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C.J. v. Department of Human Services

May 24, 2002

C.J., K.M., AND THOMAS JURESIC, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable James F. Henry, Judge Presiding.

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

Released for publication.

Plaintiffs C.J., K.M., and Thomas Juresic filed this class action lawsuit seeking injunctive relief against defendant, the Illinois Department of Human Services (Department). Plaintiffs are criminal defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRIs) who were involuntarily committed to the Elgin Mental Health Center (Elgin). Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Department's policy that did not allow any NGRI patient at Elgin to be considered or recommended by Elgin staff for an unsupervised on-grounds pass. Plaintiffs contend that the Department policy deprived plaintiffs of their liberty interest in freedom of bodily movement without the exercise of professional judgment in violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV).

The trial court initially granted the Department's motion under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 1998)) to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. On appeal this court affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs' Illinois statutory claims in counts I, II, III, IV and V. C.J. v. Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities, 296 Ill. App. 3d 17, 23-27 (1998). However, we reversed and remanded plaintiffs' constitutional claims. We found, as to counts VI, VII, and VIII, that plaintiffs "adequately pled a constitutionally protected liberty interest in freedom of bodily movement, challenging the Department's alleged policy preventing the facility director of Elgin from considering unsupervised on-grounds passes for the plaintiffs." C.J. v. Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities, 296 Ill. App. 3d 17, 29 (1998). In the counts that survived the motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs alleged that the Department's policy restricting grounds passes violated due process because it was not based on professional judgment (count VI); it restricted plaintiffs' liberty interest in freedom of bodily movement (count VII); and it was unrelated to a reasonable expectation that any NGRI patient will inflict physical harm to others if considered for a grounds pass (count VIII).

On remand, we indicated that various questions of fact needed to be addressed by the trial court before it determined whether the Department violated due process by depriving plaintiffs of their liberty interest in freedom of bodily movement without the exercise of professional judgment. Based on plaintiffs' surviving allegations, we asked the trial court to resolve the factual issues raised by the pleadings by addressing what constitutes an unsupervised on-grounds pass, the nature of the plaintiffs' liberty interest in freedom of movement, plaintiffs' conditions of confinement, whether the Department adopted a policy prohibiting the exercise of professional judgment regarding considering and recommending passes, and the Department's justification in terms of due process for restricting the plaintiffs' liberty. C.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d at 31-32.

The trial court on remand conducted a hearing during which it considered testimony including oral and written submissions from the parties. Plaintiffs called Department employees Dr. Dinwiddie, medical director at Elgin, Dennis Headley, forensic program administrator at Elgin, and Michael Howie, the forensic network manager for the Department, as adverse witnesses. Lorenzo Turner, a former NGRI patient who was discharged from Elgin in 1997, testified for the plaintiffs.

After considering the evidence and addressing the factual issues we previously identified, the court granted class action relief in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered its injunction to apply to all similarly situated current or future NGRI patients at Elgin. On November 8, 1999, the trial court entered a written order consistent with its oral findings granting plaintiffs relief from the pass policy directed at all NGRI patients at Elgin, which restricted their freedom of movement without the exercise of professional judgment. The trial court, applying the principles articulated in Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 73 L. Ed. 2d 28, 102 S. Ct. 2452 (1982), found the Department deprived plaintiffs of their liberty interest in freedom of bodily movement without the exercise of professional judgment and found that this deprivation of liberty violated the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. The trial court found that no legitimate interest of the Department would be harmed by the injunction and that plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm if a permanent injunction were not issued. The court in granting plaintiffs injunctive relief regarding the on-grounds passes ordered that the Department exercise "individualized professional judgment in considering, reviewing, recommending and approving such passes." Plaintiffs' motion for costs and fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988 (1994) was granted.

The facts have been outlined in our previous opinion, C.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d 17, and will only be repeated here as necessary in resolving the issues raised by this appeal. The Department argues that the trial court erred in granting an injunction because the lawsuit was barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the Department did exercise professional judgment, and the trial court erred in awarding fees to plaintiffs' counsel. We affirm.

I. SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY

The Department claims that under the doctrine of sovereign immunity the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to issue an injunction. Although the Department did not raise this defense in the trial court, it did not waive appellate review because a party cannot waive the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction. Currie v. Lao, 148 Ill. 2d 151, 157 (1992). Article XIII, section 4, of the Illinois Constitution abolished sovereign immunity but, gave the General Assembly the power to provide for immunity by law. Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, §4. Thereafter, the General Assembly enacted the State Lawsuit Immunity Act (745 ILCS 5/1 (West 1998)). This Act reasserted the doctrine of sovereign immunity in favor of the State except where the State has expressly consented to be sued or where the suit is brought pursuant to the Court of Claims Act (705 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (West 1998)) or the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 1998)). 745 ILCS 5/1 (West 1998).

