Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Meehan v. Illinois Power Company

April 12, 2004

[5] ROBERT MEEHAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ILLINOIS POWER COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 97-L-783A Honorable Jan V. Fiss, Judge, presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

[8]  On September 4, 1997, the plaintiff, Robert Meehan, filed, in the circuit court of St. Clair County, a complaint charging the defendant, Illinois Power Company, with having violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 (29 U.S.C. §621 et seq. (2000)), by discharging the plaintiff from his employment because of his age. The plaintiff had filed a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and had received therefrom a notice of the dismissal of his complaint and of his right to sue the defendant within 90 days.

[9]  On October 16, 1997, the defendant answered the complaint and raised as an affirmative defense that the circuit court of St. Clair County lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the cause. On February 10, 1998, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the cause for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The defendant relied on language from section 8-111(C) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act): "[N]o court of this state shall have jurisdiction over the subject of an alleged civil rights violation other than as set forth in this Act" (775 ILCS 5/8-111(C) (West 2002)). The defendant argued that, pursuant to the Act, all such claims, including claims brought under federal law, must be brought before the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

[10]   On December 1, 1998, the circuit court of St. Clair County entered an order finding that the plaintiff had filed a complaint with both the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, had obtained a ruling from both administrative bodies, and had therefore exhausted his administrative remedies. The trial court found that the plaintiff's exhaustion of administrative remedies was sufficient to vest subject matter jurisdiction over this cause in the circuit court. The trial court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

[11]   On June 21, 2000, the defendant filed a motion asking the circuit court to reconsider its ruling on the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. By a one-sentence order entered April 16, 2001, the circuit court denied the motion to reconsider.

[12]   Throughout the remainder of these proceedings the defendant continued to press its argument of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Nevertheless, on April 14, 2003, following a bench trial, the circuit court entered an order finding that it did have subject matter jurisdiction over the cause and ruling in favor of the plaintiff on the merits. The court awarded the plaintiff damages and attorney fees in the amount of $1,041,510.50.

[13]   The defendant appeals, raising three issues: whether the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this cause, whether the plaintiff's claims of age discrimination in employment were time-barred, and whether the trial court's finding that the defendant's legitimate business reasons for discharging the plaintiff were a pretext for discrimination is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Because we find that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this cause, we need not address the defendant's second and third issues.

[14]   In passing the Act, the General Assembly intended for it to be the preemptive and exclusive vehicle for the resolution of employment discrimination cases in Illinois. Thakkar v. Wilson Enterprises, Inc., 120 Ill. App. 3d 878, 881 (1983). Accordingly, the Act itself provides, "Except as otherwise provided by law, no court of this state shall have jurisdiction over the subject of an alleged civil rights violation other than as set forth in this Act." 775 ILCS 5/8-111(C) (West 2002).

[15]   The Illinois Supreme Court has held that courts have no jurisdiction to hear independent actions for civil rights violations. Mein v. Masonite Corp., 109 Ill. 2d 1, 7 (1985). The legislature intended by the Act to avoid direct access to the courts for the redress of civil rights violations. Mein, 109 Ill. 2d at 7. Accordingly, the plaintiff in Mein could not bring his state-law claim of age discrimination in employment in the circuit court. Mein, 109 Ill. 2d at 7; see also Yount v. Hesston Corp., 124 Ill. App. 3d 943 (1984); Armstrong v. Freemen United Coal Mining Co., 112 Ill. App. 3d 1020 (1983).

[16]   The exclusivity of the remedy provided by the Act has been broadly interpreted. Even state-law tort claims such as negligence are barred by section 8-111(C) of the Act when those tort claims are grounded upon and "inextricably linked" to an alleged civil rights violation. See Geise v. Phoenix Co. of Chicago, Inc., 159 Ill. 2d 507, 516-18 (1994). If a common-law tort action is in essence one that seeks redress for a civil rights violation as defined by the Act and if there is no basis for the tort action other than the civil rights violation, the circuit court lacks jurisdiction to hear the claim. Welch v. Illinois Supreme Court, 322 Ill. App. 3d 345, 355 (2001).

[17]   The question before us is whether this exclusivity of remedy extends to claims of civil rights violations brought under federal law, specifically, the ADEA. We have previously addressed this very question and held that it does.

[18]   In Cahoon v. Alton Packaging Corp., 148 Ill. App. 3d 480 (1986), the plaintiff brought an action against his former employer under the ADEA. The issue of subject matter jurisdiction was raised, and we held, "[T]he plain language of section 8-111(C) requires that an Illinois court dismiss an ADEA case unless State administrative remedies have been exhausted." Cahoon, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 482. We rejected the argument of the plaintiff in that case that, in passing the ADEA, Congress intended a claimant to be able to institute his action in either state court or federal court. Section 626(c)(1) of the ADEA provides, "Any person aggrieved may bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction ***." 29 U.S.C. §626(c)(1) (2002). We held that Congress did not mean to, and did not effectively, confer jurisdiction on Illinois circuit courts by virtue of this provision. Cahoon, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 483. A civil rights claimant may not ignore the administrative framework provided by our legislature. Cahoon, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 482.

[19]   We also rejected the argument of the plaintiff in Cahoon that Illinois courts are not free to "discriminate" against federal claims. While we agree with the principle that an Illinois court cannot treat federal claims differently than it treats similar state-law claims (see Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 110 L. Ed. 2d 332, 110 S. Ct. 2430 (1990)), neither the decision in Cahoon nor the Illinois Act does so. What we held in Cahoon was that federal civil rights claims must be prosecuted under the same procedure applicable to state civil rights claims. Cahoon, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 483. Section 8-111(C) of the Act requires that a civil rights claim be prosecuted in the administrative forum, and a complaint which raises a federal claim is not entitled to preferential treatment in that regard. Cahoon, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 483.

[20]   The most definitive answer to the question before us is given in Faulkner-King v. Wicks, 226 Ill. App. 3d 962 (1992). That case involved claims brought under federal civil rights statutes-sections 1983, 1985, and 1986 of Title 42 of the United States Code (42 U.S.C. ยงยง1983, 1985, 1986 (1988)). The plaintiff argued that Illinois circuit courts have concurrent jurisdiction over a ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.