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Lanning v. Morris Mobile Meals

November 09, 1999

DORIS LANNING,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
V. MORRIS MOBILE MEALS, INC.,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit Grundy County, Illinois No. 98-L-31 Honorable Robert H. Adcock Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lytton

Plaintiff Doris Lanning filed a retaliatory discharge action against her former employer, Morris Mobile Meals, Inc. (Morris). Morris moved to dismiss Lanning's suit. The trial court denied Morris' motion and certified a question of law for review. This court granted Morris' petition for leave to appeal. We hold that Lanning's complaint of retaliatory discharge is not precluded based on her failure to report an alleged health code violation to a public official.

FACTS

Morris is a food service provider, delivering meals to customers' homes. Lanning was formerly employed by Morris. She claims that she was discharged in retaliation for "reporting to her supervisor and to a dietician at Morris Hospital that [Morris] through its agents and employees were endangering the health of its customers by leaving meals at customers' residences, unrefrigerated in 95 degree heat for indefinite periods of time in violation of Illinois public health laws." Morris moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The trial court denied the motion and certified the following question of law to this court:

"Whether Zaniecki v. P.A. Bergner & Co. of Illinois, 143 Ill. App.3d 668, 493 N.E.2d 419 (3rd Dist. 1986), which held that no cause of action for retaliatory discharge lies where an employee fails to report the alleged misconduct forming the basis of his or her retaliatory discharge claim to public authorities but only makes an internal report of the suspected misconduct, is controlling in the present case where the plaintiff allegedly reported misconduct to her employer as well as to a third party."

We granted Morris' petition for leave to appeal.

ANALYSIS

Morris argues that Lanning did not allege that she complained to a public official, as required by Zaniecki v. P.A. Bergner and Co. of Illinois, 143 Ill. App.3d 668, 493 N.E.2d 419 (1986). Thus, the trial court should have granted Morris' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim of retaliatory discharge.

Lanning, on the other hand, asks this court to overrule Zaniecki, claiming that it is unsound. Alternatively, she contends that Zaniecki is distinguishable because, in this case, she complained to a third party.

This matter is before us pursuant to a certified question under Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill.2d R. 308). The appellate court conducts a de novo review of certified questions, as it does with all questions of law. Lanxon v. Ballard, 296 Ill. App.3d 377, 379, 694 N.E.2d 610, 611 (1998).

A claim of retaliatory discharge is permissible where "an employee is discharged in retaliation for the reporting of illegal or improper conduct," also known as "whistle blowing." Jacobson v. Knepper & Moga, P.C., 185 Ill.2d 372, 376, 706 N.E.2d 491, 493 (1998). To succeed on a claim of retaliatory discharge, a plaintiff must show "that she was (1) discharged; (2) in retaliation for her activities; and (3) that the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy." Hinthorn v. Roland's of Bloomington, 119 Ill.2d 526, 529, 519 N.E.2d 909, 911 (1988).

I.

In Zaniecki, this court stated an additional requirement, i.e. that a retaliatory discharge claim will not lie unless the plaintiff has complained to a public official. 143 Ill. App.3d at 670-671, 493 N.E.2d at 421. There, the plaintiff alleged that he was terminated after reporting another employee's improper conduct to his employer's chief security officer. This court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's suit because the plaintiff only lodged an internal complaint.

Our decision in Zaniecki is in direct conflict with the first and fifth districts. See Johnson v. Water Color Press Inc., 147 Ill. App.3d 746, 498 N.E.2d 575 (5th Dist. 1986); Petrik v. Monarch Printing Corp., 111 Ill. App.3d 502, 444 N.E.2d 588 (1st Dist. 1982). Neither district requires a plaintiff ...


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