The Illinois Supreme Court has determined that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not apply to actions against the State where plaintiff "seeks to enjoin the defendant from taking actions in excess of his delegated authority and in violation of plaintiff's protectible legal interests." Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc. v. Trainor, 68 Ill. 2d 540, 548 (1977). In Rockford Memorial Hospital v. Department of Human Rights, 272 Ill. App. 3d 751, 755 (1995), the court labeled this exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity as the "prospective injunctive relief exception" and stated that it applies "where a plaintiff seeks to enjoin a State agency or official from taking actions in excess of his statutory or constitutional authority." Rockford Memorial Hospital, 272 Ill. App. 3d at 755. In Landfill, Inc. v. Pollution Control Board, 74 Ill. 2d 541, 552 (1978), the Illinois Supreme Court found that the doctrine of sovereign immunity did not bar an action in the circuit court seeking a declaration that a state agency was acting beyond its delegated authority. Landfill, Inc, 74 Ill. 2d at 552.

Here, plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to prevent the Department and its officials from violating their due process rights. Plaintiffs asserted that the Department, through Elgin staff officials, acted in excess of their constitutional authority. Plaintiffs asked the circuit court to enter an injunction requiring Elgin staff officials to comply with plaintiffs' due process rights.

The Department, however, counters that plaintiffs did not sue a specific state official but a state agency. The Department correctly points out that the doctrine of sovereign immunity applies to lawsuits against agencies of the State, which are considered arms of the State, because these lawsuits could deplete state funds and interfere with governmental functions. Ellis v. Board of Governors of State Colleges & Universities, 102 Ill. 2d 387, 393-94 (1984); People ex rel. Manning v. Nickerson, 184 Ill. 2d 245, 248 (1998). However, this court has explained that sovereign immunity exists only if (1) the defendant is an arm of the State; (2) plaintiff's action constitutes a "present claim" which could subject the State to liability; and (3) no exception to the doctrine exists. City of Chicago v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 293 Ill. App. 3d 897, 900 (1997). In City of Chicago, the court held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity did not bar plaintiff's action, even though it sued an arm of the State, because the lawsuit constituted a declaratory action and not a present claim. City of Chicago, 293 Ill. App. 3d at 902.

Moreover, "[t]he determination of whether an action is in fact a suit against the State turns upon an analysis of the issues involved and the relief sought, rather than the formal designation of the parties." Currie v. Lao, 148 Ill. 2d at 158. In making this determination, the court in Rockford Memorial Hospital examined the substance of plaintiff's action against the Department of Human Rights rather than simply the party plaintiff sued. Rockford Memorial Hospital, 272 Ill. App. 3d at 757. Reviewing the issues presented and the relief sought, the court concluded that even though plaintiff sued an arm of the State, the action sought to prevent a state official from acting outside his authority and therefore was not barred by sovereign immunity. Rockford Memorial Hospital, 272 Ill. App. 3d at 757.

In this case, an examination of the evidence presented to the trial court and the relief that the court ordered reveals that plaintiff did not seek to enforce a present claim but sought injunctive relief to require the Department's Elgin staff to comply with the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment by exercising professional judgment in considering and recommending unsupervised on-grounds passes for NGRI patients. Plaintiffs also did not seek money damages against the Department. Although plaintiffs sued an arm of the state, their action sought prospective relief against the illegal actions of state officials. Similar to the plaintiff in Rockford Memorial Hospital, here plaintiffs' action sought to prevent state officials from acting outside their authority. Pursuant to Rockford Memorial Hospital, Bio-Medical Laboratories, Inc., and Landfill, Inc., we find that the doctrine of sovereign immunity did not bar plaintiffs' lawsuit, and the circuit court had jurisdiction to grant the injunctive relief plaintiffs sought.

