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Freedom Graphic Systems, Inc. v. Industrial Commission of Illinois

December 31, 2003

FREEDOM GRAPHIC SYSTEMS, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION OF ILLINOIS AND RICHARD KEEFE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Cook County No. 02L50994 Honorable Alexander P. White, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice McCULLOUGH

UNPUBLISHED

Claimant, Richard Keefe, filed an application seeking benefits for injuries from employer, Freedom Graphic Systems, Inc., pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2000)). On December 3, 2001, the arbitrator concluded that claimant suffered compensable injuries on June 4, 2001, and awarded claimant $140,040.60 for outstanding medical bills and prospective medical care. On July 23, 2002, the Commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's decision. On November 6, 2002, the circuit court dismissed employer's action seeking administrative review of the Commission's decision.

On appeal, employer argues that the trial court erred in dismissing employer's action for administrative review where (1) employer's timely filed bond, while lacking the signature of the principal, was otherwise valid and complied with section 19(f) of the Act; (2) the circuit court clerk accepted the bond, notwithstanding the lack of signature of a principal; and (3) it should have ordered the unsigned bond to be signed or ordered a signed bond substituted nunc pro tunc. In his brief, claimant requests sanctions against employer, asserting that employer's appeal is unsupported by Illinois law and was filed solely for purposes of delay. We affirm and deny claimant's request for sanctions.

Employer sought administrative review of the July 23, 2002, Commission decision in favor of claimant. On August 9, 2002, employer filed a cause of action with the circuit clerk of Cook County, and a bond pursuant to section 19(f) of the Act. However, on the face of the bond, the signature line for the surety was stamped, not signed, and the signature line for the principal was blank. The circuit clerk's office applied its seal to indicate the document was filed.

On September 16, 2002, employer filed a motion for leave to file a fully signed bond. On September 17, claimant filed a motion to dismiss. On November 6, 2002, the circuit court granted claimant's motion to dismiss, concluding the clerk's office did not have the authority to accept a bond not signed by the principal.

The circuit court denied employer's motion to reconsider, concluding that the Act strictly requires a principal to sign the bond. Because no principal signed the bond in this case, the court determined it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The court declined to rule nunc pro tunc to allow amendment of the bond form to allow the principal to execute the bond outside the statutory period. This appeal followed.

Employer first argues that its bond, while lacking the signature of the principal, either wholly or substantially complied with section 19(f)(2) of the Act. We disagree.

Section 19(f)(2) of the Act provides, in pertinent part:

"No such summons shall issue unless the one against whom the Commission shall have rendered an award for the payment of money shall upon the filing of his written request for such summons file with the clerk of the court a bond conditioned that if he shall not successfully prosecute the review, he will pay the award and the costs of the proceedings in the courts. The amount of the bond shall be fixed by any member of the Commission and the surety or sureties of the bond shall be approved by the clerk of the court. The acceptance of the bond by the clerk of the court shall constitute evidence of his approval of the bond." 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(2) (West 2002).

While Illinois circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction and are presumed to have subject-matter jurisdiction, to vest the circuit court with subject-matter jurisdiction in workers' compensation cases, the party bringing the action must strictly comply with the bond requirements of section 19(f)(2). See Kavonius v. Industrial Comm'n, 314 Ill. App. 3d 166, 169, 731 N.E.2d 1287, 1290 (2000). The filing of a bond is jurisdictional in nature. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 74 Ill. 2d 269, 272, 384 N.E.2d 1329, 1331. A bond not signed by the party against whom the award has been entered is insufficient to confer jurisdiction upon the circuit court. Coultas v. Industrial Comm'n, 31 Ill. 2d 527, 528, 202 N.E.2d 485, 486 (1964).

Similar to Coultas, the bond filed in this case was not executed by any principal. However, in Coultas, respondent employer signed the bond as surety while her corporation signed as the principal. Coultas, 31 Ill. 2d at 528, 202 N.E.2d at 486. The supreme court concluded that the circuit court was without jurisdiction where the bond was not signed by the party against whom the award was made. Coultas, 31 Ill. 2d at 528, 202 N.E.2d at 486. It concluded that the case was treated as if the principal "did not file her bond." Coultas, 31 Ill. 2d at 528, 202 N.E.2d at 486.

In this case, employer has an even less compelling case than the employer in Coultas. Here, the bond form contained no signature of the principal anywhere on the form. The circuit court properly treated the bond as not having been filed at all. See Coultas, 31 Ill. 2d at 528, 202 N.E.2d at 486; Firestone Tire & Rubber, 74 Ill. 2d at 272-73, 384 N.E.2d at 1331 (respondent has the responsibility to file a bond and failure to do so deprives the circuit court of jurisdiction); cf. Lee v. Industrial Comm'n, 82 Ill. 2d 496, 499, 413 N.E.2d 425, 427-28 (1980) (party seeking review allowed to cure where at least one principal signs in such capacity).

The purpose of requiring a bond is to bind the principal. A bond without a principal's signature does not further that purpose. See First Chicago v. Industrial Comm'n, 294 Ill. App. 3d 685, 689-91, 691 N.E.2d 134, 137-38 (1998) (the "signing individual's identity ultimately controls the outcome of the motion to dismiss the appeal"). A bond is insufficient where the signature is one other than that of the principal because such a signature would not bind the corporation to ...


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