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06/20/97 RODNEY VAUTSMEIER v. COUNTY STEPHENSON

June 20, 1997

RODNEY VAUTSMEIER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE COUNTY OF STEPHENSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Stephenson County. No. 93--L--10. Honorable Lawrence A. Smith, Jr., Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication June 24, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Hutchinson delivered the opinion of the court. Inglis and Thomas, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hutchinson

JUSTICE HUTCHINSON delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Rodney Vautsmeier, filed a complaint against defendant, Stephenson County, alleging that defendant was responsible for medical bills incurred while plaintiff was an inmate of the Stephenson County jail. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the trial court denied both motions, finding that material issues of fact remained. However, when the parties stipulated that the amount of plaintiff's medical bills was $13,319.63, the trial court entered judgment for plaintiff in that amount. Defendant appeals, arguing that it was not liable for plaintiff's medical and hospital expenses. We reverse and remand.

Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 3, 1993. According to the complaint, plaintiff had been sentenced on May 22, 1992, to 120 days in the Stephenson County jail. On June 20, 1992, while in the Stephenson County jail, plaintiff experienced pain on the right side of his body. Plaintiff reported his condition to the deputy and then traveled to Freeport Memorial Hospital, where he had emergency gallbladder surgery.

Plaintiff incurred medical and hospital bills totaling $12,439.64. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was responsible for the bills, that demand for payment of the bills had been made, and that defendant refused to pay the bills. Plaintiff based his complaint on two sections of the County Jail Act (the Act) (730 ILCS 125/0.01 et seq. (West 1994)). Section 5 of the Act provides:

"All costs of maintaining persons committed for violations of Illinois law, shall be the responsibility of the county. All costs of maintaining persons committed under any ordinance or resolution of a unit of local government, including medical costs, is the responsibility of the unit of local government enacting the ordinance or resolution, and arresting the person." 730 ILCS 125/5 (West 1994).

Section 17 provides, in part:

"The Warden of the jail shall furnish necessary bedding, clothing, fuel and medical aid for all prisoners under his charge, and keep an accurate account of the same. When medical or hospital services are required by any person held in custody, the county, private hospital, physician or any public agency which provides such services shall be entitled to obtain reimbursement from the county for the cost of such services." 730 ILCS 125/17 (West 1994).

We note that section 17 has been amended recently. See Pub. Act 89--654, eff. August 14, 1996 (amending 730 ILCS 125/17 (West 1994)); Pub. Act 89--676, eff. August 14, 1996 (amending 730 ILCS 125/17 (West 1994)). However, these amendments are not relevant to our analysis in this case.

Defendant moved for summary judgment. In the motion, defendant argued that plaintiff was subject to a work release schedule. When not working, plaintiff was in the custody of the Stephenson County sheriff's department. Defendant argued that the work release director had the authority to release plaintiff to seek medical treatment, and, therefore, defendant was not responsible for plaintiff's bills.

Plaintiff also moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff argued that the work release director did not have the authority to release him for medical treatment. According to plaintiff, he was in the custody of the sheriff, and it was the sheriff's obligation to see that he received medical treatment. Plaintiff asserted that at the time he needed treatment, it was undisputed that he was in custody at the Stephenson County jail, and therefore, pursuant to section 17, defendant was liable for his medical bills.

The trial court denied both motions. Defendant's motion was denied because the trial court found that plaintiff was in the custody of the sheriff at the time he incurred the medical expenses, and therefore section 17 applied. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion because it found that issues of fact remained as to the necessity and reasonableness of the expenses. After the parties stipulated that plaintiff's medical bills totaled $13,319.63, the trial court entered judgment for plaintiff in that amount, finding that no issues of fact remained. Although the trial court did not state so in ...


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