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Rodriguez v. Du Page County Sheriff's Merit Commission

April 12, 2002

CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DU PAGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S MERIT COMMISSION AND SHERIFF RICHARD DORIA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 00-MR-486 Honorable Edward R. Duncan, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala

Released for publication May 1, 2002.

CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DU PAGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S MERIT COMMISSION AND SHERIFF RICHARD DORIA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 00-MR-486 Honorable Edward R. Duncan, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala

PUBLISHED

 Plaintiff, Carlos Rodriguez, timely appeals the circuit court's order dismissing with prejudice his complaint for administrative review of the June 19, 1996, final order of the Du Page County Sheriff's Merit Commission (Commission). The Commission's decision ordered the removal of plaintiff from his position as a deputy sheriff. Plaintiff's complaint for administrative review, which named the Commission and Sheriff Richard Doria (the sheriff) as defendants, was filed in the circuit court on June 8, 2000. The trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to sections 2--619(a)(1) and (a)(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2--619(a)(1), (a)(5) (West 2000)) because the complaint for review was untimely. It was filed nearly four years after the date of the Commission's final order and well beyond the 35-day period for filing such a complaint under the provisions of the Administrative Review Law (Review Law) (see 735 ILCS 5/3--102, 3--103 (West 2000)). On appeal, plaintiff's central argument is that the circuit court acquired jurisdiction to hear such an untimely complaint where he claims there was "newly discovered evidence" that would permit a circuit court to remand the cause to the agency to take additional evidence pursuant to section 3--111(a)(7) of the Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3--111(a)(7) (West 2000)). He claims this newly discovered evidence is available because Michael Hener, a jail inmate who had testified at the administrative hearing before the Commission, has recanted his testimony.

Plaintiff argues that section 3--111(a)(7) of the Review Law in effect provides for an extended or open-ended jurisdictional time limitation for an administrative review proceeding where there is a claim of newly acquired evidence. He analogizes this proceeding based on newly discovered evidence to one for post-conviction relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122--1 et seq. (West 2000)) (providing for the review of constitutional violations in criminal trials up to three years from the date of conviction under certain conditions), or to a proceeding for relief from a final judgment under section 2--1401 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2--1401 (West 2000)) (providing for relief from final judgments under certain conditions within two years of the date of judgment). We disagree with plaintiff, and we affirm.

We recite only those facts necessary to an understanding of our disposition of this appeal. The record reveals that on January 31, 1996, Sheriff Doria filed a disciplinary complaint with the Commission charging that plaintiff, a deputy sheriff, had violated certain policies and procedures of the sheriff's department when he arranged for a private meeting in December 1995 between four inmates incarcerated within the county jail. At least three of the inmates were reputedly members of the Latin Kings street gang; the remaining inmate was Michael Hener. The gist of plaintiff's testimony at the hearing was that plaintiff was trying to diffuse, or intervene in, a potentially violent situation where a gang member, who was being sent to the jail from the Department of Corrections, was to carry out a "hit" on one of the inmates. Hener was one of several witnesses, and his testimony was apparently favorable to the sheriff. The Commission determined that plaintiff had violated the policies and procedures of the sheriff's department and, on June 19, 1996, ordered that plaintiff be removed from his position as a deputy sheriff.

Plaintiff did not seek direct review of that order within the 35-day period for review. Instead, plaintiff filed his complaint, purportedly based on newly discovered evidence, on July 8, 2000, nearly four years later. Plaintiff provided the affidavit of Michael Hener, which stated, in effect, that Hener was coerced by officials of the sheriff's department and the special State's Attorney into giving false testimony at the hearing. The affidavit recited an apparently different version of the events surrounding the jail incident and how Hener was induced to testify against plaintiff.

On July 12, 2000, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for review, claiming that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint because it was not filed within the 35-day period for review, that the Review Law was the exclusive method of review, and that, therefore, judicial review must be barred.

We note initially that we are not concerned here with the merits of plaintiff's claims regarding the Commission's findings and order. Rather, we must decide whether the trial court was without jurisdiction to review plaintiff's claims where he never filed a timely complaint for review when he had the opportunity to do so.

The Review Law is the sole and exclusive method to obtain judicial review of a final administrative decision. Midland Hotel Corp. v. Director of Employment Security, 282 Ill. App. 3d 312, 316 (1996); Mueller v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners, 267 Ill. App. 3d 726, 731 (1994). The Review Law was enacted to eliminate conflicting and inadequate common-law and statutory remedies for the judicial review of administrative decisions and to substitute a single, uniform, and comprehensive remedy. Mueller, 267 Ill. App. 3d at 733. It was also intended to make available to persons aggrieved by administrative decisions a judicial review consonant with due process standards without unduly restricting the exercise of administrative judgment and discretion essential to the effective working of the administrative process. Mueller, 267 Ill. App. 3d at 733. However, a court reviewing an administrative decision is limited to ascertaining whether the decision of the administrative agency is against the manifest weight of the evidence and is also limited to a consideration of the evidence submitted in the administrative hearing; the court may not itself hear additional evidence or conduct a hearing de novo. Acevedo v. Department of Employment Security, 324 Ill. App. 3d 768, 771, 773 (2001).

Where, as here, the Review Law is applicable, any other statutory, equitable, or common-law mode of review that was formerly available cannot be employed; furthermore, unless judicial review is sought within the time and in the manner provided by the Review Law, the parties to the proceeding before the administrative agency shall be barred from obtaining judicial review of the administrative decision. 735 ILCS 5/3--102 (West 2000). Every action to review a final administrative decision shall be commenced by the filing of a complaint and the issuance of summons within 35 days from the date that a copy of the decision sought to be reviewed was served upon the party affected by the decision. 735 ILCS 5/3--103 (West 2000). The 35-day period for filing the complaint is jurisdictional. Brazas v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 309 Ill. App. 3d 520, ...


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