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Crawford v. City of Chicago

March 31, 1999

HIRAM CRAWFORD, JR., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, COUNTY.
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, AND CHERYL TADIN, SANDRA KING, AND JARED GULIAN, INTERVENORS/DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hartman

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook

Honorable Thomas Durkin, Judge Presiding

Plaintiffs Hiram Crawford, Jr., John Tyler, Willie Lewis, Lucius Taylor and Hiram Crawford, Sr. (collectively plaintiffs), appeal from the circuit court's order granting summary judgment (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 1996) (section 2-1005)) to defendant city of Chicago (City) and intervenors/defendants Cheryl Tadin, Sandra King and Jared Gulian (collectively Intervenors), and denying summary judgment to plaintiffs, based on its finding that the City had authority under its home rule power to adopt its domestic partnership ordinance (Chicago Municipal Code §2-152-072 (eff. May 16, 1997) (hereinafter DPO)). Plaintiffs present as issues whether (1) the court erred in dismissing as premature plaintiffs' claims that non-health benefits were available under the DPO; (2) the court erred in finding home rule authority for the City to adopt the DPO; and (3) assuming such authority, whether it has been limited either (a) by preemption by the State or (b) because the DPO legislates in an area of statewide concern.

On March 19, 1997, the Chicago City Council adopted the DPO (see Chicago City Council, Journal of the Proceedings of the City Council, March 19, 1997, at 40852) which makes available employee benefits to unmarried, same-sex partners of City employees. *fn1Pursuant to the DPO, the City offered health, dental and vision insurance benefits, at favorable rates, to domestic partners of City employees. The City also offered contributory group long term disability insurance. To the date of judgment, only nineteen individuals had been certified as meeting the eligibility standards for domestic partnership under the ordinance.

On May 7, 1997, plaintiffs, as Chicago citizens and taxpayers, sought declaratory (735 ILCS 5/2-701 (West 1996) (section 2-701)) and injunctive relief (735 ILCS 5/11-101, et seq. (West 1996)) in challenging the adoption and anticipated implementation of the DPO, and the related expenditure of tax dollars, alleging that the City lacked home rule authority to adopt such an ordinance, and moved for a temporary restraining order seeking to prevent the City from implementing the ordinance on its effective date. On May 12, 1997, the circuit court denied the motion and granted City employees who have obtained or wish to obtain benefits for their qualified domestic partners, leave to intervene. The City and the Intervenors subsequently filed motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1996)). Plaintiffs thereafter sought a preliminary injunction, which the circuit court denied, as well as the City's and the Intervenors' motions to dismiss, on September 16, 1997.

The City, the Intervenors and plaintiffs later filed motions for summary judgment, raising as three principal issues whether: (1) the City lacked the authority to adopt the DPO; (2) the DPO is against public policy; and (3) the DPO's application to benefits other than health insurance is ripe for adjudication. On February 10, 1998, the circuit court granted the City's and the Intervenors' motions for summary judgment and denied that of plaintiffs. In upholding the ordinance, the court found the employee benefits the City provides for its employees is a matter of local concern for purposes of home rule authority; public policy in Illinois did not require the complete denial of health benefits to members of same-sex relationships; and the question of whether the ordinance also applied to benefits other than health insurance was not ripe for adjudication. Plaintiffs appeal.

I.

The scope of the DPO first will be considered in the context of plaintiffs' contention that the circuit court erred when it ruled on the issue of ripeness for adjudication as to non-health insurance benefits. The City and Intervenors submit that only health, vision and dental insurance benefits are presently being offered to qualified domestic partners. The City also asserts that plaintiffs lack standing.The applicable portion of the ordinance provides:

"A qualified domestic partner, as defined in this section, of an individual employed by the city of Chicago shall be eligible for the same benefits, including but not limited to health coverage, as are available to the spouse of an individual employed by the city of Chicago." Chicago Municipal Code §2-152-072 (eff. May 16, 1997).

Illinois courts may rule upon actual controversies only and are prohibited from entering judgments or orders which do not terminate the controversy, or some part thereof, giving rise to the proceeding. Section 2-701(a); Big River Zinc Corp. v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, 232 Ill. App. 3d 34, 38, 597 N.E.2d 256 (1992). The rationale of this "ripeness" doctrine is to prevent courts from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements and premature adjudications of administrative policies, and to protect agencies from judicial interference until an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects concretely asserted by the challenging parties. Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc. v. Trainor, 68 Ill. 2d 540, 546, 370 N.E.2d 223 (1977), citing and quoting from Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148-49, 18 L. Ed. 2d 681, 87 S. Ct. 1507 (1967). When evaluating whether a challenge to an administrative agency's decision should be dismissed on grounds of ripeness, courts consider fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties if court consideration is withheld. Big River Zinc Corp., 232 Ill. App. 3d at 39. A claim is considered unripe when critical elements are contingent or unknown. Marusic Liquors, Inc. v. Richard M. Daley, 55 F.3d 258, 260 (7th Cir. 1995).

Plaintiffs posit that the ordinance grants domestic partners a complete list of benefits based on ordinance language that they shall receive "the same benefits, including but not limited to health coverage, as are available to the spouse of an individual employed by the city of Chicago," arguing that such benefits would include workers' compensation, pension benefits, unemployment compensation and health, vision and dental insurance. Plaintiffs assert that the Intervenors agree with their interpretation.

Plaintiffs allege further that the City has artificially created the ripeness issue with its arbitrary and narrow administrative interpretation of the ordinance, contradicting its clear wording and, by shrinking the scope of the ordinance, the City evades clear state preemption problems the ordinance has created under state law for workers' pensions and workers' compensation, for example. Plaintiffs maintain that the circuit court's failure to render a comprehensive interpretation of the ordinance benefits makes it appropriate for this court to resolve the disputed interpretation of the ordinance under section 2-701.

It should be observed at the outset that declaratory judgment actions also require an actual controversy to exist between the parties. Weber v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., 251 Ill. App. 3d 371, 372, 622 N.E.2d 66 (1993). Underlying facts and issues may not be premature or moot, and courts will refrain from issuing advisory opinions or rendering guidance regarding future events. Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. v. Department of Nuclear Safety, 204 Ill. App. 3d 605, 610, 561 N.E.2d 1370 (1990).

Construction of a statute requires identification of legislative intent and the effect it should be given. Glynn v. Retirement Board of Policemen's Annuity, 263 Ill. App. 3d 590, 593, 635 N.E.2d 823 (1994). Legislative intent is ascertained by examining the statute's language and considering each section in connection with every other section. Glynn, 263 Ill. App. 3d at 593. The most reliable indicator of legislative intent is the statute's language and, where it is clear and unambiguous, the plain and ordinary meaning of the words will be given effect. Board of Education of Rockford School District No. 205 v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 165 Ill. 2d 80, 87, 649 N.E.2d 369 (1995). The rules which ...


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