The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Leavitt
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County
Honorable Raymond Jagielski, Judge Presiding.
The facts of the instant case are undisputed. On August 18, 1997, defendants Anna Branta Mueller, Deborah Tyrell, Steven Lipstein and Kevin Connor filed nomination papers as candidates for the office of Member of the Board of Education of Community Consolidated School District 181. Plaintiffs Susan M. Becker and Marie C. Bill lodged objections to the nominating petitions of each of the defendants in accordance with 10-8 of the Election Code (Code) 10 ILCS 5/10-8 (West 1996).
Moving under Section 10-9 of the Code, the Electoral Board, comprised of Peter R. Metz, William Oelman and David Hendrix, conducted hearings from September 9, 1997, to September 22, 1997, with respect to each plaintiffs' objections (however, it should be noted that David Hendrix abstained from voting during these hearings). On September 22, 1997, the Education Officers Electoral Board of Community Consolidated School District No. 181 (Electoral Board) issued its decision overruling plaintiffs' objections. The Electoral Board's decision was signed only by Metz, in his capacity as Chairperson of the Electoral Board. Consequently, each of the defendants' names appeared on the election ballot for the November 4, 1997, nonpartisan election.
Ten days later, on October 2, 1997, plaintiffs filed multiple petitions in the circuit court seeking judicial review of the Electoral Board's decision with respect to their objections. In both the caption and body of these petitions, the candidates and the Electoral Board were named and joined as defendants. However, the individual members of the Electoral Board (Metz, Oelman and Hendrix) were neither named nor joined as parties in either the petition caption or the body of the petition. Plaintiffs did successfully serve the Secretary of Community Consolidated School District No. 181, Hendrix, but they failed to serve the other two board members individually.
Six days later, on October 8, 1997, defendants' filed a motion to dismiss under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (West 1996), arguing the circuit court no longer retained subject matter jurisdiction over this proceeding due to plaintiffs' failure to strictly comply with section 10-10.1 of the Code. Specifically, plaintiffs failed to individually name and serve the Electoral Board members. Plaintiffs maintained they were in compliance with Section 10-10.1 since they named and served both the Electoral Board and individual candidates in their petition for judicial review. Alternatively, plaintiffs argued that under the Administrative Review Law they were entitled to amend their petition seeking judicial review in the event it was defective. See 735 ILCS 5/3-103 et seq. (West 1997). The circuit court disagreed, and on October 15, 1997, defendants' motion to dismiss was granted, the circuit court holding it lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to plaintiffs' failure to strictly comply with section 10-10.1 of the Code.
Plaintiffs timely filed their appeal on October 16, 1997, and then on October 17 moved to consolidate their petitions for judicial review on an expedited basis. The circuit court consolidated plaintiffs' petitions but denied the request to expedite this matter. Defendants then moved to dismiss plaintiffs' appeal, citing Russ v. Hoffman, 288 Ill. App. 3d 281, 681 N.E.2d 519, (1997), for the proposition that our Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction. This motion was denied, and on November 4, 1997, Mueller, Lipstein and Connor were elected as members of Community Consolidated School District No. 181. Tyrell was not elected.
The following appeal was consolidated for defendants Mueller, Lipstein, Tyrell and Conner, since each petition for judicial review regarding each defendant arose from the same set of facts and centers around the same issue of law. However, it is noted that counsel for defendants in the instant case, filed this brief in representation of defendants Tyrell, Conner and Lipstein only.
Generally, cases involving review of an electoral board decision require this Court to ascertain whether the findings of the electoral board are against the manifest weight of the evidence. King v. Justice Party, 284 Ill. App. 3d 886, 888, 672 N.E.2d 900, 902 (1996). Where questions of law arise, as is the case here, a de novo standard review shall apply. Zapolsky v. Cook County Officers Electorial Board, 296 Ill. App. 3d 731, 733, 695 N.E.2d 1329 (1998); Anderson v. McHenry Township, 289 Ill. App. 3d 830, 832, 682 N.E.2d 1133 (1997).
The crux of the issue in the instant case is whether plaintiffs' failure to name and serve the individual members of the Electoral Board deprived the circuit court of subject matter jurisdiction. The circuit court has no inherent authority to review election contests. Allord v. Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 288 Ill. App. 3d 897, 900, 682 N.E.2d 125, 128 (1997). In fact, a circuit court may only exercise jurisdiction over a proceeding such as an election contest when such authority is conferred by statute. Allord, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 900. A party's failure to strictly adhere to the language of the conferring statute will deprive the circuit court of its subject matter jurisdiction. Allord, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 900.
In the instant case, plaintiffs appeal from the Electoral Board's decision to overrule their objections to defendants' nomination petitions. When reviewing an election contest, a circuit court is conferred jurisdiction by Section 10-10.1 of the Election Code, which states in pertinent part:
"except as otherwise provided in this section, a candidate or objector aggrieved by the decision of an electoral board may secure judicial review of such decision in the circuit court of the county in which the hearing of the electoral board was held. The party seeking judicial review must file a petition with the clerk of the court within 10 days after the decision of the electoral board. *** The petitioner shall serve a copy of the petition upon the electoral board and other parties to the proceeding by registered or certified mail and shall file proof of service with the clerk of the court." 10 ILCS 5/10-10.1 (West 1996)
In examining section 10-10.1, it is evident there exist four distinct requirements that must be complied with in order to properly confer jurisdiction upon the circuit court. First, a challenging petition must be filed with the clerk of the court within 10 days after the electoral board issues its decision. Second, the petition shall state briefly the reasons why the board's decision should be reversed. Third, the petitioner shall serve copies of the petition upon the electoral board and other parties to the proceeding by registered or certified mail. Fourth and finally, the petitioner shall file proof of service with the clerk of the court. Allord, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 901. Failure of a party to comply with any of the foregoing requirements when appealing an electoral board decision invites dismissal via section 2-619 (West 1996), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
On its face section 10-10.1 of the Election Code requires service upon the electoral board and "other parties." 10 ILCS 5/10-10.1 (West 1996). Plaintiffs first contend the circuit court erred in determining that individual board members are necessary parties under section 10-10.1 of the Code. However, in Russ, this Court specifically held that "[t]he failure to name the Electoral Board and its individual members deprived the circuit court of subject matter jurisdiction ." Russ, 288 Ill. App. 3d t 284. We reject plaintiffs' suggestion that Russ' holding regarding individual members of the Board being necessary parties was dictum. The fact that plaintiffs in that case failed to serve either the electoral board itself or its individual members does not make the court's holding regarding the importance of naming and serving individual board members mere dictum. Since this Court has previously ruled on the very issue now before us, we decline plaintiffs' invitation to engage in an analysis that compares the instant case to cases involving the Human Rights Commission and Supreme Court Rule 335(a) (134 Ill.2d R. 335 (a). See Lake County Board of Review ...