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ESG Watts, Inc. v. Pollution Control Board

March 23, 2000


Agenda 12-January 2000.

JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

In this case petitioner ESG Watts, Inc. (Watts), sought review of a decision of the Illinois Pollution Control Board (Board) in the Illinois appellate court. The appellate court dismissed Watts' action because Watts did not name the State of Illinois as a respondent in its petition for review. The question before us is whether it was proper for the appellate court to dismiss the appeal. We find that dismissal was proper, and affirm.


In May 1996, the State, through its Attorney General, filed a complaint before the Board captioned "People of the State of Illinois v. ESG Watts, Inc." The State alleged that Watts had violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (415 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 1994)) by failing to update closure cost estimates or provide adequate cost assurances for a sanitary landfill it had been operating. In February 1998, after conducting a hearing and receiving evidence, the Board found Watts liable and imposed a $256,000 fine.

In March 1998, Watts filed a petition for administrative review of the Board's decision. Watts petitioned directly to the appellate court, as required by the Act. See 415 ILCS 5/41(a) (West 1994). However, the only respondent Watts named in the petition was the Board. The Board moved to dismiss the action, contending that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction because Watts had not named the State as a respondent. The appellate court granted the Board's motion and dismissed the case. No. 4-98-0229 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). We granted Watts' petition for leave to appeal. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).


There is no question that Watts failed to name the State as a respondent in its petition for review in the appellate court. The sole issue presented to this court is the effect of Watts' failure to name the State. Accordingly, as the operative facts are undisputed, our standard of review is de novo. Envirite Corp. v. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 158 Ill. 2d 210, 214 (1994).

Before addressing the arguments raised by the parties, we begin with a brief overview of the principles pertaining to judicial review of administrative actions. Although the Illinois Constitution grants an appeal as a matter of right from all final judgments of the circuit court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §6), there is no constitutional right to appeal administrative decisions. Rather, the appellate and circuit courts have only such powers to review administrative actions "as provided by law." Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §6 (appellate court); art. VI, §9 (circuit court). See also Central City Education Ass'n v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 149 Ill. 2d 496, 526-27 (1992), citing Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §6 ("the Illinois appellate court has only such power of direct review as the legislature may provide"). In this case, the statute which provides for judicial review is section 41(a) of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act (Act) (415 ILCS 5/41(a) (West 1994)). Section 41(a) provides in pertinent part that any party adversely affected by a final order or determination of the Board

"may obtain judicial review, by filing a petition for review ***, under the provisions of the Administrative Review Law, as amended[,] and the rules adopted pursuant thereto, except that review shall be afforded directly in the Appellate Court for the District in which the cause of action arose and not in the Circuit Court." 415 ILCS 5/41(a) (West 1994).

Section 41(a) thus incorporates by reference the requirements of the Administrative Review Law (Review Law) and the rules adopted pursuant thereto. Both section 113(b) of the Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-113(b) (West 1994)) and our Supreme Court Rule 335 (155 Ill. 2d R. 335) address petitions for review of administrative agency decisions in the appellate court. These provisions are identical with respect to who must be named as a respondent. Each provides that a petition for review "shall specify the parties seeking review and shall designate the respondent and the order or part thereof to be reviewed. The agency and all other parties of record shall be named respondents." 735 ILCS 5/3-113(b) (West 1996); 155 Ill. 2d R. 335(a).

In light of the above, this court has held that administrative review actions, whether taken to the circuit court or directly to the appellate court, involve the exercise of "special statutory jurisdiction." McGaughy v. Illinois Human Rights Comm'n, 165 Ill. 2d 1, 6-7 (1995) (appellate court); Fredman Brothers Furniture Co. v. Department of Revenue, 109 Ill. 2d 202, 210-11 (1985) (circuit court). When a court is exercising special statutory jurisdiction the language of the act conferring jurisdiction delimits the court's power to hear the case. A party seeking to invoke special statutory jurisdiction thus "must strictly adhere to the prescribed procedures" in the statute. McGaughy, 165 Ill. 2d at 12. See also Carver v. Nall, 186 Ill. 2d 554, 558 (1999) (because Administrative Review Law is a departure from common law, "a party seeking judicial review of an administrative decision must strictly adhere to the" procedures prescribed therein). Section 102 of the Review Law reinforces this point, by explicitly stating that a party is barred from obtaining judicial review of an administrative decision "[u]nless review is sought of an administrative decision within the time and in the manner herein [i.e., in the Review Law] provided." 735 ILCS 5/3-102 (West 1996). Accordingly, absent strict compliance with section 41(a) of the Act, including the provisions of the Review Law and the rules adopted pursuant thereto, which section 41(a) incorporates by reference, the appellate court cannot consider the appeal. 735 ILCS 5/3-102 (West 1996); Carver, 186 Ill. 2d at 558; McGaughy, 165 Ill. 2d at 12.

Watts first contends that the petition for review acts as a notice of appeal, and it should thus be subject to the same liberal rules of construction as notices of appeal (see Waste Management, Inc. v. International Surplus Lines Insurance Co., 144 Ill. 2d 178, 188-89 (1991) (in notices of appeal "technical defects in form, as opposed to substance, are deemed not fatal")). Watts' argument is based on Supreme Court Rule 335(i)(1), which provides that: "[i]nsofar as appropriate, the provisions of Rules 301 through 373 (except for Rule 326) are applicable to proceedings under this rule." 155 Ill. 2d R. 335(i)(1). Watts notes that Rule 303, which governs notices of appeal, is one of the rules incorporated by Rule 335(i)(1), and contends that it therefore stands to reason that petitions for review should be liberally construed just as are notices of appeal.

We reject this reasoning. Although a petition for review does serve as a notice of appeal in an administrative review case (see 155 Ill. 2d R. 355, Committee Comments, at cxxxii ("the petition for review serves the function of the notice of appeal, and nothing else")), it does not logically follow that it should be liberally construed. Watts' argument is flawed in that it ignores the qualifying phrase "insofar as appropriate" in Rule 335(i)(1). As previously discussed, liberal construction of petitions for review would be inappropriate because in the exercise of special statutory jurisdiction the party seeking review must strictly comply with the statute conferring jurisdiction on the court. Thus, if application of Rule 303 would mandate such a result, Rule 303 would not be applicable. We find that a rule of strict construction of petitions for administrative review is proper and necessary and is mandated by this court's previous precedent.

This case presents a factual scenario quite similar to that present in our recent decision in McGaughy, in which we held, without dissent, that dismissal was required for noncompliance with Rule 335. McGaughy involved two consolidated appeals from final decisions by the Illinois Human Rights Commission. In the case most factually similar to the instant case, petitioner Barbara McGaughy filed a charge with the Department of Human Rights in which she alleged that her employer, the Department of State Police, had discriminated against her. The Department of Human Rights dismissed the charge for lack of substantial evidence. McGaughy filed a request for review with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, which affirmed the dismissal. McGaughy then filed a petition for review of the Commission's decision in the appellate court. However, she named as respondents only the Commission and the Department of State Police, failing to name the Department of Human Rights. The appellate court held that this failure did not ...

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