Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 93MR42 Honorable John L. Davis, Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell
Respondent, Moorhead Machinery/Westinghouse (Moorhead), and the Industrial Commission (Commission) appeal from an August 1997 order in which the circuit court of Macon County granted a motion for declaratory judgment in favor of claimant, Leonard Siddens (Siddens). Siddens cross-appeals, contending that the circuit court failed to grant him the proper relief in its order. We hold that the Commission in March 1993 exceeded its powers under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1992)) by entering an order on a petition for penalties and attorney fees filed by Siddens. As a result, the Commission's March 1993 decision and all subsequent orders and decisions of the Commission and circuit court are void, and we therefore vacate the circuit court's August 1997 order.
The "underlying litigation" in this case began when Siddens filed an application for adjustment of claim. On January 31, 1988, an arbitrator awarded Siddens wage-differential benefits pursuant to section 8(d)(1) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/8(d)(1) (West 1992)), and Moorhead appealed. The Commission affirmed, and the circuit court of Macon County confirmed. Moorhead again appealed, and the Industrial Commission Division of the appellate court affirmed Siddens' award in a Rule 23 order entered on July 8, 1992 (July 1992 Order). Siddens v. Moorhead Machinery/Westinghouse, No. 4-91-0629WC (July 8, 1992) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).
On August 4, 1992, Siddens filed a petition (August 1992 petition) with the Commission seeking attorney fees and penalties pursuant to sections 16 and 19(k) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/16, 19(k) (West 1992)). Section 19(k) provides in pertinent part:
"In case [sic] where there has been any unreasonable or vexatious delay of payment or intentional underpayment of compensation, or proceedings have been instituted or carried on by the one liable to pay the compensation, which do not present a real controversy, but are merely frivolous or for delay, then the Commission may award compensation additional to that otherwise payable under this Act equal to 50% of the amount payable at the time of such award." 820 ILCS 305/19(k) (West 1992).
Section 16 provides in pertinent part:
"Whenever the Commission shall find that the employer, his or her agent, service company or insurance carrier *** has been guilty of unreasonable or vexatious delay, intentional underpayment of compensation benefits, or has engaged in frivolous defenses which do not present a real controversy, within the purview of the provisions of paragraph (k) of Section 19 of this Act, the Commission may assess all or any part of the attorney's fees and costs against such employer and his or her insurance carrier." 820 ILCS 305/16 (West 1992). Siddens alleged that Moorhead's appeals in the underlying litigation "did not present a real controversy but [were] merely frivolous within the meaning of section 19(k)." Siddens did not allege that Moorhead unreasonably delayed or intentionally underpaid compensation; in fact, Siddens admitted in his petition that Moorhead had paid his due compensation.
On March 8, 1993, the Commission, with one commissioner Dissenting, denied Siddens' request for penalties and attorney fees (March 1993 decision). The majority, one of whom was commissioner Richard Gilgis, found that Moorhead's appeals in the underlying litigation were not frivolous. The Dissenting Commissioner disagreed, citing the appellate court's July 1992 Order in which the court stated that one of Moorhead's three arguments on appeal had "no merit" and that another was "meritless." Siddens appealed to the circuit court of Macon County, which reversed the Commission in an order dated January 10, 1995 (January 1995 order). The circuit court found that Moorhead's appeals in the underlying litigation were frivolous and that the Commission's March 1993 decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The circuit court accordingly remanded the cause to the Commission for a determination of attorney fees, penalties, and costs.
The Commission rendered its decision on remand on December 11, 1995 (December 1995 decision). The Commission awarded Siddens penalties and attorney fees in the amount of $38,798.28 and $7,759.66, respectively. Commissioner Gilgis Dissented, stating that the circuit court impermissibly substituted its judgment for that of the Commission. Moorhead appealed.
On October 23, 1996, the circuit court again reversed (October 1996 order), finding the Commission's decision on remand against the manifest weight of the evidence. The circuit court ordered the Commission to enter an order awarding Siddens $67,918.03 in section 19(k) penalties, $33,972.84 in section 16 attorney fees and $962.25 in costs. Neither party appealed the circuit court's October 1996 order.
On July 30, 1997, before the Commission took any action on remand, Siddens filed a two-count "Action for Declaratory Judgment" with the circuit court (July 1997 motion). In count I, Siddens sought an order declaring the circuit court's October 1996 order final but no longer appealable. In count II, Siddens alleged that the Commission's March 1993 and December 1995 decisions were made fraudulently. He claimed that Commissioner Gilgis was not in possession of the necessary transcripts and motions to render those decisions or to conduct a hearing on Siddens' August 1992 petition for penalties and attorney fees. Siddens further alleged that the other commissioners were unaware of the contents of his petition. According to Siddens, the Commission lacked jurisdiction to rule on his petition, since the decisions were allegedly not made by a three-member panel as required by section 19(e) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(e) (West 1992)). Siddens asked the circuit court to hold an evidentiary hearing so that the commissioners could be called before the circuit court, and the circuit court could decide whether the Commission's March 1993 and December 1995 decisions were made by a three-Judge panel.
The circuit court ruled on Siddens' July 1997 motion on August 20, 1997 (August 1997 order). The court granted the relief Siddens sought in count I, finding that the circuit court's October 1996 order was final and appealable. However, because no party appealed within 30 days of the entry of the order, the order was no longer reviewable. See 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(2) (West 1996); 155 Ill. 2d R. 303(a). Regarding count II, the circuit court ordered the commissioners to convene amongst themselves and "enter an order declaring whether the order of March 8, 1993[,] and order on remand [of] December 11, 1995[, were] in fact the decision[s] of a 3[-] member panel of the Industrial Commission pursuant to Sec. 19(e) of the Worker's [sic] Compensation Act." Siddens filed a motion to reconsider count II, asserting that it was for the circuit court, not the commissioners, to decide whether the Commission's March 1993 and December 1995 decisions were frauds. The circuit court denied Siddens' motion to reconsider.
Moorhead, Siddens, and the Commission appeal the August 1997 order of the circuit court. Moorhead and the Commission advance several arguments why we should vacate the circuit court's August 1997 order. They contend the following: that the circuit court lost jurisdiction to entertain Siddens' July 1997 motion after remanding the cause to the Commission in October 1996; that Siddens' motion for declaratory judgment did not present a justiciable controversy, and thus the circuit court's resulting order was an advisory opinion; and that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to enter the August 1997 order because its October 1996 order was interlocutory and not final. Moorhead also argues that the Commission lacked the statutory jurisdiction to consider Siddens' August 1992 petition in the first place. Siddens, on the other hand, cross-appeals and asks this court to order the circuit court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Commission's March 1993 and December 1995 decisions were those of a three-member panel. Siddens reiterates his arguments that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to render its March 1993 and December 1995 decisions, and he asks us to declare those decisions void.
While the instant appeal was pending, Siddens filed a motion with this court. In that motion, he asks us to dismiss all appeals until an evidentiary hearing can be held before the circuit court. Siddens also seeks to amend his prayer for relief in count II of his July 1997 motion. His proposed amendment prays for the circuit court to declare all Commission and circuit court orders on and subsequent to March 8, 1993, null and void, and he further requests a stay of the proceedings in the Commission on remand. Moorhead and the Commission oppose Siddens' motion, contending that the circuit court already ruled on Siddens' July 1997 motion and that the parties fully briefed the instant appeal based on that ruling. The ...