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Land v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

November 21, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman


Docket No. 92837-Agenda 28-September 2002.

The five plaintiffs are among 138 tenured public school teachers whose employment by the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board) was "honorably terminated" on January 22, 1999. Defendants are the Board itself, its individual members, and several officers of the Chicago public schools. After they were laid off from their teaching positions, plaintiffs filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County seeking a writ of mandamus ordering their reinstatement, a declaration that the Board's layoff policy was invalid under sections 34-84 and 34-85 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-84, 34-85 (West 1998)), and a permanent injunction restraining the Board from terminating their employment. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the circuit court granted defendants' motion. The appellate court reversed and remanded. 325 Ill. App. 3d 294. We granted leave to appeal pursuant to Rule 315 (177 Ill. 2d R. 315) to determine whether the Board may delegate its authority to lay off employees. We reverse that portion of the judgment of the appellate court holding that the Board may not delegate its authority to make layoffs (325 Ill. App. 3d at 307), but affirm the order remanding this matter to the circuit court for further fact finding (325 Ill. App. 3d at 311).


Following the enactment of amendments to the School Code in 1995, the Board first adopted and later, in 1997, amended a "Policy Regarding Reassignment and Layoff of Regularly Certified and Appointed Teachers." Section 1 of the policy permits reassignment or layoff of teachers, inter alia, "[w]henever an attendance center is closed, there is a drop in enrollment, [or] the educational focus of the attendance center is changed." Section 2A of the amended policy applies when such a change requires the removal of some but not all teachers, as in the present case:

"In Attendance Centers/Programs That Are Not Subject to Reconstitution. If changes in an attendance center or program require the removal of some but not all teachers, teachers with appropriate certifications will be selected for retention based on seniority. Provisionals, Day-to-Day substitutes, Cadre substitutes, FTBs and Probationary teachers within the attendance center or program will be removed before any regularly certified and appointed teachers with the appropriate certification is [sic] removed, in that order. Within each group, system-wide seniority shall be the determining factor."

According to the affidavit of Xiomara C. Metcalfe, director of Chicago public schools bureau of recruitment and substitute services, department of human resources, each of the five plaintiffs "became subject to reassignment for one of the reasons within the scope of the applicable Board policy" and was "selected for reassignment" based on seniority, as required by the policy. Metcalfe's statements are, for the most part, in the passive voice-the plaintiffs "were selected," they "were notified," and they "became" reassigned until, eventually, they "were honorably discharged." She did not explain on what basis plaintiffs became subject to reassignment, who determined that layoffs would be necessary as a result of a change in an attendance center or program, or who made the selection based on seniority. According to Metcalfe, plaintiff Land's layoff was in accordance with the 1995 version of the policy, which provided for laying off a reassigned teacher who did not obtain a permanent position within 20 months of reassignment. The other four plaintiffs were laid off in accordance with the 1997 amended policy, which provided for a layoff after 10 months if the teacher had not secured a permanent position.

The record contains copies of a form letter sent to all five plaintiffs on January 6, 1999, informing them that they would be laid off and honorably terminated as of January 22, 1999, in accordance with the policy. These letters were signed by one of the defendants, Carlos Ponce, the director of the department of human resources for the Chicago public schools. In addition, the affidavit of plaintiff Land states that he was informed of his impending termination by the principal of the school at which he taught.

Plaintiffs' complaint claimed that the layoff policy violates those sections of the School Code that permit the removal of tenured teachers only for cause and only after notice and a hearing. See 105 ILCS 5/34-84, 34-85 (West 1998). In effect, the plaintiffs' position was that the 1995 amendments to the School Code did not give the Board the authority to lay off tenured teachers. Even if the Board is empowered to lay off tenured teachers, they argued, that power cannot be delegated and, in particular, the power cannot be delegated to school principals. Because the Board did not expressly decide to terminate each of the plaintiffs, they asserted that their terminations were void. Plaintiffs also acknowledged that their removal was "accomplished by" the policy quoted above, but claimed that none of the triggering events or conditions had occurred and that their layoffs were, therefore, unauthorized.

After the circuit court denied the Board's motion to dismiss, plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on the basis that each of these claims could be decided as a matter of law. The Board responded with its own summary judgment motion in which it argued that tenured teachers may be laid off; the policy does not exceed the authority granted to the Board by the legislature; and the record demonstrated that plaintiffs were laid off in accordance with the policy. After a hearing, the circuit court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted defendants' motion.

Plaintiffs appealed. The appellate court rejected plaintiffs' argument that teachers are not subject to layoff, holding that the layoff provision (105 ILCS 5/34-18(31) (West 1998)), and the removal provision (105 ILCS 5/34-85 (West 1998)), are "entirely separate statutory provisions" that can both be given effect without conflict. 325 Ill. App. 3d at 304. The appellate court further found that the Board had the statutory authority to promulgate a layoff policy and that the policy is "clear and unambiguous." 325 Ill. App. 3d at 305. Because plaintiffs failed to present any competent evidence to support their assertion that the Board did not follow its own policy, the appellate court found this claim waived. 325 Ill. App. 3d at 306.

The appellate court did address plaintiffs' claim that the Board improperly delegated its layoff authority to individual school principals. After concluding that the legislature gave the Board exclusive authority to determine layoffs, and that the authority may not be delegated at all (325 Ill. App. 3d at 307), the appellate court determined that remand was necessary to resolve a disputed issue of material fact-who made the determination that these five plaintiffs would be laid off (325 Ill. App. 3d at 308).


In an appeal from the grant of summary judgment, review is de novo. Crum & Forster Managers Corp. v. Resolution Trust Corp., 156 Ill. 2d 384, 390 (1993). The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a question of fact, but to determine whether one exists. Gilbert v. Sycamore Municipal Hospital, 156 Ill. 2d 511, 517 (1993). Summary judgment is proper where pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits on file, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveal that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2000).

This case also presents questions of statutory interpretation, which are reviewed de novo. Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 503 (2000). In interpreting a statute, a court's primary goal is to ascertain the intent of the legislature. Paris v. Feder, 179 Ill. 2d 173, 177 (1997). "The best evidence of legislative intent is the language used in the statute itself, which must be given its plain and ordinary meaning." Paris, 179 Ill. 2d at 177. When the plain language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, the legislative intent that ...

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