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September 18, 1997


Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 9th Judicial Circuit, McDonough County, Illinois. No. 95--CH--3. Honorable Larry W. Heiser, Judge Presiding.

Present - Honorable Tom M. Lytton, Presiding Justice, Honorable Michael P. Mccuskey, Justice, Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice. Justice McCUSKEY delivered the opinion of the court. Lytton, P.j., and Breslin, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mccuskey

The Honorable Justice McCUSKEY delivered the opinion of the court:

The circuit court dismissed the counterclaim filed by the defendant, Patrick Nickerson, against Brent Manning, the Director of the Illinois Department of Conservation (Manning), because it found that the matter fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Court of Claims. After carefully reviewing the record on appeal, we hold that the defendant's counterclaim was properly filed in the circuit court. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

On April 25, 1995, the plaintiff, Illinois Department of Conservation (IDOC), filed a complaint against the defendant. IDOC alleged that it held title to certain property which was part of the Argyle State Park (the park) and the defendant held title to property adjacent to the park. According to the complaint, the defendant constructed a building and cut down trees on park property. IDOC sought a permanent injunction to compel the defendant to remove the building, to refrain from placing another building on park land and to stop cutting down trees. IDOC also prayed for monetary compensation, including the fair rental value of the occupied land, three times the stumpage value of the trees cut down by the defendant and damages resulting from the construction and removal of the building.

In his second amended counterclaim, filed November 20, 1995, the defendant alleged that the survey used by IDOC was not correct. He claimed that he was the owner of the disputed land. The defendant sought a judicial determination of the boundary line between his property and the park and the ejection of IDOC from his land. The defendant also prayed for monetary compensation for damages he allegedly incurred.

Manning filed a motion to dismiss the defendant's counterclaim based upon the doctrine of sovereign immunity. He contended that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to decide the issues raised in the counterclaim because the counterclaim sought relief against the State of Illinois. According to Manning, the Court of Claims had exclusive jurisdiction to decide the matters contained in the counterclaim.

Based on Manning's motion, the trial court dismissed the defendant's counterclaim. Later, the court amended its order to make the judgment appealable pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a). 134 Ill. 2d R. 304(a).

The sole issue on appeal is whether the defendant's counterclaim was properly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in the circuit court.

Article XIII, section 4, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 abolished the doctrine of sovereign immunity "except as the General Assembly may provide by law." Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, ยง 4. The General Assembly thereafter reinstated sovereign immunity with two exceptions. 745 ILCS 5/1 (West 1996). One exception provides that the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over suits against the State. 705 ILCS 505/8 (West 1996).

Manning's argument that the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over the issues raised in the defendant's counterclaim would be persuasive if the defendant had been the first to file his complaint in the circuit court. As the pleadings stand, however, it was IDOC that first sought the intervention of the courts. By doing so, IDOC subjected itself to the provisions of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code). 735 ILCS 5/1--101 et seq. (West 1996). This creates a crucial distinction.

Section 2--614(a) of the Code provides that "the defendant may set up in his or her answer any and all cross claims whatever. " (Emphasis added.) 735 ILCS 5/2--614(a) (West 1996). According to the Illinois supreme court, the objective of joinder is "the economy of actions and trial convenience." Boyd v. Travelers Insurance Co., 166 Ill. 2d 188, 199, 652 N.E.2d 267, 272, 209 Ill. Dec. 727 (1995). In determining whether joinder is proper, the court must consider whether the claims arise out of closely related transactions and whether there is a significant question of law or fact that is common to the parties. Boyd, 166 Ill. 2d at 199, 652 N.E.2d at 272. Moreover, the Code must be liberally construed, "to the end that controversies may be speedily and finally determined according to the substantive rights of the parties." 735 ILCS 5/1--106 (West 1996).

Clearly, the defendant's claims fall within the broad language of section 2--614(a) allowing any and all cross claims. In addition, they arise out of the same "transactions" which prompted IDOC's complaint--the defendant's erecting a building and cutting down trees on the disputed land. Moreover, there is a significant question of fact common to the claims. That question is "who owns the property" in dispute. IDOC alleges that it is the record titleholder. The defendant contends that IDOC's claim is based upon an inaccurate survey and that he in fact is the owner of the land upon which he built his building and chopped down trees.

To allow IDOC to litigate its claim in the circuit court and yet require the defendant to proceed before the Court of Claims would be to run the risk that the different courts would return opposing decisions. Such a result would initiate more litigation, expend more resources, and ...

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