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Seaman v. Thompson Electronics Company

September 28, 2001

GEORGE SEAMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED EMPLOYEES OF THOMPSON ELECTRONICS COMPANY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES
v.
THOMPSON ELECTRONICS COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois No. 99-L-313 Honorable John A. Barra Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Homer

UNPUBLISHED

This appeal presents two issues regarding the Prevailing Wage Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 130/0.01 et seq. (West 2000)). First, we must decide whether a right to a jury trial exists under the Act. Second, we must determine the limitations period applicable to claims filed under the Act. We conclude that a right to a jury trial does not exist and that the five-year statute of limitations in section 13--205 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/13--205 (West 2000)) applies.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs filed a suit against Thompson Electronics Company (Thompson) claiming damages for lost wages under the Act. They demanded a jury trial in their complaint. Thompson moved to strike the demand, asserting that the Act does not provide for a jury trial. The judge concluded that a right to a jury trial exists under the Act and denied Thompson's motion.

Thompson further moved for partial summary judgment, asserting that some of the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the three-year statute of limitations in the Minimum Wage Law (820 ILCS 105/12(a) (West 2000)) and other claims were barred by the five-year statute of limitations in section 13--205 of the Code. The judge concluded that the five-year statute of limitations applies to the Act and thus partially granted Thompson's motion.

The judge also declared that the issues he had decided involved questions of law on which substantial ground existed for difference of opinion, and that an immediate appeal may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. This court subsequently allowed Thompson to file an immediate interlocutory appeal under Supreme Court Rule 308(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 308(a)).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Since the issues before us present questions of law, our review is de novo. See Yang v. City of Chicago, 195 Ill. 2d 96, 745 N.E.2d 541 (2001).

ANALYSIS

I. Right to Jury Trial

The Illinois Constitution provides that "[t]he right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate." Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §13. This provision guarantees the right to a jury trial in actions that carried such a right under the English common law when the Illinois Constitution was adopted. Martin v. Heinold Commodities, Inc., 163 Ill. 2d 33, 643 N.E.2d 734 (1994). In other actions, no right to a jury trial exists unless the legislature specifically provides for one by statute. See In re Estate of Mulvaney, 128 Ill. App. 3d 133, 470 N.E.2d 11 (1984).

Although the English common law included an action to recover wages based on breach of contract, such an action differs from the type of action created by the Act. According to the Act, workers employed in "public works" must be paid the "general prevailing rate of hourly wages" for such work in the "locality" where it is performed. 820 ILCS 130/3 (West 2000). Thus, a suit under the Act requires proof, inter alia, of the following elements: (1) that the plaintiff was employed on a "public works" project; (2) the general prevailing rate of hourly wages in the locality of the project for the work the plaintiff performed; and (3) that the plaintiff was paid in an amount less than the prevailing hourly wage rate. See 820 ILCS 130/0.01 et seq. (West 2000). None of these elements is germane to a common law action for wages. Because we conclude that suits for prevailing wages did not exist at common law, we hold that the Illinois Constitution does not confer the right to a jury trial for suits filed pursuant to the Act.

Nor did the legislature specifically provide for a right to a jury trial in the Act. The plaintiffs make a contrary argument based on the following language in section 11 of the Act: "An action brought to recover [underpayments] shall be deemed to be a suit for wages, and any and all judgments entered therein shall have the same force and effect as other judgments for wages." 820 ILCS 130/11 (West 2000). The plaintiffs' deductive reasoning is as follows: suits for wages at common law included the right to a jury trial; the legislature deemed ...


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