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Beaudette v. Illinois Industrial Commission

September 29, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McCULLOUGH


Appeal from Circuit Court of Cook County No. 97L51021 Honorable Joanne L. Lanigan, Judge Presiding.

On April 23, 1990, Steven Beaudette injured his right arm while working for respondent, Eastman Kodak Company (Kodak). Steven received temporary total disability (TTD) benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/8(b) (West 1994)) until he died on January 18, 1992. At some point during the week of Steven's death, his widow, Joy Beaudette, spoke with a representative of Kodak, who incorrectly stated that she did not have a claim for further benefits under the Act. On November 3, 1994, Joy filed a claim for benefits under the Act. On August 29, 1997, the Industrial Commission (Commission) granted Kodak's motion to dismiss, finding that though Kodak was estopped from asserting the normal statute of limitations under the Act (820 ILCS 305/6(d) (West 1998)), the claim was barred by a two-year period of limitations which began on the date of Kodak's conduct giving rise to the estoppel. We affirm.

According to Joy's testimony before the arbitrator, Clara Ooyama, an attorney for Kodak, was the person whom she talked to about her husband's case. On January 23, 1991, Ooyama wrote Steven a letter stating, in part:

"As we discussed previously, your workers' compensation case can be settled with a lump sum payment to you for the April 1990 accident. Please let me know if you would be interested in pursuing such an alternative. If so, I will review your file and present you with a proposal for settlement."

No response by Steven or by anyone on his behalf is shown in the record. Claimant testified she understood this letter to mean that when he was done with all of his cancer treatments, he would get a settlement payment. Claimant testified she trusted Ooyama and relied upon information she provided to her, even though Ooyama told her it was her job to represent Kodak and its interests. On March 28, 1991, Ooyama wrote Steven, informing him his workers' compensation claim was being administered by the Martin Boyer Company, Inc., and that questions regarding his accident should be referred to Judith Small, a claims representative there. Joy testified she spoke with Small frequently, and Small sent them Steven's paychecks. Joy testified she believed Small and relied on her information. Small never informed Joy of a time limitation for filing a claim. Joy did not ask Small about time limitations.

Within a week after Steven died on January 18, 1992, Joy called Small, who told her to return half of the most recent paycheck. According to Joy, when she asked Small what was to happen next:

"She told me that-- She said it was done; it was over with. Your husband's dead, and that she-- What makes me remember that is that is what she said: The case is-- There's no case. He's dead."

When asked if she ever called Small again, Joy responded, "No, because of the coldness in her. She just said he was dead, there's nothing you can do." Joy did not have any further conversations with Ooyama, Small, or anyone else representing Kodak.

The Act provides for two periods of limitation:

"In any case other than one where the injury was caused by exposure to radiological materials or equipment or asbestos unless the application for compensation is filed within 3 years after the date of the accident, where no compensation has been paid, or within 2 years after the date of the last payment of compensation, where any has been paid, whichever shall be later, the right to file such application shall be barred." 820 ILCS 305/6(d) (West 1998).

The limitations period, measured from the date of injury, expired on April 22, 1993. The limitations period measured from the last date of compensation expired on January 17, 1994. Joy did not file this claim until November 3, 1994.

The arbitrator and Commission found Kodak estopped from asserting the normal statute of limitations by the comments of Small during the week of January 18, 1992. Under City of Chicago v. Industrial Comm'n, 75 Ill. 2d 270, 281, 388 N.E.2d 406, 412 (1979), a claimant is not given an indefinite period in which to file a claim simply because the employer was estopped at some point from asserting the statute of limitations. Instead, the limitations period starts running again as of the date of the conduct giving rise to the estoppel. City of Chicago, 75 Ill. 2d at 281, 388 N.E.2d at 412. The parties dispute whether the two-year or the three-year period applies under City of Chicago after the conduct giving rise to estoppel. The Commission applied the two- year period.

The Commission found estoppel, that "the statute began to run on January 25, 1992." Although the parties do not address the estoppel issue, the evidence does not support such a finding. A reviewing court can affirm the Commission's decision upon any legal basis in the record to support its decision, regardless of the Commission's findings or reasoning. General Motors Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 179 Ill. App. 3d 683, 695, 534 N.E.2d 992, 1000 (1989). Estoppel is ordinarily a question of fact, but it becomes a matter of law where there is no ...

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