Honorable James A. Knecht, J., Honorable Frederick S. Green, J., Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Knecht
JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff, Kathleen Raymond, appeals from the dismissal of her complaint by the circuit court of Champaign County. The circuit court held it did not have jurisdiction to hear her claim, finding the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction to hear cases involving the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and the College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Illinois (hereinafter referred to collectively as the University). Raymond contends this was error, but we disagree and affirm.
Raymond filed a complaint against the University in the circuit court of Champaign County, alleging breach of contract. The University filed a motion to dismiss, alleging the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear any contract claim against the University, as exclusive jurisdiction over such claims is vested in the Court of Claims. The court granted the University's motion. Plaintiff appeals. The issue before this court is whether the doctrine of sovereign immunity precludes the maintenance of a contract claim against the University in the circuit court.
The doctrine of sovereign immunity provides the State shall be immune from any suit to which it has not consented. (See S.J. Groves & Sons Co. v. State (1982), 93 Ill. 2d 397, 400, 444 N.E.2d 131, 132, 67 Ill. Dec. 92.) It has been justified as a rule which embodies a policy that protects the State from interference in its performance of the functions of government and preserves its control over State coffers. S.J. Groves, 93 Ill. 2d at 401, 444 N.E.2d at 133, citing Block, Suits Against Government Officers and the Sovereign Immunity Doctrine, 59 Harv. L. Rev. 1060, 1061 (1946).
The doctrine of sovereign immunity was embodied in the Illinois Constitution until 1970. The constitutional provision was as follows: "The State of Illinois shall never be made defendant in any court of law or equity." (Ill. Const. 1870, art. IV, § 26.) Constitutionally derived sovereign immunity was abolished in 1970. Specifically, the 1970 Constitution provides "Except as the General Assembly may provide by law, sovereign immunity in this State is abolished." (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, § 4). Contemporaneously with the 1970 Constitution, the General Assembly enacted the State Lawsuit Immunity Act (Immunity Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 127, par. 800 et seq.). Under this act, except as provided in the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 48, par. 1601 et seq.) and the Court of Claims Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 37, par. 439.1 et seq.), the State of Illinois shall not be made a defendant or party in any court. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 127, par. 801.
The Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine:
"(b) All claims against the state founded upon any contract entered into with the State of Illinois.
(d) All claims against the State for damages in cases sounding in tort, if a like cause of action would lie against a private person or corporation in a civil suit, and all like claims sounding in tort against the Medical Center Commission, the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, the Board of Regents of the Regency Universities System, the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities, or the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy * * *." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 37, pars. 439.8(b),(d).
The applicability of the legislative sovereign immunity provision to contract disputes involving the State of Illinois has been explicitly recognized by our supreme court. In S.J. Groves, the court noted other jurisdictions have held the doctrine of sovereign immunity inapplicable to contract disputes, reasoning that when a State voluntarily enters into a contractual relationship, it impliedly consents to be sued on that contract. ( S.J. Groves, 93 Ill. 2d at 402-03, 444 N.E.2d at 133-34.) However, the court noted in none of those jurisdictions was immunity provided for by the legislature pursuant to the kind of express language of section 4 of article XIII of the 1970 Illinois Constitution. ( S.J. Groves, 93 Ill. 2d at 402-03, 444 N.E.2d at 133-34.) The court further noted consent to be sued cannot be implied when there is an express statutory provision to the contrary. Thus, merely because the State is obligated under a contract which it made does not mean consent to suit thereon in a circuit court is implied. S.J. Groves, 93 Ill. 2d at 404, 444 N.E.2d at 134.
Thus, if the University may be considered a part of the "State of Illinois" for the purposes of the Immunity Act, the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction to hear Raymond's contract dispute involving the University. Raymond argues the University is not part of the State for the purposes of the Immunity Act. She relies on three early Illinois Supreme Court cases in support of her position. She alleges the Court of Claims Act applies to contract and tort claims involving the State of Illinois by virtue of the Immunity Act. Although acknowledging the Court of Claims Act applies to tort claims involving the University, she contends this is not by virtue of the Immunity Act (e.g., not because the University is part of the State), but because the University's enabling statute provides for resolution of these tort claims by the Court of Claims. She alleges the Court of Claims Act does not apply to contract claims involving the University. Raymond's arguments are virtually identical to those addressed and rejected by several districts of the appellate court, including this district, as well as by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Raymond contends three early supreme court cases indicate the University may not be considered an arm of the State for the purposes of sovereign immunity. She alleges the Supreme Court of Illinois has consistently rejected the argument the University may be considered part of the State. Specifically, she draws our attention to Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois v. Bruner (1898), 175 Ill. 307, 51 N.E. 687, People ex rel. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois v. Barrett (1943), 382 Ill. 321, 46 N.E.2d 951, and Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois v. Industrial Comm'n (1969), 44 Ill. 2d 207, 254 N.E.2d 522.
Raymond first contends one need only look to the enabling legislation to determine whether an action may be brought against the entity in the circuit court. Since the University's enabling legislation provides the University is empowered to contract and to sue and be sued, provided that tort claims against the University be brought in the Court of Claims (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 144, par. 22), Raymond contends that by implication contract claims against the University need not be brought in the Court of Claims but may be brought in the circuit court. Raymond relies on Bruner for the proposition the enabling legislation is determinative.
In the 1898 Bruner decision, the Supreme Court of Illinois found a contract claim against the University could be brought in the courts of the State. The court noted the University's charter expressly provides it may sue and be sued, and this "provision is substantially that found in all the charters of charitable institutions of the State, boards of education, school directors, and other similar governmental agencies. It has never been doubted that these corporations could be sued, the same as individuals." ( Bruner, 175 Ill. at 309, 51 N.E. at 687-88.) The court concluded, due to the legislature's express language in the enabling statute, a dispute with the University could be determined by the ...