federal law. The police board then entered a decision that terminated Van Milligan's employment.

Van Milligan sought administrative review of the police board's decision in the circuit court. The trial court denied Van Milligan's request for reinstatement, finding that Van Milligan had been properly discharged and that the doctrine of laches did not bar the termination of his employment. The appellate court reversed (241 Ill. App. 3d 807) with one Justice Dissenting (241 Ill. App. 3d at 812 (Greiman, J., Dissenting)). This court allowed the police board's petition for leave to appeal (134 Ill. 2d R. 315).

Application of Equitable Doctrine of Laches

Van Milligan contends that equitable principles of laches should be applied in the instant cause to bar his discharge. Van Milligan notes that the Grosse incident occurred in July 1982. However, the action seeking Van Milligan's discharge was not filed until January 1988, almost 5 1/2 years after the Grosse incident.

Generally, principles of laches are applied when a party's failure to timely assert a right has caused prejudice to the adverse party. ( Tully v. State (1991), 143 Ill. 2d 425, 432, 574 N.E.2d 659.) The two fundamental elements of laches are lack of due diligence by the party asserting the claim and prejudice to the opposing party. Tully, 143 Ill. 2d at 432.

Van Milligan suggests that both of these elements are present in this case. He contends that the approximate fiveyear delay in filing disciplinary charges against him evidenced a lack of due diligence. Van Milligan also argues that the record reveals that he was prejudiced by the failure to institute disciplinary charges sooner. The ...

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