Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable MICHAEL J. HOGAN, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication July 21, 1997.
The Honorable Justice Buckley delivered the opinion of the court. O'brien and Gallagher, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckley
JUSTICE BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff, Concetta Chidichimo, brought an action for spoliation of evidence against defendants, the University of Chicago Press, University Press, Inc. and the University of Chicago, alleging that defendants intentionally or negligently purged its computer of records plaintiff had requested in a previous workers' compensation action brought against defendants after the death of plaintiff's husband. The circuit court dismissed plaintiff's complaint, finding that section 5(b) of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act bars any action for damages resulting from an injury incurred in the course of employment except as provided in the Act (820 ILCS 305/5(b) (West 1994)). Plaintiff now appeals.
Plaintiff's husband, Martin Chidichimo, was employed by defendants as a linotype operator. On March 18, 1983, he suffered a heart attack and died during his lunch break. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim against defendants, alleging that her husband's death arose out of and in the course of his employment. In December 1983 and February 1984, plaintiff served defendants with subpoenas for the production of certain employee records related to her husband's employment. Defendants provided some of the requested documents but also responded that compliance with the subpoenas was not required because the Workers' Compensation Act did not contain a discovery provision. In March 1985, defendants deleted the rest of the requested records from its computer system. Defendants maintain that these deletions were performed as a routine matter when the records were two years old.
In February 1988, the case proceeded to arbitration. As part of her workers' compensation claim, plaintiff also asserted that defendants' actions in deleting her husband's employment records from its computer system created a presumption that the records would have contained evidence sufficient to show that Martin Chidichimo died from an injury arising out of or in the course of his employment, as required for recovery under the Workers' Compensation Act. 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1994). On June 23, 1988, the arbitrator issued a decision finding that plaintiff failed to show that her husband's death arose out of and in the course of his employment. The arbitrator also found that there was no evidence of wilful destruction of documents. On May 30, 1991, the Industrial Commission affirmed the arbitrator's decision.
Plaintiff filed an action for administrative review, and the circuit court remanded the case to the Industrial Commission with instructions to issue a supplemental opinion explaining its holding with respect to the deleted computer files. On remand, the Commission held that the subpoenas issued by plaintiff for the deleted documents violated Industrial Commission Rule 7030.50, which provides that "witnesses and documents may only be subpoenaed to appear or be produced at the time and place set for hearing the cause." 50 Ill. Adm. Code § 7030.50 (1994). Because plaintiff's subpoenas did not request production at the time and place of a hearing, they were essentially discovery requests, and neither the Workers' Compensation Act nor the Industrial Commission rules require compliance with discovery requests.
On June 28, 1994, the circuit court entered an order affirming the decision of the Industrial Commission. On July 26, 1994, plaintiff filed her timely notice of appeal.
On February 28, 1995, while her appeal was pending in the appellate court, plaintiff filed the instant action against defendants for spoliation of evidence. Count I alleged negligent spoliation and count II alleged intentional spoliation.
On March 29, 1995, defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. 735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 1994). Defendants' motion asserted that (1) plaintiff's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, (2) the action is barred by the statute of limitations, (3) the action is barred by principles of collateral estoppel, and (4) the action is barred by the exclusivity provision in section 5(a) of the Workers Compensation Act. Defendants also filed a motion for sanctions pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 137 (134 Ill. 2d R. 137). On September 29, 1995, the circuit court granted defendants' motion to dismiss, finding that the action is barred by the exclusivity provision in section 5(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act. The court did not address the other grounds for dismissal asserted in defendants' motion. Defendants' motion for sanctions was denied. Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal on October 27, 1995. Defendants did not file a cross-appeal.
On March 8, 1996, the appellate court affirmed the decisions of the Industrial Commission and the circuit court in plaintiff's original workers' compensation action. Chidichimo v. Industrial Comm'n, 278 Ill. App. 3d 369, 662 N.E.2d 611, 214 Ill. Dec. 1045 (1996) (Chidichimo I).
In this case, plaintiff claims the circuit court erred in dismissing her complaint under section 5(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act. That section provides in relevant part:
"No common law or statutory right to recover damages from the employer *** for injury or death sustained by any employee while engaged in the line of his duty as such employee, other than the compensation herein provided, is available to any employee who is ...