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International Federation of Professional v. Chicago Park Dist.

June 14, 2004

[5] INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL ENGINEERS, LOCAL 153, PETITIONER-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
THE CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 02 CH 9728. Hon. Deborah M. Dooling, Judge Presiding.

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

[8]  This dispute arises from an action brought by petitioner-appellee/cross-appellant, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 153 (Union), to confirm an arbitration award entered in its favor against respondent-appellant/cross-appellee, Chicago Park District (Park District). The arbitration award was the result of a grievance filed pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the Park District. The grievant was a Union member who was employed by the Park District and was demoted from his position. The Union brought the petition to confirm the arbitration award on the ground that the Park District had refused to comply with it. In response, the Park District filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the petition was moot because, at the time of the filing of the motion to dismiss, the Park District had fully complied with the arbitration award. The trial court denied the Park District's motion to dismiss.

[9]  The Union then filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that no question of fact existed that the Park District failed to fully comply with the arbitration award. In the same motion, the Union also moved for attorney fees and costs under section 14 of the Uniform Arbitration Act (Arbitration Act) (710 ILCS 5/14 (West 2000)). The Park District filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on the ground that there was no genuine issue of fact that it fully complied with the arbitration award.

[10]   The trial court granted the Union's motion for summary judgment, denied the Park District's cross-motion for summary judgment, and allowed the Union to file a petition for attorney fees and costs. The Union then filed a petition for attorney fees and costs which was denied by the trial court on the basis that no specific statutory authorization for attorney fees was provided in section 14 of the Arbitration Act. The Park District appeals the order denying its cross-motion for summary judgment and granting the Union's motion for summary judgment. The Union cross-appeals the trial court's order denying its petition for attorney fees.

[11]   The parties agree that the Park District's appeal is now moot because the grievant voluntarily retired from the Park District while the appeal was pending. When an intervening event occurs rendering it impossible for a reviewing court to grant the relief to any party, the case becomes moot because a ruling on the issue cannot have any practical effect on the controversy. In re Tekela, 202 Ill. 2d 282, 292-93, 780 N.E.2d 304 (2002); LaSalle National Bank v. City of Chicago, 3 Ill. 2d 375, 378-79, 121 N.E.2d 486 (1954). Thus, the only issue we need address is the question raised in the Union's cross-appeal; whether the trial court properly denied the Union's petition for attorney fees under section 14 of the Arbitration Act. The following background facts are relevant.

[12]   Emil Mitchell, a member of the Union, was employed by the Park District and was demoted from his position as a "Park Operations Supervisor." The Union filed a grievance on Mitchell's behalf pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the Park District, and after several hearings, an award was entered by the arbitrator in favor of the Union. Specifically, the award stated: "Mitchell is to be offered reinstatement to his position as Park Operations Supervisor of Landscape Management in the Southeast Region and is to [be] made whole for any loss of benefits and compensation."

[13]   When the Park District did not comply with the award, the Union filed a petition to confirm the arbitration award on May 21, 2002. As of the date the petition was filed, the Park District had not offered Mitchell reinstatement to his position as Park Operations Supervisor and had not made him whole for loss wages since the date of his demotion. The Park District responded by filing a motion to dismiss under section 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(West 2000)) on the ground that the Union's petition was moot because the Park District had complied with the arbitration order. Specifically, the Park District's motion to dismiss indicated that Mitchell had been reinstated, was being paid at the wage rate commensurate with the job title "Park Operations Supervisor," and had received back wages equal to the difference of what he would have received as a Park Operations Supervisor and what he actually earned during the period he was demoted to a "Maintenance Foreman." The Park District claimed that the location of Mitchell's assignment "was of no moment" under the arbitrator's award or the parties' collective bargaining agreement, and it noted that the Union admitted that the Park District was given latitude to transfer Park Operations Supervisors between regions of the district. On December 5, 2002, the trial court denied the Park District's motion to dismiss "for reasons stated in open court."

[14]   On May 7, 2003, the Union filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that no question of fact existed that the Park District failed to comply with the arbitration award because Mitchell was not reinstated to the southeast region. Instead, he was placed in the north region, a different region with lesser responsibility. As we noted above, the Union, as part of its summary judgment motion, also sought attorney fees and costs pursuant to section 14 of the Arbitration Act.

[15]   On June 16, 2003, the Park District filed a cross-motion for summary judgment arguing that no question of fact existed that it had complied with the arbitration award by reinstating Mitchell and by giving him back wages. The Park District argued that the arbitration award only required "that Mitchell be offered reinstatement to the position of Park Operations Supervisor." In its motion, the Park District further noted that Mitchell had been reinstated, made whole for all lost wages and benefits, and had even been transferred back to the southeast region. The record reveals that for a short time period after his reinstatement, Mitchell was transferred to the southeast region and then transferred back to the north region.

[16]   On July 17, 2003, the trial court entered an order granting the Union's motion for summary judgment and denying the Park District's cross-motion for summary judgment. It also confirmed the arbitration award and allowed the Union to file a petition for attorney fees and costs. On August 18, 2003, the Union filed its petition for attorney fees and costs. In an order dated October 29, 2003, the trial court denied the Union's request for attorney fees of $14,492 and legal research fees of $820 on the ground that section 14 of the Arbitration Act did not specifically authorize the award of attorney fees. Despite its ruling, the trial court awarded the Union's request for certain costs identified as "related nontaxable expenses" in the amount of $259.40.

[17]   The Park District appeals the denial of its cross-motion for summary judgment and the grant of the summary judgment motion in favor of the Union. As we noted above, the issues of whether the Park District's cross-motion for summary judgment was properly denied and whether the Union's motion for summary judgment was properly granted are now moot because Mitchell voluntarily retired from the Park District. We address the remaining issue raised on the Union's cross-appeal whether the trial court properly denied the Union's petition for attorney fees and costs on the ground that no statutory authorization for attorney fees existed under section 14 of the Arbitration Act. The interpretation of a statute is a question of law that we review de novo. Krohe v. City of Bloomington, 204 Ill. 2d 392, 395, 789 N.E.2d 1211 (2003).

[18]   Section 14 of the Arbitration Act states the following:

[19]   "Upon the granting of an order confirming, modifying or correcting an award, judgment shall be entered in conformity therewith and be enforced as any other judgment. Costs of the application and of the proceedings subsequent thereto, and disbursements may be awarded by the court as to the court seems just." 710 ILCS 5/14 (West 2000).

[20]   Because there was no underlying contract between the parties authorizing the recovery of attorney fees, the Union relies entirely upon section 14 of the Arbitration Act in support of its argument that ...


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