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The City of Belleville, Illinois v. Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council

March 28, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 98-MR-286 Honorable Patrick M. Young, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

The City of Belleville, Illinois ("City"), brought suit seeking to void an addendum to its police-employee collective bargaining agreement. The addendum was allegedly entered into between the City's former mayor and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council ("Union"). The Union appeals from a summary judgment entered in the City's favor. We affirm.

The Union and the City entered into the collective bargaining agreement for the period of May 1, 1996, through April 30, 1999. This agreement was approved by the city council. On April 10, 1997, the former mayor, allegedly on behalf of the City, agreed to enter into a side letter to the collective bargaining agreement ("addendum"). It stated:

"It is the understanding of the parties[] that the $1.00 per hour for 125 days of unused sick leave benefit at retirement and five weeks of vacation during the final work year has [sic] been negotiated away in favor of the after twenty-year longevity step. If[,] for some reason in the future, the longevity step is excluded from the collective bargaining agreement, for any reason, the original benefits shall be reinstated."

The former mayor signed this addendum eight days after he was defeated for re-election and 20 days before his last day of office. He neglected to submit it to the city council for approval. There was no appropriation of funds to cover the City's increased financial burden under the addendum.

Shortly thereafter, the city treasurer discovered the addendum, wrote the Illinois Department of Insurance, and inquired into the addendum's legality. On April 28, 1997, the Illinois Department of Insurance informed the treasurer that the addendum's provisions were illegal under the pension code. The city treasurer then notified the Union that the City was not going to honor it.

On October 5, 1998, the City filed suit against the Union, seeking declaratory relief. On June 7, 1999, the trial court ruled in favor of the City on cross-motions for summary judgment.

A summary judgment should be granted when there are no genuine issues of material fact to be tried and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Batson v. Pickneyville Elementary School Dist. #50, 294 Ill. App. 3d 832, 834, 690 N.E.2d 1077, 1078 (1998). In determining the appropriateness of a summary judgment, the trial court strictly construes all evidence in the record against the movant and liberally in favor of the opponent. See Purtill v. Hess, 111 Ill. 2d 229, 240, 489 N.E.2d 867, 871 (1986). On appeal, we review summary judgment orders de novo. See Batson, 294 Ill. App. 3d at 834, 690 N.E.2d at 1079.

Only corporate authorities have the power to bind the city in a contract unless that power is delegated to another. See Chicago Food Management, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 163 Ill. App. 3d 638, 643, 516 N.E.2d 880, 884 (1987). The general rule is that when an employee of a municipal corporation purports to bind the corporation by contract without prior approval, in violation of an applicable statute, such a contract is utterly void. See D.C. Consulting Engineers, Inc. v. Batavia Park District, 143 Ill. App. 3d 60, 63, 492 N.E.2d 1000, 1002 (1986). One who deals with a municipal corporation is presumed to know the extent of its power to contract. See D.C. Consulting Engineers, Inc., 143 Ill. App. 3d at 63, 492 N.E.2d at 1002.

Two provisions of the Municipal Code (the Code) come into play. Section 8-1-7(a) provides:

"Except as provided otherwise in this Section, no contract shall be made by the corporate authorities, or by any committee or member thereof, and no expense shall be incurred by any of the officers or departments of any municipality, whether the object of the expenditure has been ordered by the corporate authorities or not, unless an appropriation has been previously made concerning that contract or expense. Any contract made, or any expense otherwise incurred, in violation of the provisions of this section shall be null and void as to the municipality, and no money belonging thereto shall be paid on account thereof ***." 65 ILCS 5/8-1-7(a) (West 1994).

In addition, section 3.1-40-40 of the Code provides that the passage of any ordinance or resolution to create liability against a city for the expenditure or appropriation of its money requires the approval of a majority of all members holding office on the city council. 65 ILCS 5/3.1-40-40 (West 1994).

The record shows that the addendum was entered into without a prior appropriation of funds to cover the obligations incurred under it. It further shows that the addendum did not have the city council's approval. We think it clear that the addendum is void.

The Union contends that its side letter with the former mayor does not implicate the statutory provisions we rely upon to reach our conclusion. The Union argues that the City is not bound by the constraints of the Code. Its argument rests upon the decision reached in City of Burbank v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 185 Ill. App. 3d 997, 541 N.E.2d 1259 ...

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