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Daniels v. Industrial Commission

August 29, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Harrison

Modified upon denial of rehearing

Claimant, Pervis Daniels, filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1992)), alleging that while in the employ of respondent, Archibald Candy Company, he injured his back while lifting a kiln. An arbitrator awarded claimant $593.11 per week in temporary total disability (TTD) benefits for a period of 57 6/7 weeks (see 820 ILCS 305/8(b) (West 1992)), $7,828.25 in medical expenses (see 820 ILCS 305/8(a) (West 1992)), and additional compensation pursuant to sections 16, 19(k), and 19(l) of the Act (see 820 ILCS 305/16, 19(k), (l) (West 1992)). On review, the Industrial Commission (Commission) determined that claimant was entitled to TTD benefits for a period of only 14 5/7 weeks. The Commission also vacated the awards of additional compensation and medical expenses. The circuit court of Cook County confirmed the Commission's decision.

Daniels then appealed to the Industrial Commission division of the appellate court, contending that the Commission's decision was void because the panel that rendered it was illegally constituted. Daniels also argued, in the alternative, that the Commission's findings as to causal connection, TTD benefits, medical expenses and additional compensation were against the manifest weight of the evidence. The appellate court rejected both of Daniels' arguments and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court over the dissent of two judges. 315 Ill. App. 3d 580. Three of the five members of the appellate court panel which heard the case subsequently certified that it involved a substantial question warranting review by this court. We then granted Daniels' petition for leave to appeal. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a). For the reasons that follow, we now reverse and remand.

When Archibald Candy, Daniels' employer, sought review of the arbitrator's award by the Commission, the case was assigned to panel "B," consisting of Commissioners John Hallock, Jr., Barry Ketter and Linzey Jones. Before the matter was heard and decided, however, Commissioner Hallock was elevated to the post of acting Commission chairman, then Commission chairman, and Commissioner Jones resigned following a medical leave of absence.

The promotion of Hallock and the resignation of Jones left two vacancies in the office of commissioner. Under section 13 of the Act (820 ILCS 305/13 (West 1992)), responsibility for appointing commissioners and for filling vacancies in the office of commissioner is vested in the Governor "by and with the consent of the Senate." Where the vacancy occurs while the Senate is in recess, the Governor is empowered to make a temporary appointment until the next meeting of the Senate, at which time he is to nominate some person to fill the position. 820 ILCS 305/13 (West 1992).

Those procedures were not followed here. The Governor neither appointed nor nominated replacements for Hallock and Jones as specified in the Act. Instead, Hallock, in his capacity as the new Commission chairman, appointed a succession of arbitrators to temporarily fill his old Commission post and to fill the post formerly occupied by Jones. Arbitrator Kathleen Hagan took Hallock's post on panel "B," serving as acting commissioner during the initial six-month period following his promotion. Arbitrator David Kane then succeeded her as acting commissioner during the subsequent six-month period.

When Commissioner Jones first went on medical leave and then resigned his office, the chairman designated arbitrator Calvin Tansor to serve as acting commissioner on panel "B" in his place. Tansor served for six months and was then replaced by arbitrator Joseph Reichart, who was designated to serve as acting commissioner for the following six-month period.

There is authority under section 13 of the Act (820 ILCS 305/13 (West 1992)) for the chairman to designate an arbitrator to serve as an acting commissioner for up to six months, but that authority is reserved for situations where the sitting commissioner remains in office but "is or will be unavailable to fulfill [his or her] responsibilities." Accordingly, it was inapplicable to the appointments of Hagan and Kane, because Hallock, the commissioner in whose stead they were appointed, was never "unable to fulfill the responsibilities of his *** office." He vacated his office completely upon being named acting chairman and then chairman.

Section 13 did apply to the designation of Calvin Tansor to serve for Linzey Jones because Jones' initial absence from work was due to a medical leave. Once Jones resigned, however, his post became vacant too. Since he was now out of office, rather than being temporarily "unavailable" to work, his responsibilities could no longer be performed by an arbitrator acting in his place. Tansor's authority to serve as acting commissioner came to an end, and the chairman had no power to designate Reichart as a successor acting commissioner. Instead, it was up to the Governor to appoint a replacement for Jones by and with the consent of the Senate.

Such a conclusion is the only one consistent with the purposes of the Act. The law is carefully designed to insure that the Industrial Commission represents a balance of interests. Under the law the Governor is required to make his appointments to the Commission in such a way that two members represent employers, two represent employees, and three are representative of citizens "not identified with either the employing or employee classes." 820 ILCS 305/13 (West 1992). In addition, not more than four of the members may be of the same political party. Arbitrators designated to serve as acting commissioners are not subject to this partisanship restriction and are deemed to be representative of citizens "not identified with either the employing or employee classes." 820 ILCS 305/13 (West 1992). Accordingly, if arbitrators could be designated as acting commissioners even after the commissioners whose workload they were handling left office, there would be no mechanism to insure that the balance of interests contemplated by the Act would be preserved. Through contrived designations and inaction by the Governor, the departure from office of sitting commissioners could be exploited to pack the Commission with members of the Governor's political party or representatives of whatever economic class the Governor favored. Such a result would be directly contrary to the Act's objectives.

