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Grobe v. Hollywood Casino-Aurora

November 02, 2001

LANCE GROBE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HOLLYWOOD CASINO--AURORA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 00--L--0064 Honorable Timothy Q. Sheldon, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger.

Ordered published December 19, 2001.

LANCE GROBE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HOLLYWOOD CASINO--AURORA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 00--L--0064 Honorable Timothy Q. Sheldon, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger.

The plaintiff, Lance Grobe, appeals from the July 21, 2000, order of the circuit court of Kane County dismissing his cause of action seeking damages under the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. app. §688 (1994)). On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in (1) finding that he was not a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act; (2) failing to enforce the stipulation of the parties to allow the Illinois Industrial Commission to determine the applicability of the Jones Act; (3) failing to apply the doctrines of judicial and collateral estoppel; and (4) depriving him of his constitutional right to a remedy under the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970., art. I, §12). We affirm.

I. Background

The defendant, Hollywood Casino--Aurora, Inc., owns two riverboat casinos named City of Lights I and City of Lights II. The defendant's casinos are located on the Fox River in Aurora. The defendant's casinos are confined to that portion of the Fox River between the Illinois Avenue and New York Avenue bridges, an area .7 miles long. Neither casino can physically pass beneath either bridge. The defendant's casinos are connected to land-based utilities such as electricity, telephone, and computer surveillance hard-lines.

The defendant's casinos are licensed and classified as passenger vessels with the United States Coast Guard. The defendant's casinos are equipped with fire-fighting equipment and safety equipment. They have internal diesel engines for propulsion. The defendant employs a captain and crew who are qualified to move its casinos. Although capable of cruising, the defendant's casinos have not cruised or left their moorings since June 26, 1999, when a change in Illinois law allowed gaming on dockside casinos. See 230 ILCS 10/3(c)(West 2000).

On August 19, 1999, the plaintiff, an engineer for the defendant, allegedly injured himself on the stairs of one of the defendant's casinos during the course of his employment. On February 14, 2000, the plaintiff filed an action in the circuit court of Kane County, seeking remedies under the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. app. §688 (1994)). On March 20, 2000, the plaintiff filed a separate workers' compensation claim before the Illinois Industrial Commission (Commission).

On July 19, 2000, the Commission held a hearing on the plaintiff's workers' compensation claim to determine whether the plaintiff fell under the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1 (West 1998)). During a pretrial discussion before the Commission's arbitrator, the parties stipulated that the sole issue the arbitrator would initially consider was jurisdiction. On August 1, 2000, the Commission's arbitrator filed a "Decision of the Arbitrator," finding that the plaintiff was a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act and that the plaintiff's exclusive remedy was under that statute. Accordingly, the arbitrator dismissed the plaintiff's workers' compensation claim, ruling that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to hear an action under the Jones Act. The arbitrator notified the parties of their right to petition the Commission for a review of his decision before it became the Commission's final decision. Both the plaintiff and the defendant have filed petitions for review of the arbitrator's decision.

On June 27, 2000, prior to the arbitrator's decision, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's Jones Act claim pending in Kane County circuit court. The motion was filed pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 2000)). The defendant argued that, in order to be covered by the Jones Act, the plaintiff must serve aboard a vessel "in navigation" and that the defendant's casinos were not "in navigation." On July 6, 2000, the plaintiff filed a countermotion for partial summary judgment asking the trial court to find that the defendant's casinos were vessels "in navigation" under the Jones Act. In their motions, both parties rely on an affidavit from the defendant's director of properties, Jim Hopp. In his affidavit, Jim Hopp stated that the defendant's casinos have not left their moorings since June 26, 1999, and that they have also not transported passengers or cargo since that time. Jim Hopp also stated that he has no plans to navigate the casinos, but he might reposition them some time in the future, as part of a construction project.

On July 31, 2000, following a hearing, the trial court found that the Jones Act did not apply to the defendant's casinos since they had become land based as of June 26, 1999. Accordingly, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss and denied the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. Following a ...


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