APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE IAN H. LEVIN, JUDGE PRESIDING.
Released for Publication July 14, 1994.
O'connor, Buckley, Manning
The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'connor
Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff, Joan Hickey, individually and as special administrator for the Estate of Richard J. Hickey, brought suit in the circuit court of Cook County against defendant, Robert Huber, an Illinois State trooper. Plaintiff sought recovery for the death of her husband Richard as a result of a 1986 vehicle collision with Huber. The circuit court dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm.
On September 18, 1986, Huber, responsible for the northern Illinois area, was assigned to patrol U.S. Interstate 290 and to control traffic on that highway. Huber's field training officer, Tony Morrison, accompanied Huber on this assignment. Both Morrison and Huber stated that they received two radio reports over the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network which announced that suspects from an armed robbery had been observed heading east on Cermak Road. The report instructed units to "look out" for a metallic green car without license plates. At the time of the broadcast, Huber and Morrison were travelling south on Harlem Avenue toward Interstate 290. Huber drove to Cermak Road, and as he waited to turn left onto Cermak, both he and Morrison saw a car fitting the description drive through the intersection. Huber turned onto Cermak Road with siren, mars lights, and flashing "wig-wag" lights activated and began chasing the car. However, the green car, attempting to elude the squad car, increased its speed.
The green car proceeded through the intersection of Cermak Road and Home Avenue. The light for the Cermak Road traffic was green. As Huber began to enter the intersection, Hickey, travelling on Home Avenue and apparently oblivious to the siren, entered the intersection against the light. Huber attempted to brake, but could not avoid hitting Hickey's car.
In her complaint, plaintiff specifically alleged that Huber acted in violation of state law by unlawfully operating his vehicle too fast for conditions in excess of the posted speed limit. Claiming sovereign immunity, Huber moved for summary judgment. In response to Huber's motion, plaintiff relied upon the depositions of both Huber and Morrison as well as the unsworn statements of two witnesses to the collision, Alice Ramirez and Rosalinda Gonzalez. In these statements, the witnesses contradicted the troopers' accounts that the light for the Cermak Road traffic was green at the time Huber entered the intersection. Both women also stated that they did not see a greencar go through the intersection. The circuit court granted Huber's motion, finding that the doctrine of sovereign immunity precluded plaintiff's suit from being filed in the circuit court.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to reconsider which contained "new evidence" and which alleged that the court misapplied the law. The alleged new evidence consisted of the affidavits of Ramirez, Gonzalez, and a James Hohbein. Huber opposed the motion, arguing that no new evidence existed because plaintiff could have presented the affidavits long before the entry of summary judgment. The circuit court did not allow the filings and denied the motion for reconsideration, noting again that the proper forum for the suit was the Court of Claims.
Plaintiff contends that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not bar her from pursuing her claim against Huber in the circuit court. She argues that Huber was not performing his official duties as a State trooper at the time of the collision and that the circuit court was the proper forum for the litigation.
Article XIII, section 4, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 abolished sovereign immunity "except as the General Assembly may provide by law." (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, § 4.) The legislature has enacted the State Lawsuit Immunity Act, which provides in pertinent part:
"Except as provided in * * * 'AN ACT to create a Court of Claims * * *' the State of Illinois shall not be made a defendant or party in any court."
(Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 127, par. 801.) The Court of Claims Act established the Court of Claims and vested in it the exclusive jurisdiction to hear certain matters, including all claims against the State for damages sounding in tort, "if a like cause of action would lie against a private person or corporation in a civil suit." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 37, par. 439.8(d).) Accordingly, the issue before this court is whether plaintiff's claim against Huber, an employee of the State of Illinois, is actually a claim against the State such that the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over the action.
Whether a suit is, in fact, a suit against the State depends not on the naming of the State as a party in the complaint but on what issues are alleged and what relief is sought. ( Currie v. Lao (1992), 148 Ill. 2d 151, 592 N.E.2d 977, 170 Ill. Dec. 297.) Therefore, an action against the State lies even if one of its employees is sued individually so long as judgment "could operate to control the actions of" or "subject" the State to liability. ( Currie, 148 Ill. 2d at 158.) Sovereign immunity provides no ...