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O'Connor v. County of Cook

March 10, 2003

PAMELA O'CONNOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE COUNTY OF COOK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable David R. Donnersberger, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gordon

Unpublished

Plaintiff-appellant Pamela O'Connor (plaintiff) appeals from the trial court's orders granting summary judgment to defendant-appellee County of Cook (defendant) and denying her motion to reconsider. Plaintiff asks that we reverse and vacate these orders, and remand for further proceedings on the merits of her cause. For the following reasons, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from depositions included in the record on appeal. On March 8, 1999, plaintiff, who is a Chicago police officer, arrived at the criminal court building at 26th Street and California Avenue in Chicago where she was scheduled to testify in a court case. She parked her car on the top floor of the parking garage located across the street from the court building. As she approached the elevator enclosure to exit the garage, she climbed over a mound of snow that had been plowed and piled near the door to the enclosure. In so doing, she slipped and fell. Plaintiff broke her ankle and was taken to the hospital, where she eventually underwent two surgeries.

Plaintiff filed a complaint at law against the City of Chicago, the City of Chicago Building Commission and defendant, alleging that all three entities were negligent in failing to maintain the parking garage in a reasonably safe condition. The City of Chicago and the City of Chicago Building Commission filed separate motions to dismiss under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 1998)) (Code), both asserting that they did not own, maintain or control the parking garage. By agreed order, the court granted the City of Chicago's motion, and plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the City of Chicago Building Commission from this action. The case against defendant continued, and in its amended answer to plaintiff's complaint, defendant admitted that it owns and operates the parking garage.

In his deposition, Lawrence Wozniak testified that he is the head building custodian of the criminal court building and that he is employed by the Cook County sheriff (Sheriff). He averred that his responsibilities include the supervision of snow removal by his custodial staff from the entire court "complex." He described the complex as encompassing the court building, the nearby administrative building, the parking lots and the parking garage across the street. Corroborating this was the deposition testimony of Joseph Martin and Floyd Crumpton, members of the custodial staff. Martin testified that he is employed by the Sheriff's office under Wozniak, his supervisor. Martin described that his responsibilities as a custodian include snow removal, and that he is the head of the crew of custodians responsible for this task. Martin stated that while his crew removes snow from the criminal court building, the parking lot and the first floor of the parking garage across the street, he is one of two custodians in charge of driving the snow plow truck which removes snow from the top floor of the parking garage. Crumpton testified that he too is employed by the Sheriff's office. He averred that he is the other custodian in charge of driving the snow plow. Crumpton testified that as an employee of the Sheriff's office, he is responsible for plowing the "complex" at the criminal court building, which he described as including the top floor of the parking garage across the street.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to section 2-1005 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-1005) (West 1998)), contending in part that it was not the proper defendant in this cause of action because, although it owns the parking garage, snow removal is the responsibility of the Sheriff and defendant is not responsible for the actions of the Sheriff's employees. On September 6, 2001, the trial court issued its memorandum and order granting defendant's motion. The court compared section 3-6017 of the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/3-6017 (West 1998)), which charges the Sheriff with the "custody and care of the courthouse and jail," to section 5-1106 (55 ILCS 5/5-1106 (West 1998)), which charges defendant with keeping "in repair, a suitable courthouse, jail and other necessary county buildings," and determined that snow removal constitutes "custody and care." Relying on People ex rel. Walsh v. Board of Commissioners of Cook County, 397 Ill. 293 (1947), and Moy v. County of Cook, 244 Ill. App. 3d 1034 (1993), the court concluded that snow removal "does not fall within the scope" of defendant's responsibilities but, rather, those of the Sheriff, and accordingly, defendant was not a proper party to this cause of action.

Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider the court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. The trial court denied this motion on February 6, 2002.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff seeks the reversal and vacation of both the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant and its order denying her motion to reconsider. We review her contentions as to each order separately, beginning with the grant of summary judgment.

Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment pursuant to section 2-1005 of the Code. Under that section, summary judgment is to be granted "without delay if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." 735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2000); accord Morris v. Margulis, 197 Ill. 2d 28, 35 (2001); see also In re Estate of Hoover, 155 Ill. 2d 402, 410-11 (1993) (court is to construe the pleadings, affidavits, depositions and admissions strictly against moving party and liberally in favor of opponent of summary judgment motion). While summary judgment has been called a "drastic measure," it is an appropriate tool to employ in the expeditious disposition of a lawsuit in which " 'the right of the moving party is clear and free from doubt.' " Morris, 197 Ill. 2d at 35, quoting Purtill v. Hess, 111 Ill. 2d 229, 240 (1986). We review the grant of summary judgment under a de novo standard. See Morris, 197 Ill. 2d at 35. We also note for purposes of this appeal that this cause involves statutory construction and interpretation. These are questions of law and, just as the grant of summary judgment, are subject to de novo review on appeal. See Choi v. Industrial Comm'n, 182 Ill. 2d 387, 392 (1998).

The arguments presented on appeal by both parties bring into contention two statutory provisions pertaining to the maintenance of the county courthouse and jail, namely, section 3-6017 dealing with duties of the Sheriff and section 5-1106 dealing with the duties of the county. We include the text of these provisions here at the outset. Section 3-6017 states:

"Sheriff custodian of courthouse and jail. He or she shall have the custody and care of the courthouse and jail of his or her county, except as otherwise provided." 55 ILCS 5/3-6017 (West ...


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