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People ex rel Department of Labor v. Skoog Landscape & Design

February 14, 2003


No. 2000-AR-1 Honorable Timothy J. Slavin, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater


The Illinois Department of Labor ("Department") brought this action against the defendants, Skoog Landscape & Design and its owner, C. Alan Skoog (collectively "Skoog"), for allegedly failing to pay prevailing wages to its employees while working on a project for the Sterling Park District. The Department alleged that the failure to pay its prevailing wages was a violation of the Prevailing Wage Act ("Act"). 820 ILCS 130/0.01 et seq. (West 1998). Skoog filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that the Department did not bring this suit in a timely manner under the Act. See 820 ILCS 130/0.01 et seq. (West 1998). After a hearing, the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we affirm.


A. Background

The Department administers and enforces the Act. 820 ILCS 130/0.01 et seq. (West 1998). The Department, along with other public bodies, determines prevailing wage classifications and rates and conducts compliance investigations. On June 1, 1998, the Department issued a prevailing wage determination for each county in Illinois. Based on its survey, the Department identified numerous wage classifications, including laborers, operating engineers, and truck drivers. The Department determined that the prevailing hourly wage for highway laborers was $17.19 and for building laborers was $17.64. However, it did not recognize separate classifications for landscape laborers, landscape equipment operators, or landscape truck drivers.

From 1994 until 1999, the Sterling Park District in Whiteside County established its own rates for the positions of basic landscape laborer and foreman laborer. In 1998, Doug Jacobs, the park district's superintendent of parks and planning, contacted three firms in the area to ascertain the rates they were paying their employees. Jacobs learned that a general laborer was paid from $5.75 to $7.00 per hour and a foreman was paid from $7.50 to $9.00 per hour. Two of the companies provided pension and vacation plans while the third did not.

Based on Jacob's survey, Larry Schuldt, the executive director of the park district, drafted an ordinance detailing the park district's findings regarding prevailing wages. On June 5, 1998, the park district's board of commissioners passed the draft ordinance as Ordinance 98-2. In the ordinance, the Sterling Park District adopted prevailing wage rates for construction work in Whiteside County as determined by the Department. However, the ordinance contained an exception regarding landscape laborers. For that category, the park district adopted wages of $6.25 per hour for a basic landscape laborer and $8.38 per hour for a landscape foreman, with no pension or vacation benefits.

The Sterling Park District filed Ordinance 98-2 with the Illinois Secretary of State. Additionally, a notice of the park district's determination of the prevailing rate of wage was published on June 23, 1998, in a daily newspaper of general circulation in Sterling. No party filed an objection to the park district's determination.

B. The Emerald Hill Irrigation Project

In August 1998, the Sterling Park District solicited proposals for the installation of an irrigation system at one of its recreational facilities, the Emerald Hill Golf and Learning Center ("Emerald Hill"). On August 17, 1998, Skoog designed an irrigation system to meet the Sterling Park District's specifications. On September 14, 1998, the park district and Skoog entered into a contract for the installation of the irrigation system. In the contract, Skoog agreed to pay the prevailing wage according to the schedule set forth in the park district's Ordinance 98-2.

Skoog began work on the Emerald Hill project in October 1998 and completed it in November 1998. Skoog paid seven of its employees who were identified as laborers wages between $6.25 and $11.00 per hour. It paid its foreman $9.15 per hour.

A month after the Emerald Hill project was finished, Skoog received a letter from Enus Higgins, a labor conciliator with the Department. In the letter, Higgins informed Skoog that Skoog had failed to pay its employees in accordance with the prevailing wage rate and classification established by the Department for Whiteside County. Specifically, Higgins alleged that Skoog had underpaid its workers $11,156.08 on the Emerald Hill project. Higgins claimed that Skoog was liable to the Department for penalties totaling $2,231.22. If the Department did not receive a check for the underpayment within 30 days, Higgins claimed that Skoog would be liable for additional penalties of $44.62 per month for each worker.

Skoog did not submit a check to the Department for the claimed underpayment or penalties. Two months later, Higgins forwarded the case file to his manager with a request that it be turned over to the Attorney General's office for prosecution. Ten months later, the Attorney ...

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