The present case was reviewed by the Commission during a time when arbitrators Reichart and Kane were both serving as acting commissioners on panel "B" through appointment by the chairman. Their votes were necessary to the decision in this case. The question we must therefore now address is what effect the absence of statutory authority for Kane's and Reichart's appointments had on the validity of their decision.

Central to resolution of that question is the Industrial Commission's status as an administrative agency. Because it is an administrative agency, the Commission has no general or common law powers. The only powers it possesses are those granted to it by the legislature. Any action it takes must be specifically authorized by statute. Business & Professional People for the Public Interest v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, 136 Ill. 2d 192, 243-44 (1989).

Where an administrative agency acts outside its specific statutory authority, as the Commission did when it appointed Kane and Reichart, it acts without jurisdiction. Its actions are void, a nullity from their inception. See Siddens v. Industrial Comm'n, 304 Ill. App. 3d 506, 510-11 (1999). The appointment of Kane and Reichart therefore had no legal effect.

Our appellate court recently considered a similar situation in Gilchrist v. Human Rights Comm'n, 312 Ill. App. 3d 597 (2000). In Gilchrist, the Commission rendered a decision based on the recommended order and decision of an administrative law judge. On reviewing the record, the appellate court discovered that the administrative law judge who had authored the recommended order and decision had not presided over the public hearing, as the Illinois Human Rights Act required. Because that administrative law judge had not presided, the Commission had no statutory authority to assign him to the case. Because his assignment exceeded the Commission's authority, the decision based on his recommended order and decision was likewise unauthorized. The court therefore declared it to be void.

The qualifications of Kane and Reichart were not challenged prior to the appeal to the appellate court. That, however, is of no consequence. Because agency action for which there is no statutory authority is void, it is subject to attack at any time in any court, either directly or collaterally. Business & Professional People, 136 Ill. 2d at 243-44. Even if the parties themselves do not raise the question, courts have an independent duty to vacate and expunge void orders and thus may sua sponte declare an order void. See Siddens, 304 Ill. App. 3d at 511. That is precisely what occurred in Gilchrist.

Finally, we reject the Commission's claim that the decision in this case can be validated on the grounds that Kane and Reichart were de facto officers. The doctrine recognizing de facto public officers prevents third parties or members of the public from raising collateral challenges to a public officer's qualifications to hold office if considerations of public policy require the officer's acts to be considered valid. See People ex rel. Rusch v. Wortman, 334 Ill. 298, 301-02 (1928). No considerations of public policy militate in favor of preventing workers' compensation claimants from challenging the legal status of the commissioners who passed on their claims where, as here, the challenge is raised on direct review of the workers' compensation award and the commissioners were appointed in a manner that threatens the Act's basic objectives.

For the foregoing reasons, the decision of the Commission at issue in this case is vacated, the judgments of the appellate and circuit courts are reversed, and the cause is remanded to the Commission for a decision by a legally constituted panel.

Reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE McMORROW, specially concurring:

This case began when Daniels filed an application for adjustment of claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act. 820 ILCS 305/19 (West 1992). An arbitrator issued a decision, awarding certain benefits to Daniels. A three-member panel of the Industrial Commission reduced the arbitrator's award and Daniels sought administrative review in the circuit court of Cook County. After the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision, appeal was taken to the Industrial Commission division of the appellate court. There, for the first time, Daniels argued that the decision of the Industrial Commission was void because two members of the panel which considered and decided his case (Kane and Reichart) were appointed acting commissioners in violation of the Workers' Compensation Act. In support of this contention, Daniels submitted to the appellate court an affidavit, signed by his attorney, attesting to the composition of panel "B" of the Industrial Commission, which reviewed his case. The Industrial Commission, in response, filed with the appellate court an affidavit by Kathryn A. Kelley, chief legal counsel for the Industrial Commission, verifying the history of the designation of acting commissioners.

Based on all of the information submitted, the appellate court considered and rejected Daniels' claim that Kane and Reichart had been improperly appointed and then affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Two justices dissented, agreeing with Daniels that the appointments of Kane and Reichart were not made in accordance with statutory procedures, their appointments were invalid, and, thus, the Industrial Commission's decision was rendered void. Upon denying Daniels' petition for rehearing, three of the five appellate justices certified that the case ...

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