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05/31/95 ROCKFORD MEMORIAL HOSPITAL v. DEPARTMENT

May 31, 1995

ROCKFORD MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT (A.L. RAO, INTERVENOR).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 94-MR-4. Honorable Alford R. Penniman, Judge, Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Bowman delivered the opinion of the court: McLAREN, P.j., and Colwell, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bowman

JUSTICE BOWMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, the Department of Human Rights, appeals an order of the circuit court enjoining it from taking any action to investigate a charge of discrimination filed by Dr. A. Lakshmana Rao against plaintiff, Rockford Memorial Hospital. We reverse and remand.

The following is a brief summary of the facts. On November 22, 1993, Dr. A. Lakshmana Rao (Rao) filed a charge with the Department of Human Rights (Department) alleging that Rockford Memorial Hospital (Rockford) discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin, race, and religion, in violation of the Illinois HumanRights Act (Human Rights Act) (775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 1992)). The basis of Rao's allegation of discrimination was a decision by a Rockford Memorial Hospital credentials committee, a body composed of physicians on Rockford's medical staff, to restrict his hospital staff privileges. The parties characterize the proceedings of Rockford's credentials committee as "peer review proceedings." Peer review is the method by which many hospitals determine medical staff status and address issues relating to the quality of patient care.

On January 7, 1994, Rockford filed a verified two-count complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction in the circuit court of Winnebago County seeking (1) a declaration that the Department lacked the jurisdictional authority to investigate Rao's charge of discrimination; and (2) an order enjoining the Department from investigating the charge. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that Rao had staff privileges at Rockford but was not an employee and that the decision to curtail Rao's staff privileges resulted from peer review proceedings conducted pursuant to Rockford's bylaws and its written policy on medical staff appointment.

In support of the complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction, Rockford filed a memorandum of law. In the memorandum, it argued that the Department should be precluded from investigating Rao's charge because section 10.2 of the Hospital Licensing Act (210 ILCS 85/10.2 (West 1992)) grants hospitals such as Rockford absolute immunity from civil liability for decisions made by credentials committees and other peer review committees. The memorandum further argued that the Department had no authority to investigate the charge because Rao was not an employee within the meaning of the Human Rights Act.

On January 24, 1994, Rockford filed a motion for summary judgment on both counts of its complaint, adopting its previously filed memorandum of law. (See 735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 1992).) On January 28, 1994, the Department filed a motion to dismiss Rockford's complaint pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure. (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 1992).) In its motion to dismiss, the Department argued that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the complaint because the Department had not yet made its own initial determination of whether it had jurisdiction over Rao's charge. The Department further argued that Rockford was required to exhaust its administrative remedies before it could bring an action in the circuit court. On March 1, 1994, the circuit court denied the Department's section 2-619 motion and asserted jurisdiction over Rockford's action. The Department filed its answer to Rockford's complaint on March 24, 1994.

On June 8, 1994, following a hearing, the circuit court granted summary judgment to Rockford and enjoined the Department from investigating Rao's charge of discrimination. The trial court's order granting summary judgment stated in pertinent part:

"1. The Illinois Supreme Court held in Cardwell v. Rockford Memorial Hospital, 136 Ill. 2d 271, 144 Ill. Dec. 109, 555 N.E.2d 6 (1990), that Section 10.2 of the Illinois Hospital Licensing Act, 210 ILCS 85/10.2, confers absolute immunity from civil damages as a result of acts, omissions, decisions or any other conduct of a credentials committee.

2. That there are no genuine issues of any material fact.

3. As a matter of law, the proceeding initiated by Dr. Rao with the Illinois Department of Human Rights cannot be maintained against Rockford Memorial Hospital or its credentials committee."

The Department timely filed its notice of appeal on June 11, 1994.

On appeal, the Department argues that the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to Rockford and enjoin the Department's investigation should be reversed because: (1) Rockford's claim against the Department isbarred by sovereign immunity; (2) Rockford was required to exhaust its administrative remedies before proceeding in the circuit court; and (3) the trial court erred in finding that the Illinois Hospital Licensing Act (210 ILCS 85/10.2 (West 1992)) confers absolute immunity from discrimination claims arising from decisions made by peer review committees.

Summary judgment is proper where no genuine issue of material fact exists and the question before the court is solely a matter of law. (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 1992); Jacobson v. General Finance Corp. (1992), 227 Ill. App. 3d 1089, 1093, 170 Ill. Dec. 441, 592 N.E.2d 1121.) Our function in reviewing a grant of summary judgment is to determine whether the trial court correctly found that there were no genuine issues of material fact and, if there were not, whether the trial court correctly entered judgment as a matter of law. ( Village of Long Grove v. Austin Bank (1994), 268 Ill. App. 3d 70, 73, 205 Ill. Dec. 900, 644 N.E.2d 456.) We ...


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