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East St. Louis School District No. 189 Board of Education v. East St. Louis School District No. 189 Financial Oversight Panel

May 27, 2004

EAST ST. LOUIS SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 189 BOARD OF EDUCATION, LONZO GREENWOOD, JOSEPH LEWIS, KHALIL EL-AMIN, IRMA GOLLIDAY, LAVONDIA NEELY, KINNIS WILLIAMS, SR., AND GEORGE MITCHOM, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
EAST ST. LOUIS SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 189 FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT PANEL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 02-MR-265 Honorable Patrick M. Young, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

Rule 23 Order filed April 16, 2004; Motion to publish granted May 27, 2004.

In these consolidated appeals, the Financial Oversight Panel for East St. Louis School District No. 189 (Oversight Panel) appeals from decisions of the circuit court of St. Clair County declaring that the Oversight Panel had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in rejecting a proposed contract between the Board of Education of East St. Louis School District No. 189 (School Board) and the architectural firm of Kennedy and Associates, Inc. (KAI); declaring invalid, and enjoining the Oversight Panel from enforcing, its Directive 03-1(a), which directed the School Board to negotiate an appropriate contract with an architectural firm other than KAI or face disciplinary action, including the possible removal of members from office; and ordering the Oversight Panel to approve and execute the School Board's proposed contract with KAI. Because the trial court's finding that the Oversight Panel acted arbitrarily and capriciously in rejecting the proposed contract between the School Board and KAI is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, we reverse the orders of the circuit court of St. Clair County.

In July 2002, the School Board submitted to the Oversight Panel for its approval a proposed contract between the School Board and KAI for architectural and engineering services in connection with the construction of two new school buildings. On July 31, 2002, the Oversight Panel rejected the proposed contract for the stated reason that KAI was not prequalified with the Capital Development Board (CDB), as required. When KAI subsequently received temporary or conditional prequalification from the CDB, the Oversight Panel again rejected the proposed contract in October 2002, because that prequalification was "probationary."

On November 7, 2002, the Oversight Panel issued its Directive 03-1, directing the School Board to conduct a search for an architectural and engineering firm to work on the two school construction projects. The School Board complied with Directive 03-1, and five firms were selected to interview with an unofficial committee composed of representatives of several interested bodies, including both parties hereto. That committee ranked KAI second and Wm. B. Ittner, Inc. (Ittner), first.

Nevertheless, the School Board, in official action at its next meeting, ranked KAI first and Ittner second. Accordingly, the School Board negotiated a contract with KAI and submitted it to the Oversight Panel for approval. On January 29, 2003, the Oversight Panel rejected this contract as well and issued its Directive 03-1(a), directing the School Board to negotiate an appropriate contract with a firm other than KAI. Directive 03-1(a) also provided that, if the School Board failed or refused to act in accordance with the directive, the Oversight Panel would initiate disciplinary action against the School Board, which could include the removal of School Board members from office.

On February 5, 2003, the School Board filed, in the circuit court of St. Clair County, an amended complaint, *fn1 count III of which seeks a declaratory judgment that the Oversight Panel had acted in violation of and outside the scope of its authority in rejecting the proposed contract between the School Board and KAI, a declaratory judgment that Directive 03-1(a) is invalid, and an injunction against the Oversight Panel enforcing its Directive 03-1(a) or instituting disciplinary action against the School Board or its members. *fn2

In its pretrial memorandum to the court, the Oversight Panel argued that what the School Board was really seeking in its complaint was judicial review of an administrative decision, which could only be had pursuant to a writ of certiorari based on the record of the administrative proceedings, and not on a de novo evidentiary trial before the court. The trial court rejected this argument, pointing out that by statute the Oversight Panel had the power to sue and be sued and finding that the School Board's complaint was not one for administrative review but was an independent action seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction. Accordingly, a de novo evidentiary trial was held.

The Oversight Panel's first argument on appeal is that this ruling by the trial court was erroneous as a matter of law. The Oversight Panel points out that it is an administrative agency and argues that its status controls the analysis herein-as an administrative agency, its decisions are subject only to administrative review. We disagree. It is not the status of the agency that controls whether judicial review of its action is appropriate or available, but it is the nature of the action or decision taken that controls.

The parties agree that the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/ 3-101 et seq. (West 2002)) does not apply to decisions made by the Oversight Panel, because the statute creating and empowering the Oversight Panel (105 ILCS 5/1B-1 et seq. (West 2002)) does not so provide. If the statute creating or conferring power on an administrative agency does not contain an express reference to the Administrative Review Law and provides for no other form of review, then common law certiorari is a general method for reviewing the action of agencies and tribunals exercising administrative functions. Smith v. Department of Public Aid, 67 Ill. 2d 529, 541 (1977). Where a final administrative decision has been rendered and the circuit court may grant the relief that a party seeks within the context of reviewing that decision, the circuit court has no authority to entertain independent actions regarding the actions of an administrative agency. Stratton v. Wenona Community Unit District No. 1, 133 Ill. 2d 413, 427-28 (1990).

