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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Industrial Commission

December 11, 2001


Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County. No. 99MR188 Honorable James B. Hendrian, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'malley


Industrial Commission Division

Respondent, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart), appeals from the order of the trial court confirming the decision of the Industrial Commission (Commission) wherein claimant, Heather Parry, was awarded temporary total disability benefits, permanency benefits, and payment of medical bills. Parry cross-appeals from the trial court's order denying her motion to dismiss.

On November 11, 1995, Parry was employed by Wal-Mart and was scheduled to work a 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. Parry left the store at 8:30 p.m. for her meal break. She did not return that night; instead, she called the store from her home and told the assistant manager that she had slipped on ice in the parking lot on the way to her car and injured her back. After seeking medical care, Parry was released to work on December 26, 1995.

Parry filed an application for adjustment of claim on February 15, 1996. Following an evidentiary hearing, the arbitrator found that Parry's injury arose out of and in the course of her employment and that her current condition of ill-being was causally related to her injury. Therefore, the arbitrator awarded Parry temporary total disability benefits, permanency benefits, and payment of medical bills. The Commission, with one dissenting opinion, affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's decision.

Wal-Mart filed a request for summons and review in the circuit court of Macon County on May 20, 1999. Along with the request, Wal-Mart filed a copy of an appeal bond that had been executed on May 19. The original bond was not filed until May 25, five days after the period for filing had expired. Parry filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the circuit court did not obtain subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter because Wal-Mart had not filed an appropriate bond with its request for summons. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but affirmed the Commission's order. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

We will first address Parry's cross-appeal. Parry contends that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to review the Commission's decision because Wal-Mart failed to fulfill the statutory requirements for vesting the court with jurisdiction. While circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction and enjoy the presumption of subject-matter jurisdiction, that presumption is unavailable in workers' compensation proceedings, where the court exercises special statutory jurisdiction. Kavonius v. Industrial Comm'n, 314 Ill. App. 3d 166, 169, 731 N.E.2d 1287, 1290 (2000).

Section 19(f)(2) of the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) requires a party seeking circuit court review to file an appeal bond along with the written request for summons. 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(2) (West 2000). The request for summons must be filed within 20 days of receipt of notice of the Commission's decision. 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(1)(West 2000). No summons shall issue unless the party against whom the Commission rendered an award "shall upon the filing of his written request for such summons" file the bond with the clerk. 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(2)(West 2000). The filing of the bond is requisite to conferring jurisdiction on the circuit court. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 74 Ill. 2d 269, 272, 384 N.E.2d 1329, 1331 (1979).

Courts have held that improperly executed bonds are insufficient to vest jurisdiction in the circuit court, even when the bonds were filed in a timely fashion. See Deichmueller Construction Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 151 Ill. 2d 413, 415, 603 N.E.2d 516, 517 (1992); Berryman Equipment v. Industrial Comm'n, 276 Ill. App. 3d 76, 78-79, 657 N.E.2d 1039, 1041 (1995); Illinois Armored Car Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 205 Ill. App. 3d 993, 999, 563 N.E.2d 951, 956 (1990). In each of these cases, an appeal bond was timely filed along with a written request for summons; however, each bond was signed by the employer's attorney instead of the employer. These bonds were found not to be in compliance with the requirement of section 19(f)(2) that the party against whom the Commission shall have rendered an award file the bond. Even affidavits attesting to the attorneys' authority, subsequently filed by the employers outside the 20-day filing period, did not correct the deficiencies. See Deichmueller Construction Co., 151 Ill. 2d at 415, 657 N.E.2d at 955; Berryman Equipment, 276 Ill. App. 3d at 78-79, 657 N.E.2d at 1041; Illinois Armored Car Corp., 205 Ill. App. 3d at 998-99, 563 N.E.2d at 955.

We find these cases to be distinguishable. The bonds in those cases were filed in a timely manner; however, because the attorneys, not an official of the employers, signed the bonds, there was no evidence that the employers were actually bound. It was only after the expiration of the filing period that the authority of the attorneys to bind the employers was demonstrated. Here, evidence that the employer was covered by a bond was filed in a timely fashion. The copy of the bond clearly showed the amount of the bond, the principals and the surety. The obligations of the principals and the surety were clearly stated. There is no question but that Wal-Mart had obtained a sufficient bond.

We find Lee v. Industrial Comm'n, 82 Ill. 2d 496, 499, 413 N.E.2d 425, 427 (1980), to be more applicable to the case before us. In Lee, a timely filed bond was signed by one partner of the employer as principal and another partner as surety. The claimant moved to dismiss on the ground that the partners were improperly acting as both the principal and the surety. The trial court granted the claimant's motion. The employer subsequently tendered a bond with both partners as principals and a third party as surety. The trial court refused to accept the second bond because it was untimely. Our supreme court, while finding that the first bond was irregular, remanded the cause to the trial court with instructions to determine the sufficiency of the second bond; if the bond were found to be sufficient, the trial court was to address the merits of the cause. Lee, 82 Ill. 2d at 501, 413 N.E.2d at 427. The supreme court quoted with approval Republic Steel Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 30 Ill. 2d 311, 313, 196 N.E.2d 654, 655 (1964), for the proposition that "'[t]he tendency is to simplify procedure, to honor substance over form and to prevent technicalities from depriving a party of the right to be heard.'" Lee, 82 Ill. 2d at 500, 412 N.E.2d at 427, quoting Republic Steel, 30 Ill. 2d at 313, 196 N.E.2d at 655. The Lee court also quoted Smith v. Estate of Womack, 12 Ill. 2d 315, 317, 145 N.E.2d 923, 924 (1957), stating:

"'In construing and applying statutes relating to jurisdiction there must be substantial compliance with the provisions of the statute conferring jurisdiction on the court, but the construction is not to be so narrow or technical as to defeat the intention of the act or the beneficial results thereof, where all material provisions of the statute have been complied with.'" Lee, 82 Ill. 2d at 500, 413 N.E.2d at 427.

Pursuant to Lee and the cases cited within, we conclude that even if filing a copy of the bond was "irregular," Wal-Mart substantially complied with section 19(f)(2) under the foregoing circumstances, to wit: it filed the copy of the bond with the timely request for summons and promptly cured the irregularity by filing the original bond shortly thereafter. The benefit of requiring the bond was achieved because a sufficient bond was, in fact, procured and the copy of the bond showed that coverage had been obtained. To hold otherwise would exalt form over substance and defeat ...

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