Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 10th Judicial Circuit Peoria County, Illinois No. 96 MR 407 Honorable Richard E. Grawey, Judge Presiding
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
In this appeal we must determine whether the trial court erred in reversing the decision of the Department of Employment Security by finding that Cohen Furniture Company did not owe any contributions under the Unemployment Insurance Act (820 ILCS 405/100 et seq. (West 1996)), for its carpet installers because the installers were independent contractors. After our careful review, we reverse.
Cohen Furniture Company (Cohen) sells home furnishings, including carpeting. Cohen's advertised price for carpet sometimes includes the cost of installation, but even when it does not, Cohen is willing to arrange for installation. To do so, Cohen engages the services of a carpet installer from a list that it maintains.
In December 1995, the Department of Employment Security (Department) issued a "determination and assessment" against Cohen, finding that Cohen was responsible for $3,504.26 in unpaid contributions under the Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (820 ILCS 405/2200 (West 1996)), for a number of its employees, including 12 carpet installers. *fn1 Cohen filed a written protest to the assessment and requested an administrative hearing, arguing that because the carpet installers were independent contractors, it was exempt from making contributions for them pursuant to section 212 of the Act (820 ILCS 405/212 (West 1996)).
After reviewing the evidence presented during the hearing, the director of the Department found that Cohen failed to present sufficient evidence on any of the three factors in section 212 of the Act to prove that the carpet installers were independent contractors. Therefore, the Department found that the evidence supported a finding that the carpet installers were employees and that Cohen was responsible for the unpaid contributions.
Cohen filed a complaint for administrative review in the trial court. The trial Judge reversed the Department's decision with respect to the 12 carpet installers, finding that the decision in United Delivery Services, Ltd., v. Didrickson, 276 Ill. App. 3d 584, 659 N.E.2d 82 (1992), was directly on point. The Department's appeal followed.
Judicial review of the Department's decisions extends to all questions of law and fact presented by the record. 820 ILCS 405/2205 (West 1996); 735 ILCS 5/3--110 (West 1996). On review, the Department's factual findings are held to be prima facie true and correct, and a reviewing court may set aside such decisions only if they are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Jones v. Illinois Department of Employment Security, 276 Ill. App. 3d 281, 284, 657 N.E.2d 1141, 1144 (1995). However, administrative agencies are not entitled to such deference on questions of law which are subject to de novo review. City of Belvidere v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 181 Ill. 2d 191, 205, 692 N.E.2d 295, 302 (1998).
In the instant case, this court must decide whether the Department erred in determining that Cohen was responsible for unpaid contributions under the Act because its carpet installers did not meet the independent contractor exception set forth in section 212 of the Act. To do so, we must interpret the statutory provision, as well as consider the legal effect of the factual determinations made by the Department. When the question presented for review involves a mixed question of law and fact such as this, the reviewing court must apply the "clearly erroneous" standard. City of Belvidere, 181 Ill. 2d at 205, 692 N.E.2d at 302.
The Act requires all employers to make contributions to a fund based upon "wages payable for employment." 820 ILCS 405/1400 (West 1996). This fund provides money to involuntarily unemployed workers and their families to ease the burdens caused by unemployment.
In arguing that it was not required to make contributions for its carpet installers, Cohen relies upon section 212 which creates an exception for independent contractors and provides:
"Service performed by an individual for an employing unit, whether or not such individual employs others in connection with the performance of such services, shall be deemed to be employment unless and until it is ...