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Grchan v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board

July 10, 2000

MICHAEL GRCHAN, ROCK ISLAND COUNTY SHERIFF, AND ROCK ISLAND COUNTY,
PETITIONERS,
V.
ILLINOIS STATE LABOR RELATIONS BOARD; ILLINOIS FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE LABOR COUNCIL; AND MICHAEL HUFF,
RESPONDENTS.
MICHAEL GRCHAN, ROCK ISLAND COUNTY SHERIFF, AND ROCK ISLAND COUNTY,
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
V.
ILLINOIS STATE LABOR RELATIONS BOARD; ILLINOIS FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE LABOR COUNCIL; AND MICHAEL HUFF,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



On Petition for Review of an Order of the Illinois State Labor Relations Board No. S-CB-97-39 On Consolidated Appeals from the Rock Island County Circuit Court No. 95 MR 215 Honorable Martin Conway Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Koehler

The Illinois State Labor Relations Board (ISLRB) found that Rock Island County Sheriff Michael Grchan (sheriff) and Rock Island County (county) had committed an unfair labor practice by disciplining sheriff's sergeant Michael Huff in retaliation for his protected union activities. After the ISLRB issued its unfair labor practices complaint, the sheriff and the county filed a petition with the circuit court to enjoin the ISLRB from conducting the hearing. The circuit court refused to grant a preliminary injunction and, on interlocutory review, this court affirmed the circuit court. However, after the ISLRB issued its decision, the circuit court ruled that its order was void ab initio because the ISLRB lacked the power to alter discipline that the Rock Island County Sheriff's Merit Commission (Merit Commission) had previously imposed.

In this consolidated appeal, the sheriff and the County appeal fro the ISLRB order, contending that: (1) the doctrine of res judicata barred the ISLRB from considering Huff's claims arising out of the discipline imposed by the Merit Commission; (2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the ISLRB decision; and (3) the ISLRB abused its discretion by imposing sanctions against the sheriff. In addition, the county contends that it cannot be held liable for an unfair labor practice committed by the sheriff. For their part, Huff, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (Huff's labor union), and the ISLRB contend, inter alia, that the circuit court erred by barring enforcement of a valid ISLRB order. For the following reasons, we affirm the ISLRB decision and vacate the circuit court's order.

FACTS

In April 1994, the sheriff reassigned Huff to the courthouse security division. Huff, through the FOP, filed a grievance concerning his reassignment. In July 1995, while Huff's grievance was pending in arbitration, representatives of the FOP met with the sheriff and his undersheriff. During this meeting, the sheriff speculated that he might "fire [Huff] and solve the problem." At the same meeting, the undersheriff made the following statement: "if Mike Huff thinks filing all of these grievances is going to get him back on [patrol duty], he's crazy."

In April 1995, the sheriff reassigned Huff to patrol duty after Huff prevailed in the arbitration proceeding. Less than three weeks later, the sheriff disciplined Huff in connection with Huff's investigation of a single-car automobile accident in which the driver was missing from the scene. The body of the presumed driver was found weeks later some distance from the accident scene. On April 19, the sheriff's office reprimanded Huff for failing to ensure that the next shift received a copy of the accident report and for failing to collect and preserve certain evidence.

On September 5, 1995, the sheriff suspended Huff for one day for exercising poor judgment in calling out an investigator to the scene of a residential burglary in July 1995. On September 13, 1995, the sheriff suspended Huff for two days for failing to properly supervise the preservation of evidence related to a reported sexual assault in June 1995 and lying to a sheriff's department internal affairs investigator. Huff grieved these suspensions to the FOP, which later decided to advance the grievances to arbitration.

Also on September 13, the sheriff's office notified Huff that it was investigating his response to an August 20, 1995, domestic violence call. On September 29, 1995, the FOP filed an unfair labor practice charge with the ISLRB alleging that the sheriff had reprimanded Huff in April and had suspended him twice in September in retaliation for his protected union activities.

