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People v. Lewis

April 22, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
GREGORY P. LEWIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 92--CF--1496 Honorable James T. Doyle, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Defendant, Gregory P. Lewis, was charged by indictment with two counts of theft (720 ILCS 5/16--1(a)(1), 16--1(a)(2) (West 1996)) for filing a fraudulent unemployment benefits claim with the United States Railroad Retirement Board. Defendant moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that section 359(a) of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (45 U.S.C.A. §359(a) (West 1986)), which imposes a penalty for fraudulently obtaining benefits, preempts state criminal prosecutions for the same conduct. The trial court denied defendant's motion. After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of both counts and was sentenced to 24 months' probation. On appeal, defendant argues only that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss. We affirm.

When faced with a preemption question, we begin by reminding ourselves of the basic structure of our federal system, in which the states and the federal government are separate political communities. United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 320, 55 L. Ed. 2d 303, 310, 98 S. Ct. 1079, 1084 (1978). State and federal governments derive their power from different sources, each from the organic law that established it. Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 320, 55 L. Ed. 2d at 310, 98 S. Ct. at 1084. Each has the power, inherent in any sovereign, to determine independently what shall be an offense against its authority and to punish such offenses, and in doing so each is exercising its own sovereignty, not that of the other. Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 320, 55 L. Ed. 2d at 310, 98 S. Ct. at 1084.

Of course, the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution gives Congress the power to limit the states' exercise of their sovereignty. The supremacy clause provides that "the Laws of the United States *** shall be the supreme Law of the Land *** any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." U.S. Const., art. VI, §2. The extent to which federal legislation preempts state law is a question of congressional intent. Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Ass'n, 505 U.S. 88, 96, 120 L. Ed. 2d 73, 83, 112 S. Ct. 2374, 2381 (1992). If Congress, when acting within constitutional limits, explicitly mandates the preemption of state law within a stated situation, we need not proceed beyond the statutory language to determine that state law is preempted. Gade, 505 U.S. at 98, 120 L. Ed. 2d at 84, 112 S. Ct. at 2383. In the absence of an explicit preemption, we may infer an intent to preempt state law, and that inference may take one of two forms: (1) field preemption, "where the scheme of the federal regulation is ' "so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it" ' [citation]" (Gade, 505 U.S. at 98, 120 L. Ed 2d at 84, 112 S. Ct. at 2383); or (2) conflict preemption, where either compliance with both federal and state law is a physical impossibility or state law stands as an impediment to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. Gade, 505 U.S. at 98, 120 L. Ed. 2d at 84, 112 S. Ct. at 2383.

Where the field that Congress is said to have preempted traditionally has been occupied by the states, we start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the states were not to be superseded by the federal act unless that was Congress's clear and manifest purpose. Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525, 51 L. Ed. 2d 604, 614, 97 S. Ct. 1305, 1309 (1977); People v. Chicago Magnet Wire Corp., 126 Ill. 2d 356, 366-67 (1989). Certainly, the power to prosecute criminal conduct traditionally has been regarded as properly within the scope of state superintendence. Chicago Magnet, 126 Ill. 2d at 367. Thus, absent a clear and manifest intent by Congress, we will not find that a federal act preempts a state's power to enforce a generally applicable criminal statute. See Chicago Magnet, 126 Ill. 2d at 367.

With these principles in mind, we turn to the issue at hand, namely, whether defendant's theft prosecution was preempted by the penalty provision contained in section 359(a) of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. Because the prohibition of theft is a generally applicable , we will not find preemption unless that was Congress's clear and manifest purpose. See Jones, 430 U.S. at 525, 51 L. Ed. 2d at 614, 97 S. Ct. at 1309; Chicago Magnet, 126 Ill. 2d at 367.

Found in section 359(a), the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act's penalty provision states, in relevant part:

"[A]ny employee *** who shall knowingly make or aid in making or cause to be made any false or fraudulent statement or claim for the purpose of causing benefits or other payment to be made or not to be made under this chapter, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both." 45 U.S.C.A. §359(a) (West 1986).

Defendant argues that, by enacting section 359(a), Congress created the exclusive remedy for benefits fraud and thereby expressed a manifest intent to preempt the enforcement of generally applicable state laws against the same conduct. We disagree.

First, although the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act contains an explicit preemption clause (see 45 U.S.C.A. §363(b) (West 1986)), we are convinced that defendant's theft prosecution does not fall within it. In relevant part, section 363(b) states:

"By enactment of this chapter the Congress makes exclusive provision for the payment of unemployment benefits *** and for the payment of sickness benefits *** based upon employment (as defined in this chapter). No employee shall have or assert any right to unemployment benefits under an unemployment compensation law of any State *** or to sickness benefits under a sickness law of any State *** based upon employment (as defined in this chapter). The Congress finds and declares that by virtue of the enactment of this chapter, the application of State unemployment compensation laws *** or of State sickness laws *** would constitute an undue burden upon, and an undue interference with the effective regulation of, interstate commerce." (Emphasis added.) 45 U.S.C.A. §363(b) (West 1986).

By its own terms, section 363(b) precludes the states only from providing unemployment insurance benefits to employees covered by the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. Here, the State has attempted no such thing. Rather, the State indicted defendant under its generally applicable theft statute for conduct that, while prohibited by and punishable under section 359(a), also is a crime in the State of Illinois. Nothing in section 363(b) explicitly precludes the State from pursuing that prosecution. Thus, we conclude that defendant's theft prosecution does not fall within section 363(b)'s express preemption.

Having concluded that defendant's theft prosecution is not explicitly preempted by section 363(b), our next task is to determine whether it is implicitly preempted by the Railroad Unemployment ...


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