Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 96L60. Honorable John G. Townsend, Judge Presiding.
As Corrected September 23, 1997.
Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, P.j., Honorable Rita B. Garman, J. - Concur, Honorable Robert W. Cook, J. - Concur. Presiding Justice Steigmann delivered the opinion of the court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steigmann
PRESIDING JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:
In February 1996, plaintiff, Louis Wozniak, sued defendant, Thomas F. Conry, for tortious interference with an employment contract. In July 1996, the circuit court dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The court ruled that because Conry's conduct arose solely out of conduct related to duties imposed on him by virtue of his job at the University of Illinois (University), a state institution, Wozniak's suit could only be brought in the Court of Claims. 705 ILCS 505/8 (West Supp. 1995). Wozniak appeals, and we affirm.
Prior to July 1995, Wozniak was an associate professor in the Department of General Engineering (Department) at the University. In August 1995, Wozniak was reassigned from a teaching position to a position maintaining a website on the World Wide Web for the College of Engineering (College). In February 1996, Wozniak filed a one-count complaint against Conry, the acting Department head, alleging that Conry had tortiously interfered with his employment contract with the University's Board of Trustees (Board).
In his complaint, Wozniak alleged Conry made false accusations about him, knowing they were untrue or acting with reckless disregard for their truth. These accusations included statements that Wozniak had (1) sexually harassed a female employee; (2) deliberately failed to comply with course standards and departmental policy regarding assignments, practice exams, and grade books; and (3) graded capriciously and in violation of University policies and procedures. Wozniak also alleged that Conry falsely told others in the Department that Wozniak was unable to carry out his teaching duties in compliance with professional and ethical standards. Further, Wozniak alleged that Conry told the Department's executive committee members that the Dean of the College had requested the committee's support in removing Wozniak from his assigned responsibilities, knowing this statement to be untrue or acting with reckless disregard for its truth.
Wozniak also alleged that Conry knew of Wozniak's contractual relationship with the Board and had acted with the intent to interfere with this relationship. Wozniak did not allege that a specific provision of his contract had been breached, but alleged that Conry intentionally interfered with his employment relationship, directly and proximately causing him to be removed from his position as associate professor. Wozniak alleged that this removal caused him to suffer emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, a loss of sleep and appetite, and a loss of reputation.
In March 1996, Conry filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, contending that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over Wozniak's claim. Conry argued that Wozniak's claim was, in effect, a claim against the state, which could only be brought in the Court of Claims under section 8 of the Court of Claims Act (Act) (705 ILCS 505/8 (West Supp. 1995)). In the alternative, Conry contended that the court should dismiss the complaint because it failed to state a cause of action for tortious interference with a contractual relationship. Specifically, Conry asserted that Wozniak failed to allege his contract with the Board had been breached by his reassignment.
In May 1996, the circuit court dismissed Wozniak's complaint for lack of jurisdiction without addressing the sufficiency of the pleadings. In its opinion letter, the court based its decision on the fact that Wozniak's charges of negligence arose solely out of duties imposed on Conry by virtue of his job at the University.
In June 1996, Wozniak filed a motion to reconsider. He argued that (1) the only duty Conry breached was the duty imposed on all people, regardless of employment, not to interfere with others' contractual relations; and (2) his claim was based on Conry's intentional conduct, not negligence. In July 1996, the circuit court sent a second opinion letter to counsel, reaffirming its conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction because Conry's conduct was related to his job duties at the University. In both opinion letters, the court relied on the holdings in Currie v. Lao, 148 Ill. 2d 151, 592 N.E.2d 977, 170 Ill. Dec. 297 (1992), and Nikelly v. Stubing, 204 Ill. App. 3d 870, 562 N.E.2d 360, 149 Ill. Dec. 896 (1990).
The issue before us is whether Wozniak's suit against Conry, a supervisor for a state entity, is in reality a suit against the state such that the Court of Claims ...