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AEH Construction, Inc. v. State Department of Labor

February 08, 2001

AEH CONSTRUCTION, INC., A CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STATE OF ILLINOIS, ILLINOIS, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit Knox County, Illinois No. 99-MR-6 Honorable James B. Stewart, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lytton

Plaintiff, AEH Construction, Inc. (AEH), filed suit for declaratory judgment against the Illinois Department of Labor (Department) seeking a declaration that it was not in violation of the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act (Act). 820 ILCS 130/6, 130/11a (West 1998). The Department filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint was premature. AEH filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the Prevailing Wage Act only applied to workers on a construction site. The trial court ruled that the complaint was not premature, denied the Department's motion and granted AEH's motion. The Department appeals. We reverse.

FACTS

AEH entered into a contract with the City of Galesburg to remove bricks from certain city streets, repair and level the subsurface, and then relay the bricks. After removal of the bricks, AEH transported them to its office where employees cleaned and repalleted the bricks. The bricks were then transported to a storage facility and then to the street to be reinstalled. AEH performed no cleaning at the actual construction sites.

On November 23, 1998, the Department notified the City of Galesburg that the location where the cleaning was performed was irrelevant, and that the work of cleaning the bricks was covered by the Act. The letter stated that, "this correspondence [will] serve AEH with notice that the work being performed for the City of Galesburg is covered * * * under the Prevailing Wage Act."

On January 27, 1999, AEH filed a complaint for declaratory judgment seeking an interpretation of the applicability of the Act to the brick cleaners. The Department filed a motion to dismiss asserting that no actual controversy existed.

Meanwhile, pursuant to standard departmental procedures, the Department continued to investigate AEH's payroll records in April, 1999, to determine compliance with the Act. On May 18, 1999, the Department's investigator issued a letter to AEH stating that certain employees had received less than the prevailing wage and that wages of $12,151.46, an underpayment penalty of $2,430.29 and punitive damages of $243.02 were due. AEH requested an expedited administrative hearing on the matter. The Office of the Attorney General notified AEH that an administrative hearing was not available because AEH had only received one notice and two were required for an administrative hearing.

The trial court denied the Department's motion to dismiss on June 24, 1999. The Department answered the complaint. AEH filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

DISCUSSION

The Department asserts that the trial court erred because the case was not ripe for decision because 1) no controversy existed, and 2) AEH failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. Because we agree with the Department that the complaint for declaratory judgment was premature, we need not address the substantive issues raised in this appeal.

I.

The Department argues that there was no actual controversy capable of judicial resolution because AEH commenced its complaint before the Department initiated an enforcement proceeding. Mere notice of a potential action against AEH does not create a claim capable of judicial resolution. Therefore, the declaratory judgment action was premature.

The purpose of declaratory judgment is "to allow the court to address a controversy one step sooner than normally, after the dispute has arisen but before steps are taken which give rise to a claim for damage or other relief." Tait v. County of Sangamon, 138 Ill. App. 3d 169, 485 N.E.2d 558 (1985) (citing Kaske v. City of Rockford, 96 Ill.2d 298, 450 N.E.2d 314 (1983)). To maintain an action for declaratory relief, it is essential that there be an "actual controversy" and that the party seeking the declaration must have a tangible legal interest in that controversy. Underground Contractors Association v. City of Chicago, 66 Ill.2d 371, 362 N.E.2d 298 (1977). A complaint for declaratory judgment which recites an actual controversy between the parties in sufficient factual detail and requests a declaration of rights is sufficient to state a cause of action. Schwanke, Schwanke & Assoc. v. Martin, 241 Ill. App. 3d 738, 744, 609 N.E.2d 654, 659 (1992).

In order to have an "actual controversy," a party must demonstrate "that the underlying facts and issues of the case are not moot or premature, so as to require the court to pass judgment on mere abstract propositions of law, render an advisory opinion, or give legal advice as to future events." Underground Contractors, 66 Ill.2d at 375, 362 N.E.2d at 300. The case must present a concrete dispute requiring the immediate and definitive determination of the parties' rights, the resolution of which will advance the conclusion of the controversy or some part thereof. Underground Contractors, 66 Ill.2d at 375, 362 N.E.2d at 300. A ...


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