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Peters v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University

September 1, 2004

THOMAS R. PETERS AND S&M ENTERPRISES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 02-MR-163. Honorable Alexis D. Otis-Lewis, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Maag

PUBLISHED

Rule 23 order filed July 22, 2004

Motion to publish granted

The plaintiffs, Thomas R. Peters and S&M Enterprises, filed a single-count complaint in the circuit court of St. Clair County, Illinois, seeking administrative review of a decision of the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University (the Board) that requires freshman students who are single and under 21 years old and who are not living with a parent or legal guardian to live in university-owned housing. The Board filed a motion to transfer the action to Jackson County, Illinois, on the ground that venue was not proper in St. Clair County. The circuit court granted the motion and ordered the action transferred to the circuit court in Jackson County, Illinois. On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the circuit court's decision was an abuse of discretion.

Plaintiff S&M Enterprises (S&M) operates Stevenson Arms, a facility providing housing for freshman students attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Plaintiff Thomas R. Peters, a St. Clair County resident, is S&M's attorney. Peters has a limited power of attorney granted by S&M with respect to all transactions between Stevenson Arms and Southern Illinois University's housing department (the housing department). In the academic years 1995-96 through 2001-02, the housing department classified Stevenson Arms as an accepted living center for freshman students. In order to be classified as an accepted living center, a facility must apply for approval and meet specific criteria.

In 2002, the Board made a policy decision that "all single freshman students under the age of 21 not residing with their parents or legal guardians be required to live in university-owned housing." The prior policy required all freshmen and sophomores to live on campus or in accepted off-campus housing. The new policy was to go into effect at the start of the fall semester of 2003. In a letter dated July 11, 2002, the Board notified the plaintiffs of its decision. As a result of the Board's decision, the classification of accepted living center for freshman students was eliminated and the privately owned Stevenson Arms could no longer operate as an accepted freshman dormitory.

On August 9, 2002, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in the circuit court of St. Clair County and sought administrative review of the Board's decision, pursuant to section 3-101 et seq. of the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2000)). In their complaint, the plaintiffs claimed that the Board's decision was invalid, improper, and/or arbitrary and capricious and requested that the court enter an order striking the decision and for other relief within the subject matter jurisdiction of the court.

The Board filed a motion to transfer the case to Jackson County, Illinois. The Board alleged that venue was improper because no part of the transaction or occurrence had taken place in St. Clair County and the Board's principal office was not in St. Clair County. The plaintiffs countered that venue was proper under section 2-103(a) of the Civil Practice Law (735 ILCS 5/2-103(a) (West 2000)) because the subject matter of the decision involved and affected students from St. Clair County seeking to attend the university for the fall semester of 2003 and because in prior years the applications seeking the classification of Stevenson Arms as an approved freshman residence were executed in St. Clair County.

The parties filed additional motions before the venue motion was heard. The plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the complaint to add counts for mandamus and certiorari. The Board filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it failed to state a cause of action and that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction of the action. There is nothing in the record indicating that the circuit court ruled on these motions.

After considering oral and written arguments of the parties, the circuit court granted the venue motion and ordered the case transferred to Jackson County, Illinois. The court found that the subject matter of the action was situated in Jackson County, that all the parts of the transaction giving rise to the proceedings occurred in Jackson County, that the Board's principal office was in Jackson County, and that all the records and evidence were located in Jackson County.

As noted in the fact summary, there is nothing in the record before us to indicate that the circuit court ruled on the plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint to add counts for mandamus and certiorari. Consequently, the only allegations at issue are those contained in the initial complaint, and we will consider the issues on appeal in light of those allegations. Despite the lack of a ruling on the Board's motion to dismiss for a lack of jurisdiction, we will consider that issue because subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived. See Smith v. Jones, 113 Ill. 2d 126, 130, 497 N.E.2d 738, 740 (1986).

Article XIII, section 4, of the Illinois Constitution abolished sovereign immunity, "[e]xcept as the General Assembly may provide by law". Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, §4. In accordance with that constitutional grant of authority, the legislature subsequently enacted the State Lawsuit Immunity Act (Immunity Act) (Pub. Act 77-1776, §1, eff. January 1, 1972). Section 1 of the Immunity Act states that the State shall not be made a defendant or party in any court, except as provided in the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 2000)), the Court of Claims Act (705 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (West 2000)), and the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (Ethics Act) (5 ILCS 430/1-1 et seq. (West Supp. 2003)). 745 ILCS 5/1 (West Supp. 2003). Given the facts in the record, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and the Ethics Act are not implicated. In this case, we must first determine whether the Board is entitled to sovereign immunity and, if so, whether the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction of the pending action pursuant to the Immunity Act. See Ellis v. Board of Governors of State Colleges & Universities, 102 Ill. 2d 387, 391, 466 N.E.2d 202, 204 (1984).

Generally, a state agency may not be a defendant in circuit court actions because state agencies are considered to be arms of the State. See Williams v. Medical Center Comm'n, 60 Ill. 2d 389, 393-94, 328 N.E.2d 1, 3 (1975). There are numerous decisions finding that a state university and its board of trustees are arms of the State. See, e.g., Williams, 60 Ill. 2d at 393-94, 328 N.E.2d at 3; Ellis, 102 Ill. 2d at 393, 466 N.E.2d at 205-06; Hoffman v. Yack, 57 Ill. App. 3d 744, 747, 373 N.E.2d 486, 489 (1978). In this case, there appears to be no dispute regarding the status of the Board as an arm of the State, and so an extended discussion is unwarranted. Based on the record, the provisions in the Southern Illinois ...


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