On October 18, 1995, the sheriff notified Huff that he had filed a Merit Commission complaint against Huff for failing to make a written report of the August domestic violence incident. After a hearing, the Merit Commission found Huff guilty of misconduct. The Merit Commission then considered evidence in aggravation and mitigation, including evidence related to the previous disciplinary action taken against Huff. The Merit Commission discharged Huff from his employment.

Huff filed a complaint for administrative review of the Merit Commission decision. On review, the circuit court found that the Merit Commission's decision to terminate Huff was unreasonable and remanded the case for consideration of a lesser sanction. While awaiting the Merit Commission's decision on remand, the FOP filed a second unfair labor practice charge with the ISLRB alleging that the sheriff had commenced the Merit Commission proceedings in retaliation for the FOP's first unfair labor practice charge. After investigation, the ISLRB consolidated the two charges and issued a complaint. The sheriff filed a petition seeking a writ of prohibition and a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the ISLRB from initiating a hearing. The circuit court denied the motion for preliminary injunction and, on interlocutory appeal, this court affirmed. Grchan v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 291 Ill. App. 3d 571, 573-74, 683 N.E.2d 1290, 1292 (1997).

On remand from the circuit court, the Merit Commission demoted Huff from sergeant to deputy, suspended him for 180 days commencing with the Merit Commission's finding of misconduct, and suspended Huff without pay for a period prior to its finding of misconduct. The circuit court denied Huff's complaint for administrative review. On appeal, this court affirmed the circuit court's decision to uphold the Merit Commission's finding of misconduct but remanded to the Merit Commission for a reduced penalty. We also affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the Merit Commission's decision to terminate Huff was unreasonable and arbitrary, and reversed that part of the reduced penalty imposed on remand which suspended Huff without pay for a period prior to the Merit Commission's finding of misconduct. Huff v. Rock Island County Sheriff's Merit Comm'n, 294 Ill. App. 3d 477, 486, 689 N.E.2d 1159, 1167 (1998).

The unfair labor practice charges then proceeded to a hearing before an ISLRB administrative law judge (ALJ). After the hearing, the ALJ concluded that the sheriff and the county committed an unfair labor practice by disciplining Huff in retaliation for his protected union activity. In particular, the ALJ found that Huff's union activity had been a substantial or motivating factor in the sheriff's decision to take disciplinary action. The ISLRB agreed, finding that the following evidence demonstrated the sheriff's retaliatory motive: (1) the hostile statements made by the sheriff and his undersheriff during the July 1994 meeting with the FOP which directly referred to Huff's reassignment to patrol duty and the disciplinary action; (2) the short interval of time between Huff's reassignment to patrol duty and the sheriff's disciplinary action; and (3) the sheriff's demonstrably false assertion that he had applied progressive discipline in Huff's case. To remedy the unfair labor practice, the ISLRB ordered, inter alia, the sheriff and the county to reinstate Huff to the rank of sergeant without prejudice to his seniority and with back pay plus interest.

Following the ISLRB hearing, the sheriff filed a motion for sanctions against the FOP charging that the FOP did not timely file its grievances. In response, the FOP filed its own motion for sanctions against the sheriff claiming that the parties agreed during the ISLRB hearing not to seek sanctions and that the allegations of the sheriff's motion were patently false. The ISLRB granted the FOP's motion and ordered the sheriff to pay the FOP's costs in litigating the issue of whether the FOP timely filed the grievances.

After the ISLRB issued its decision and the sheriff filed his appeal, the circuit court issued its final ruling on the sheriff and county's request for a writ of prohibition, injunction and declaratory judgment. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court found that the ISLRB order purported to nullify the Merit Commission findings that Huff engaged in misconduct and deserved to be punished. The circuit court ordered that, to the extent the ISLRB order altered the discipline imposed by the Merit Commission, it was void ab initio. The circuit court also ...


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