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Lyons v. Ryan

September 19, 2002

MICHAEL LYONS ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
GEORGE H. RYAN ET AL., APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kilbride

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 92503-Agenda 13-May 2002

Plaintiffs, Michael Lyons and the Better Government Association, "on behalf of and for the benefit of the State of Illinois," filed suit against defendants, George Ryan, Citizens for Ryan, and other present and former officers and employees of the Secretary of State, seeking to impose constructive trusts on funds and benefits alleged to have been illegally received by defendants. Ryan, a former Secretary of State, is presently Governor of the State of Illinois. Citizens for Ryan is a state political committee responsible for soliciting and accepting political contributions for Ryan's campaigns.

The circuit court dismissed plaintiffs' suit, finding that plaintiffs lacked standing. The appellate court affirmed. 324 Ill. App. 3d 1094. We allowed plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315. We now affirm and hold that: (1) only the Attorney General is empowered to represent the state in litigation when it is the real party in interest; and (2) section 20-104(b) Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/20-104(b) (West 1998)) is unconstitutional to the extent that it purports to confer standing on private citizens to sue in cases where the state is the real party in interest.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 18, 1999, plaintiffs filed a "taxpayers action brought on behalf of the State of Illinois," against defendants in the circuit court of Cook County. Count I of the complaint claimed that certain Secretary of State officers and employees conspired with Citizens for Ryan in a scheme to issue commercial drivers' licenses to unqualified drivers in exchange for political contributions. Count II claimed that an additional Secretary of State officer furthered and perpetuated the scheme by obstructing and covering up investigations. Count III claimed that Ryan was involved in the scheme. In each of these counts, plaintiffs sought, on behalf of the state, the imposition of constructive trusts on funds and benefits alleged to be illegally received by defendants.

In count IV of the complaint, plaintiffs sought the recovery of fraudulently obtained public funds on behalf of the State, pursuant to section 20-101 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/20-101 (West 1998)). Plaintiffs claimed that, pursuant to section 20-104(b), they are authorized, as citizens and taxpayers of the State of Illinois, to commence and prosecute the action on behalf of the State, and thus are entitled to recover public funds under section 20-101.

Section 20-104(b) provides in part that a private citizen may bring a lawsuit to recover damages from persons who have defrauded the state if the appropriate government official fails to file suit or arrange for settlement of the action, after notice. 735 ILCS 5/20-104(b) (West 1998). For purposes of section 20-104(b), the "appropriate government official" is the Attorney General when the state is the government unit allegedly damaged. See 735 ILCS 5/20-104(b)(1) (West 1998).

Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 1998)). On July 25, 2000, the circuit court granted defendants' motions to dismiss.

The appellate court affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint. 324 Ill. App. 3d 1094. The appellate court held, with respect to counts I, II, and III of plaintiffs' complaint, that taxpayers lacked constitutional standing to sue for the recovery of illegally obtained funds by state officials because only the Attorney General has the constitutional authority to bring such an action. 324 Ill. App. 3d at 1101-06. On count IV, the appellate court further held that section 20-104(b) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/20-104(b) (West 1998)) is unconstitutional to the extent that it purports to confer standing on private citizens to sue in cases where the state is the real party in interest. 324 Ill. App. 3d at 1107. This court allowed plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315. We granted the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest leave to submit an amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiffs, and we granted Tyrone C. Fahner, thirty-seventh Attorney General of Illinois, leave to submit an amicus curiae brief in support of defendants. See 155 Ill. 2d R. 345. We also granted leave to Joint Council No. 25 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Illinois Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations to submit an amicus curiae brief in support of defendants. See 155 Ill. 2d R. 345.

II. DISCUSSION

The issue before this court is whether plaintiffs have standing to maintain each of the counts in their complaint on behalf of the State of Illinois. This appeal arises from the circuit court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint for lack of standing. A complaint may be involuntarily dismissed for lack of standing pursuant to section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code. Glisson v. City of Marion, 188 Ill. 2d 211, 220 (1999). An order granting a motion to dismiss based upon lack of standing is reviewed de novo. Glisson, 188 Ill. 2d at 220. Accordingly, we conduct a de novo review of the circuit court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint for lack of standing and consider whether dismissal was proper as a matter of law.

Plaintiffs argue that the appellate court erred in holding that they lacked constitutional standing to bring a taxpayer action for an accounting, restitution, and the imposition of constructive trusts under counts I, II, and III of their complaint. Plaintiffs further argue that the appellate court erroneously held that section 20-104(b) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/20-104(b) (West 1998)) is unconstitutional. Finally, plaintiffs claim that the ...


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