The Department further argues that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs' constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 (1994). In creating a section 1983 cause of action for constitutional and civil rights violations, Congress did not intend to permit plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against states in state court. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45, 55, 109 S. Ct. 2304, 2309 (1989). In Will, the Supreme Court held that a state is not a "person" and is not subject to a section 1983 lawsuit. Will, 491 U.S. at 65-66, 105 L. Ed. 2d at 54, 109 S. Ct. at 2309. However, the Supreme Court clarified that "[o]f course a state official in his or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under [section] 1983 because 'official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State.' [Citation.]" Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n.10, 105 L. Ed. 2d at 58 n.10, 109 S. Ct at 2312 n.10.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleged that the Department, through its officials, was violating plaintiffs' due process rights. The trial court's order of injunction defines "Department" to include the Department's employees and specifically requires the "employees of the Department" to exercise professional judgment in considering and recommending unsupervised on-grounds passes. While a state is not a "person" subject to a section 1983 lawsuit, a state employee in his or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, is a person under section 1983 because "official capacity" actions for prospective relief are not considered to be actions against the State. Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n. 10, 105 L. Ed. 2d at 58 n. 10, 109 S. Ct. at 2312 n. 10. Here, because plaintiff brought an "official capacity" action for prospective relief, the cause of action is not treated as an action against the State. Plaintiff requested and received prospective injunctive relief against state employees acting in their official capacity. Therefore, we conclude the circuit court had jurisdiction to grant this relief pursuant to section 1983.

II. INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

We now turn to the issue of the court's injunction and first address the appropriate standard of review. Plaintiffs contend that an abuse of discretion or manifest weight of the evidence standard should apply because the parties do not dispute the law but challenge the trial court's factual findings and application of the law to the facts. The standard of review for preliminary injunction is abuse of discretion. Dixon Ass'n for Retarded Citizens v. Thompson, 91 Ill. 2d 518, 524-25 (1982). A trial court abuses discretion by acting arbitrarily without conscientious judgment, exceeding the bounds of reason, or ignoring recognized principles of law, so that substantial prejudice results. Kaden v. Pucinski, 263 Ill. App. 3d 611, 615 (1994). The standard of review for a permanent injunction is manifest weight of the evidence. Harper v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 282 Ill. App. 3d 19, 24-25 (1996). "A trial court's judgment is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if the opposite result is clearly evident." Harper, 282 Ill. App. 3d at 25.

Relying on Butler v. USA Volleyball, 285 Ill. App. 3d 578 (1996), the Department argues that we should apply a de novo standard of review because the issue of whether the Department violated plaintiffs' due process rights raises a question of law. In Butler, the issue on appeal was whether the bylaws of the USA Volleyball Association contained sufficient standards to inform the coach that he could be expelled for conduct which violated the purpose of the Association. Butler, 285 Ill. App. 3d at 581-82. We note that, unlike the instant case, resolution of the Butler case required interpretation of the Association's bylaws, which involved purely questions of law subject to de novo review. We do not find the Butler case instructive.

To determine the appropriate standard of review in this case, we examine whether the trial court's order granting permanent injunctive relief arose from its resolution of questions of law or questions of fact. We believe that our previous decision in C.J. sheds light on this issue, wherein we ordered the circuit court to resolve several issues of material fact that the pleadings raised, including, but not limited to, the following: "(1) what in fact constitutes an unsupervised on-grounds pass and whether this pass violates the plaintiffs' liberty interest in freedom of movement; (2) whether in fact plaintiffs are confined indoors and whether the conditions of confinement since May 30, 1990, constitute a 'lock down' at the Elgin Mental Health Center; (3) whether in fact the Department has adopted policies or practices that prohibit Elgin staff members from exercising their individualized professional judgment in considering and recommending an NGRI acquittee for unsupervised on-grounds passes; (4) whether in fact professional judgment is being exercised in making individual recommendations regarding unsupervised on-grounds passes; and (5) whether defendants have lawful justification consistent with due process for alleged restrictions on plaintiffs' movement based on legitimate state interests in treatment and security." C.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d at 31-32.

We noted that the trial court after resolving the above questions of fact would then have to apply the law to the facts to determine whether the Department deprived plaintiffs of their liberty interest and whether such deprivation violated due process. The trial court considered evidence on the factual issues we identified and in granting the injunction resolved various factual issues in favor of the plaintiffs. We will not reverse this decision unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The Supreme Court has recognized that the State's confinement of an individual for any purpose significantly infringes on that individual's liberty and requires due process protection. Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 80, 118 L. Ed. 2d 437, 448, 112 S. Ct. 1780, 1785 (1992). Previously, in C.J., we found Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 73 L. Ed. 2d 28, 102 S. Ct. 2452 (1982), instructive in ...


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