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10/23/97 BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE v. CECIL ALDRIDGE ET

October 23, 1997

BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC., APPELLEE,
v.
CECIL ALDRIDGE ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Appellate Court, Fourth District of Macon County. Case Numbers: AC4-95-0920, TR95MR18, TR95MR122, TR95MR88. Hon. John K. Greanias, Trial Judge.

Chief Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Heiple, dissenting. Justices Miller and Nickels join in this dissent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman

CHIEF JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Section 604 of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act disqualifies an employee from receiving unemployment benefits where the employee is voluntarily unemployed because of a labor strike at the place where he or she was "last employed." 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1994). In Dienes v. Holland, 78 Ill. 2d 8, 34 Ill. Dec. 292, 397 N.E.2d 1358 (1979), this court interpreted the phrase "last employed" to mean simply last in time.

This appeal requires us to ascertain whether the legislature intended to add conditions to section 604 of the Act by amending other sections of the Act subsequent to Dienes. We cannot discern such an intent from the Act as it is written.

BACKGROUND

The record contains the following undisputed pertinent facts. The 243 claimants in this case were all employed by Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. (Bridgestone), at Bridgestone's Decatur plant. On July 12, 1994, claimants went on strike. Bridgestone has not permanently replaced or fired claimants, who remain employees of Bridgestone and who intend to return to work at Bridgestone at the end of the strike. Since claimants' unemployment was due to a labor strike at the place where they were last employed, i.e., Bridgestone, they were ineligible for unemployment benefits. See 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1994).

Each claimant obtained interim employment, from which he or she was fired or laid off. The interim employment constituted "employment" and the interim employers constituted "employers" as defined by the Act. 820 ILCS 405/205, 206 (West 1994). In many cases, the interim employment lasted for as little as a few months or even a few days.

Each claimant applied to the Illinois Department of Employment Security for unemployment benefits. The claims adjudicator, who determines applications for benefits, awarded unemployment benefits to claimants. Relying on Dienes v. Holland, 78 Ill. 2d 8, 34 Ill. Dec. 292, 397 N.E.2d 1358 (1979), the adjudicator determined that claimants' acquisition of interim employment outside of Bridgestone removed the disqualification of section 604 of the Act.

Bridgestone appealed each of these determinations to the Director of the Department, who consolidated them for review. The Director upheld the award of unemployment benefits. The Director agreed with the claims adjudicator that claimants' interim employment removed the section 604 disqualification. Relying on Dienes, the Director rejected as irrelevant the issues of whether: (1) claimants had taken the interim employment in good faith, instead of to avoid the section 604 disqualification; and (2) the interim employment was meant to be permanent.

Bridgestone filed a complaint in the circuit court of Macon County seeking administrative review of the Department's award of unemployment benefits to claimants. The circuit court set aside the Department's decision. Citing Dienes, the court held that a striking employee's good faith in obtaining interim employment was a condition to removing the section 604 disqualification. The court also held that good faith "does not necessarily require a belief that the interim employment will be permanent." The circuit court remanded the cause to the Department to determine whether each "claimant performed interim employment in good faith and the claimant is otherwise free of Section 604 disqualification."

The Department petitioned the appellate court for leave to appeal. See 155 Ill. 2d R. 306(a). The appellate court affirmed the circuit court. 284 Ill. App. 3d 360. However, the appellate court did not base its reasoning on Dienes, but rather on section 1502.1 of the Act, which the legislature enacted subsequent to Dienes. Section 1502.1 provides detailed guidelines for determining an employer's benefit charges. 820 ILCS 405/1502.1 (West 1994). The appellate court held that the definition of "last employer" in section 1502.1 of the Act applies to the term "last employed" in section 604. Thus, according to the appellate court, a striking employee's interim employment does not remove the section 604 disqualification unless the employment meets the conditions of section 1502.1. 284 Ill. App. 3d at 364-65. The appellate court remanded the cause to the Department to make this determination for each claimant.

The claimants petitioned this court for leave to appeal. 155 Ill. 2d R. 315(a). We allowed the petition and now reverse the appellate court.

ARGUMENT(S)

Standing

We address at the outset Bridgestone's contention that claimants lack standing to appeal to this court. The doctrine of standing requires that a party have a real interest in the action brought and its outcome. The purpose of the doctrine is to insure that courts decide real controversies and not abstract questions or moot issues. Standing is not a procedural technicality, but rather is an aspect or component of justiciability. In re Estate of Wellman, 174 Ill. 2d 335, 344, 220 Ill. Dec. 360, 673 N.E.2d 272 (1996).

Bridgestone contends that claimants cannot appeal from the appellate court's decision. Bridgestone observes that the Department, alone, appealed from the circuit court to the appellate court. Bridgestone argues that a party in a circuit court proceeding who does not file a notice of appeal in the appellate court is no longer a party in that proceeding and, therefore, cannot petition this court for leave to appeal pursuant to our Rule 315(a). 155 Ill. 2d R. 315(a). Accordingly, Bridgestone contends that we should dismiss this appeal.

This contention lacks merit. Bridgestone does not deny, nor, we surmise, could it deny, that claimants were proper parties in the circuit court. See Cuny v. Annunzio, 411 Ill. 613, 617, 104 N.E.2d 780 (1952); 735 ILCS 5/3-107(a) (West 1994). Further, it is quite settled that an appeal is not a new proceeding, but rather is a continuation of the proceedings in the court from which the appeal is taken. 155 Ill. 2d R. 301; Swain v. Hoberg, 380 Ill. 442, 446, 44 N.E.2d 38 (1942); Taylor v. Taylor, 45 Ill. App. 3d 352, 356, 3 Ill. Dec. 961, 359 N.E.2d 820 (1977). Since the claimants were proper parties of record in the circuit court, they remained proper parties in the appellate court, even though they did not join in the appeal. See Wm. Aupperle & Sons, Inc. v. American National Bank & Trust Co., 62 Ill. App. 3d 842, 846, 19 Ill. Dec. 736, 379 N.E.2d 400 (1978), citing Carpenter v. Young, 280 Ill. App. 116, 118 (1935). We hold that claimants have standing to appeal to this court.

The Merits

We note our standard of review. The Act provides that judicial review of unemployment benefit decisions be in accordance with the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1994); 820 ILCS 405/1100 (West 1994). The Administrative Review Law provides that our review extends to all questions of law and fact presented by the entire record. 735 ILCS 5/3-110 (West 1994). The rule that an administrative agency's findings of fact should not be disturbed unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence does not apply where the question involved is one of law, such as the proper interpretation of a statute. In such a case, the Board's finding is ...


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