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April 22, 1996


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 93-MR-0236. Honorable Ellen A. Dauber, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Chapman delivered the opinion of the court: Kuehn, J., and Goldenhersh, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chapman

JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

The Department of Professional Regulation (Department) appeals from the circuit court's reversal of the Department's decision denying Marquato Murry her application for a nursing license by endorsement. We affirm.

Marquato Murry graduated from the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri, in May of 1987. In 1987 and 1988 Murry failed her first two attempts to pass the national nursing examination for registered nurses. On her third attempt in July 1993, Murry passed the exam. Thereafter, on September 15, 1993, she was licensed as a registered professional nurse in Missouri. On September 20, 1993, Murry, a resident of Illinois, applied for licensure by endorsement as a registered professional nurse before the Department. The Department denied Murry's application for licensure because the licensing requirements in her state of original licensure were not substantially equal to those in Illinois, as provided in the Illinois Nursing Act of 1987 (225 ILCS 65/19 (West 1992)). In particular, the Department denied her application because she did not pass, within three years of completing her education as a nurse, an examination which would allow her to be licensed as a nurse.

On December 6, 1993, Murry filed her complaint for administrative review in the circuit court. The complaint stated that she had been unable to complete the exam within three years due to her husband's overseas military obligations. Murry argued that the Department erroneously applied the three-year deadline found in the licensure-by-examinations section (225 ILCS 65/15 (West 1992)) to the licensure-by-endorsement section (225 ILCS 65/19 (West 1992)), which has no three-year limitation. Murry also argued that the Department's decision was unreasonable given Murry's mitigating circumstances of being overseas with her husband, who was fulfilling his military obligation.

The Department argued that because Missouri law imposes nolimits on the period of time within which the nursing exam must be passed, Missouri law is not "substantially equal to Illinois law. The Department also argued that Murry never apprised it of any mitigating circumstances as to why she was unable to take the exam from 1988 to 1993.

The circuit court reversed the Department's decision, finding in pertinent part:

"Under section 19 the decision of whether to grant a license depends upon an analysis of the applicable law in a state, and not on an applicant's particular position. Thus, in an analysis of this provision, it would be irrelevant if a particular applicant passed the examination on her first or fiftieth attempt at taking the exam; the only proper question would be whether the law of the state in which she is licensed allows applicants to become licensed upon passing the exam more than three years after completing school. If so, under the interpretation of the Department, the law of that state would not be substantially equal to the law of Illinois, and the applicant could not gain her license by way of endorsement, even if she passed the exam immediately after graduation. Thus, if plaintiff in this case is not entitled to licensure by way of endorsement because the laws of Missouri are not substantially equal to those of Illinois, then no other applicants from Missouri are entitled to licensure by way of endorsement. This interpretation makes no sense, does not support the public policy of providing qualified nurses, and cannot be the intent of the legislature.

The Court finds therefore that the three year requirement for passing a nursing exam is not such an important requirement in the Illinois nurse licensing laws that Missouri's failure to have such a requirement renders Missouri's licensing requirements not 'substantially equal'."

The Department contends that the circuit court's decision is erroneous.

The Department's decision denying licensure is subject to judicial review under the Administrative Review Law. 735 ILCS 5/3-101 (West 1992); 225 ILCS 65/44 (West 1992). Agency findings on questions of fact are prima facie true and correct, and this court's function is limited to ascertaining whether the administrative agency's findings and decisions are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Parisi v. Jenkins, 236 Ill. App. 3d 42, 47, 603 N.E.2d 566, 569-70, 177 Ill. Dec. 496 (1992). Agency determinations on questions of law should be affirmed absent an abuse of discretion. O'Hare-Midway Limousine Service, Inc. v. Baker, 232 Ill. App. 3d 108, 110, 596 N.E.2d 795, 797, 173 Ill. Dec. 171 (1992). In addition, an agency interpretation of statutes the agency is empowered to administer should only be overturned if it is clearly erroneous. O'Hare-Midway, 232 Ill. App. 3d at 111, 596 N.E.2d at 797.

In Illinois, one may obtain licensure as a professional registered nurse by either successfully passing a licensing exam within this State (225 ILCS 65/15 (West 1992)) or by being licensed by endorsement (225 ILCS 65/19 (West 1992)). Thus, a person who is licensed in another state may obtain an Illinois license without further examination. Burke v. Department of Registration & Education, 83 Ill. App. 3d 647, 404 N.E.2d 961, 39 Ill. Dec. 370 (1980). The Department's major purpose in licensing is to prevent injury to the public by ensuring that the nursing profession is practiced with honesty and integrity and that the unskilled are excluded. 225 ILCS 65/2 (West 1992); Yu v. Clayton, 147 Ill. App. 3d 350, 356, 497 N.E.2d 1278, 1282, 100 Ill. Dec. 916 (1986). In addressing the issue in this case we are mindful of this legislatively mandated purpose of the Department.

In Illinois, an applicant for licensure who is a registered professional nurse licensed by examination under the laws of another state shall, without examination, be granted a license as a registered professional nurse by the Department whenever the requirements of such state were at the date of license substantially equal to the requirements then in force in this state. 225 ILCS 65/19 (West 1992). Of the ...

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