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Dardeen v. Heartland Manor

April 15, 1999

IRIS DARDEEN, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF ALMA HEAD, DECEASED,APPELLANT, V. HEARTLAND MANOR, INC., APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW

Agenda 11-January 1999.

At issue in this appeal is whether an amendment to section 3-602 of the Nursing Home Care Act (Act) (210 ILCS 45/3-602 (West 1996)) should be given retroactive effect. Prior to the amendment, section 3-602 required a licensee to pay treble damages plus costs and attorney fees to a facility resident for a violation of the resident's rights under article II, part 1, of the Act (see 210 ILCS 45/2-101 et seq. (West 1994)). Public Act 89-197 (Pub. Act 89-197, §90, eff. July 21, 1995) repealed the treble damages provision contained in section 3-602, limiting recovery for violations of the Act to actual damages, costs, and attorney fees.

The trial court granted defendant's motion to strike the portion of plaintiff's complaint requesting treble damages. Pursuant to a motion by plaintiff, the trial court also certified the following question of law to the appellate court, as provided in Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308):

"Shall treble damages be stricken from actions brought under the Illinois Nursing Home Act, 210 ILCS 45/3-602, where the alleged facts supporting said actions occurred before the enactment of Public Act 89-0197 on July 21, 1995, and the pleadings to recover said damages are filed subsequent to the enactment of said Public Act?"

The appellate court, Fourth District, answered this certified question in the affirmative. 297 Ill. App. 3d 684. The appellate court held that the amendment to section 3-602 constituted a remedial act of the legislature which only changed the nature of the damages that may be recovered by a plaintiff under the Act. Because the amendment did not interfere with a vested right, the appellate court held that it was appropriate for the statute to be applied to pending claims arising prior to the effective date of the amendment. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

Alma Head was a resident of the Heartland Manor Nursing Home, which was owned and operated by defendant, Heartland Manor, Inc. On June 25, 1997, plaintiff, Iris Dardeen, as administrator of the estate of Alma Head, filed in the circuit court of Clark County a multicount complaint against defendant, alleging that defendant violated the Nursing Home Care Act (210 ILCS 45/1-101 et seq. (West 1994)) by negligently causing Head's death on June 26, 1995. Count I of plaintiff's complaint, which is the only count at issue in this appeal, alleged that Head developed serious respiratory problems one week before her death, and that, although defendant was aware of Head's medical condition, it negligently failed to provide Head with necessary medical treatment until June 25, 1995. The complaint indicates that Head died of bronchial pneumonia on June 26, 1995. Count I of the complaint alleged that defendant's negligence was a proximate cause of Head's death.

The prayer for relief in count I of the complaint requested an award of treble damages pursuant to section 3-602 of the Act (210 ILCS 45/3-602 (West 1994)). At the time of Head's death, section 3-602 allowed awards of treble damages for a nursing home's negligent failure to provide adequate medical care when this failure resulted in a physical injury to a resident. Section 3-602 read as follows:

"The licensee shall pay 3 times the actual damages, or $500, whichever is greater, and costs and attorney's fees to a facility resident whose rights, as specified in Part 1 of Article II of this Act, are violated." 210 ILCS 45/3-602 (West 1994).

Effective July 21, 1995, section 3-602 of the Act was amended by Public Act 89-197 (Pub. Act 89-197, §90, eff. July 21, 1995). This amendment repealed the treble damages provision. As amended, section 3-602 provides:

"The licensee shall pay the actual damages and costs and attorney's fees to a facility resident whose rights, as specified in Part 1 of Article II of this Act, are violated." 210 ILCS 45/3-602 (West 1996). The amendment included no savings clause preserving treble damages for pending cases, nor did it contain provisions addressing whether the amendment's application was to be prospective or retroactive. Based upon the amendment to section 3-602, defendant filed a motion to strike the prayer for treble damages in count I of plaintiff's complaint. On November 13, 1997, the trial court granted defendant's motion. In a docket entry, the trial court Judge noted that plaintiff's complaint was filed over two years after the date of the repeal of the treble damages provision, and found that "no vested rights are involved because plaintiff had not perfected her claim by filing suit before the law was changed. A vested right is an expectation that is so far perfected that it may be equated with a property interest and cannot be taken away by the legislature; that is not the circumstance here." The appellate court, Fourth District, accepted the question of law certified by the trial court, and answered this question in the affirmative. Relying upon this court's decision in First of America Trust Co. v. Armstead, 171 Ill. 2d 282 (1996), the appellate court rejected plaintiff's contention that she had a vested right in the recovery of treble damages for her negligence cause of action under the Act. Citing to Armstead, the appellate court observed that amended laws are applied to existing controversies where no vested rights are involved, either because such rights are not yet perfected or because the amendment is procedural in nature. 297 Ill. App. 3d at 686. Because the amendment to section 3-602 "merely change[d] the nature of the damages that may be recovered," and because there is no vested right in any particular remedy or procedure, the appellate court held that it was proper to apply the amended statute to plaintiff's suit. 297 Ill. App. 3d at 686. In arriving at its Conclusion, the appellate court disagreed with the decisions in Hernandez v. Woodbridge Nursing Home, 287 Ill. App. 3d 641, 642-46 (1997), and Weimann v. Meadow Manor, Inc., 285 Ill. App. 3d 455, 457-59 (1996), in which the First and Fifth Districts of the appellate court had answered similar certified questions in the negative, thereby allowing the plaintiffs in those cases to pursue treble damages.

We granted plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. 166 Ill. 2d R. 315.

ANALYSIS

In First of America Trust Co. v. Armstead, 171 Ill. 2d 282 (1996), this court held that the application of new legislation to pending suits or pre-existing causes of action is governed by "the law that applies by its terms at the time of the appeal, unless doing so would interfere with a vested right." Armstead, 171 Ill. 2d at 289. Vested rights are "interests that are protected from legislative interference by our due process clause (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, ยง2)." Armstead, 171 Ill. 2d at 289. Although "[w]hether a particular expectation rises to the level of a vested right is not capable of precise definition" (Armstead, 171 Ill. 2d at 290), a right has not vested until it is "so ...


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