However, we agree with the trial court that certiorari is a wholly inappropriate vehicle for the type of relief sought by the School Board in this case because the Oversight Panel was not acting in a quasi-judicial role in rejecting the contract with KAI and issuing its Directive 03-1(a) and there is no final administrative decision of the Oversight Panel for review.

The common law writ of certiorari provides an avenue of appeal from an action by a court or other tribunal exercising quasi-judicial functions. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, AFL-CIO v. Department of Central Management Services, 288 Ill. App. 3d 701, 710-12 (1997) (American Federation). Quasi-judicial proceedings are designed to adjudicate disputed facts in a particular case. American Federation, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 711. Quasi-judicial hearings concern agency decisions that affect a small number of persons on individual grounds based on a particular set of disputed facts that have been adjudicated. American Federation, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 711.

It is only in this type of proceeding that a sufficient record is developed in the administrative agency to allow review by a writ of certiorari. The purpose of the writ is to have the entire record of the inferior tribunal brought before the court to determine, from the record alone, that the inferior tribunal proceeded according to the applicable law. American Federation, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 710. Therefore, generally, judicial review of an agency action can only occur where there has been a final agency determination, which usually follows some sort of adversarial proceeding involving the parties, a hearing on the controverted facts, and an ultimate disposition rendered by an impartial fact finder. Board of Trustees of Addison Fire Protection District No. 1 Pension Fund v. Stamp, 241 Ill. App. 3d 873, 881 (1993).

Administrative agencies can also act in a quasi-legislative manner, which actions are not subject to review by a writ of certiorari. American Federation, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 712; City of Highwood v. Obenberger, 238 Ill. App. 3d 1066, 1075 (1992). Quasi-legislative proceedings are designed to promulgate policy-type rules or standards and involve general facts affecting everyone. No individual rights are at stake in a quasi-legislative proceeding. American Federation, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 711. A hearing conducted in a quasi-legislative proceeding is intended to be an information-gathering forum in pursuit of legislative facts, rather than an adversarial adjudication of the rights of the individual. American Federation, 288 Ill. App. 3d at 711. Quasi-legislative actions of an administrative agency can be reviewed in a declaratory judgment action if it is alleged that the action is unlawful. Woolfolk v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners of Village of Robbins, 79 Ill. App. 3d 27, 29 (1979).

The action of the Oversight Panel in rejecting the KAI contract and issuing its Directive 03-1(a) is more akin to a quasi-legislative action than it is to a quasi-judicial action. There was no adjudicatory hearing held to determine individual rights or disputed facts. Indeed, there was no hearing at all on the disputed facts raised in the School Board's complaint for declaratory relief and injunction. Accordingly, there is an insufficient record on which a reviewing court could base a determination regarding the propriety of the Oversight Panel's action. In a case such as this, review by a writ of certiorari is wholly inappropriate. See Sturm v. Block, 72 Ill. App. 3d 306, 310-11 (1979).

We are supported in our decision by the only two reported decisions challenging actions of the Oversight Panel, one of which, like the case at bar, challenged the Oversight Panel's rejection of a proposed contract. East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220 v. East St. Louis School District No. 189 Financial Oversight Panel, 178 Ill. 2d 399 (1997). In that case, as in the case at bar, the action was commenced by the filing of a complaint for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The Oversight Panel had rejected a proposed employment contract with the superintendent of the school district and directed the School Board not to enter into the contract or it would face disciplinary action. The School Board voted not to follow the directive; the Oversight Panel voted to remove the School Board members from office.

The School Board filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment and an injunction against their removal from office. The case proceeded as an action for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. On appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, the court confirmed that the case was not appropriate for judicial review. East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220, 178 Ill. 2d at 426.

The case of East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220 v. East St. Louis School District No. 189 Financial Oversight Panel, 311 Ill. App. 3d 987 (2000), a challenge to the Oversight Panel's hiring of employees to perform school district work, also proceeded as a declaratory judgment action.

Our position is also supported by the definition of "administrative decision" contained in section 3-101 of the Administrative Review Law:

" 'Administrative decision' or 'decision' means any decision, order[,] or determination of any administrative agency rendered in a particular case, which affects the legal rights, duties[,] or privileges of parties and which terminates the proceedings ...


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