Appeal From The Circuit Court of Cook County No. 00 L 50333 Honorable Thomas P. Quinn, Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart) appeals from a circuit court order dismissing its action for administrative review of a decision of the Industrial Commission (Commission) denying its request for approval of a Panel of Physicians pursuant to section 8(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/8(a) (West 1998)) and section 7 of the Occupational Diseases Act (820 ILCS 310/7 (West 1998)). For the reasons which follow, we affirm.
Section 8 of the Act governs the amount of compensation to be paid to an employee for a nonfatal accidental injury. 820 ILCS 305/8 (West 1998). Among other things, subsection (a) provides that the employee may elect to secure his own physician at the employer's expense or that:
"[u]pon agreement between the employer and the employees, or the employees' exclusive representative, and subject to the approval of the Industrial Commission, the employer shall maintain a list of physicians, to be known as a Panel of Physicians, who are accessible to the employees." (Emphasis added.) 820 ILCS 305/8(a) (West 1998).
Section 7 of the Workers' Occupational Diseases Act provides that, if an employee's disablement, disfigurement, impairment, or death is caused by an occupational disease, he is entitled to the same "benefits, rights and remedies, in the same manner, to the same extent and subject to the same terms, conditions and limitations, * * * as are now or may hereafter be provided by the 'Workers' Compensation Act'". 820 ILCS 310/7 (West 1998).
On August 31, 1999, Wal-Mart filed a petition for the Commission's approval of a Panel of Physicians pursuant to section 8(a) of the Act and Section 7 of the Workers' Occupational Diseases Act. In its petition, Wal-Mart asserted that it had reached an agreement with the employees at 74 of its Illinois locations to establish a panel. It stated that, at each location, it had submitted the proposal for a Panel of Physicians to all of the employees, and the employees in agreement with the proposal signed a written agreement to establish the panel. Attached as exhibits to Wal-Mart's petition were a list of the 74 locations where an agreement had been reached and a list of the physicians on the proposed panel. Also attached was the affidavit of Theresa Russell, an employee of Claims Management, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart which administers its' workers' compensation claims. In her affidavit, Russell averred that more than 50% of the employees at each of the 74 locations had signed an agreement consenting to the formation of the panel.
After the petition was filed, Commissioner Gilgis sent Wal-Mart several letters requesting information pertaining to the petition. Wal-Mart responded to each of the letters, providing information and materials. In one of his letters, Commissioner Gilgis also informed Wal-Mart that its petition was scheduled for two evidentiary hearings before him, the first to be held on December 7, 1999, at the Commission's Springfield offices and the second to be held on December 14, 1999, at its Chicago offices. Pursuant to instructions from Commissioner Gilgis, Wal-Mart posted notices in each of its stores informing its employees of the date and location of each hearing and inviting them to attend the hearings and present comments.
Counsel for Wal-Mart was the only person who appeared at the December 7 hearing in Springfield. In response to counsel's inquiry, Commissioner Gilgis stated that he did not, at that time, need any further information from Wal-Mart. Commissioner Gilgis concluded the hearing and continued the matter to December 14.
No Wal-Mart employees appeared at the December 14 hearing in Chicago. At that hearing, the following items were introduced into evidence: a copy of the petition and its attachments; a list of the physicians on the proposed panel; a copy of the notice of the hearings which was posted in each of Wal-Mart's stores; a copy of the notice to employees which Wal-Mart intended to post upon approval of the petition; and copies of all correspondence between Commissioner Gilgis and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart presented only one witness, Theresa Russell, who testified regarding the manner in which she obtained the signatures of the employees who approved of the Panel of Physicians. After Russell's testimony, the hearing was concluded.
On February 16, 2000, the Commission issued an order denying Wal-Mart's petition for approval of a Panel of Physicians. The Commission found that Wal-Mart had failed to prove that all of its employees had waived their rights under section 8(a) and that establishment of the panel is in the best interests of its employees as a whole. It stated, inter alia, that: "Where the Commission has approved panels of doctors in the past, the proposal was made jointly by the employer and the union authorized to represent its employees on such matters so that it was clear that the arrangement was in the best interest of both parties." On March 1, 2000, the Commission issued another order, in which it directed Wal-Mart to post notices of the Commission's denial of the petition in each of its 132 Illinois locations, the 74 locations which were the subject of the petition and an additional 58 locations which were not.
On March 10, 2000, Wal-Mart filed a petition for rehearing and for leave to submit additional evidence in support of its petition for approval of the panel. On March 15, 2000, the Commission issued an order denying and dismissing Wal-Mart's petition for rehearing. In that order, the Commission stated that there is no provision in the Act, its rules, or case law permitting rehearings.
On April 7, 2000, Wal-Mart sought judicial review of the Commission's three orders by filing in the circuit court of Cook County a Request for Summons and Review, which stated that it was filed pursuant to section 19(f) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(f) (West 1998)) and Supreme Court Rule 292 (134 Ill. 2d R. 292). The Commission filed a motion to dismiss Wal-Mart's judicial review action pursuant to section 2-619(a)(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(1) (West 1998)), arguing that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the matter because it was not commenced within the time constraints of section 19(f), i.e., within 20 days of the issuance of the Commission's February 16, 2000, order. On July 24, 2000, the trial court granted the Commission's motion and dismissed Wal-Mart's action for judicial review. Wal-Mart then filed the instant timely appeal.
Our review of a dismissal pursuant to section 2-619 is de novo. Kedzie & 103rd Currency Exchange, Inc. v. Hodge, 156 Ill. 2d 112, 116, 619 N.E.2d 732 (1993). Further, as will be explained herein, the propriety of the trial court's dismissal order turns upon a question of statutory construction, a question of law which is also subject to de ...