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People ex rel Ryan v. Agpro

February 3, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

Docket No. 97986-Agenda 19-November 2004.

In this case we must decide whether section 42(e) of the Environmental Protection Act (the Act) (415 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 2002)), authorizes a court to issue a mandatory injunction requiring a polluter to clean up contamination it caused. In 1994 the State brought suit against defendants Agpro, Inc., and David J. Schulte, as an individual and as president of Agpro, Inc., seeking injunctive relief, recovery of remediation costs, and civil penalties. In 2002 the matter proceeded to a bench trial, after which the circuit court of Ogle County awarded certain remediation costs and imposed a civil penalty, but refused injunctive relief. The State appealed and defendants cross-appealed. The appellate court reversed and remanded on an issue pertaining to remediation costs, but affirmed the circuit court in all other respects, including the denial of injunctive relief. 345 Ill. App. 3d 1011. The State then petitioned this court for leave to appeal the denial of injunctive relief, which we allowed pursuant to Rule 315 (177 Ill. 2d R. 315).


We state only those facts necessary to understand the single question before this court. The appellate court's opinion includes a more complete statement. See 345 Ill. App. 3d at 1014-18.

Between 1988 and 1993 defendants operated a business applying fertilizers and pesticides to farm fields. The business was based at a site in the town of Woosung (the Agpro site). The State alleged, and the circuit court found, that defendants caused or allowed the soil at the Agpro site to be contaminated by pesticides. The contaminants are also present in the groundwater and in several wells immediately surrounding the Agpro site. In 1991 federal authorities remedied the contamination of the wells by installing filtration systems in eight private residences. As of 2000 testing of wells on and adjacent to the Agpro site continued to show pesticide contamination.

The State asked the circuit court to order defendants to take certain actions to clean up the Agpro site, such as removal of all contaminated soil. The circuit court refused, citing three express grounds, the first of which was that "there is no legal basis to issue an injunction which requires the Defendants to perform affirmative acts." The appellate court found this ground sufficient to affirm, and thus did not reach any other grounds for the denial of injunctive relief. Before the appellate court, the State argued that section 42(e) of the Act authorizes issuance of a mandatory injunction requiring defendants to clean up the Agpro site. At all relevant times section 42(e) of the Act provided that, "[t]he State's Attorney of the county in which the violation occurred, or the Attorney General, may *** institute a civil action for an injunction to restrain violations of this Act." 415 ILCS 5/42(e) (West 2002). The appellate court reasoned that the word "restrain" in section 42(e) shows "that the legislature contemplated a preventative injunction or restraining order rather than a mandatory injunction commanding a defendant to do some affirmative act." 345 Ill. App. 3d at 1019. The appellate court then considered and rejected a number of contrary arguments.

The appellate court filed its decision on January 27, 2004. Some six months later the General Assembly amended section 42(e) to provide for an injunction, "prohibitory or mandatory," to restrain violations of the Act and to permit the circuit court to "require such other actions as may be necessary to address violations of this Act." Pub. Act 93-831, §5, eff. July 28, 2004 (amending 415 ILCS 5/42(e)).


Whether a mandatory injunction may issue in this case is a question of statutory construction, which we review de novo. Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 503 (2000). "The fundamental rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent. [Citation.] The best indication of legislative intent is the statutory language, given its plain and ordinary meaning. [Citation.]" Caveney v. Bower, 207 Ill. 2d 82, 87-88 (2003).

In this case, section 42(e) of the Act, the only authority the State cites as authorizing the mandatory injunction it seeks, permits an "injunction to restrain violations of this Act." 415 ILCS 5/42(e) (West 2002). The appellate court relied on the meaning of the word "restrain" to conclude the legislature did not contemplate a mandatory injunction in section 42(e). 345 Ill. App. 3d at 1019. We agree. The phrase "to restrain" modifies the word "injunction." The word "restrain," as ordinarily used, connotes imposing limits on action. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "restrain" means "to prevent from doing, exhibiting, or expressing something *** to limit, restrict, or keep under control *** to moderate or limit." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 996 (10th ed. 2000). According to Black's Law Dictionary, it means "limit, confine, abridge *** [t]o prohibit from action; to put compulsion upon *** [t]o keep in check." Black's Law Dictionary 1314 (6th ed. 1990). None of these definitions connote requiring or causing someone to do something. Based on the plain and ordinary meaning of the word "restrain," we conclude the legislature did not intend in section 42(e) to authorize a mandatory injunction such as the State seeks. The State offers several arguments to the contrary, which we address seriatim.

First, the State suggests section 42(e) is ambiguous because the word "restrain" permits a reasonable interpretation that includes a mandatory injunction. The State points out that the fifth edition of Black's Law Dictionary gives one of the meanings of "restrain" as "enjoin," which, in turn, can denote a mandatory injunction. Black's Law Dictionary 1181 (5th ed. 1979). However, the sixth edition of Black's Law Dictionary, the last to include a definition of "restrain," does not list "enjoin" as a synonym. Black's Law Dictionary 1314 (6th ed. 1990). Moreover, assuming arguendo that "restrain" can mean "enjoin" in some contexts, it does not carry that meaning in section 42(e). If it did, the phrase "injunction to restrain" would mean "injunction to enjoin," which is redundant. If possible, we will avoid constructions that render any term superfluous or meaningless. In re Marriage of Kates, 198 Ill. 2d 156, 167 (2001).

Second, the State points out various provisions of the Act that seem to contemplate mandatory injunctions. Section 45(d) concerns third-party complaints in cases in which the State "seeks to compel the defendant to remove the waste or otherwise clean up the site." 415 ILCS 5/45(d) (West 2002). Section 58.1(a)(2) refers to persons "required to perform investigations and remediations." 415 ILCS 5/58.1(a)(2) (West 2002). Section 58.9(a)(1) limits suits seeking "to require any person to conduct remedial action" to the remediation of pollution that the defendant proximately caused. 415 ILCS 5/58.9(a)(1) (West 2002). Section 58.9(b) requires notice when the State "seeks to require a person who may be liable pursuant to this Act to conduct remedial activities." 415 ILCS 58.9(b) (West 2002). The State correctly urges that a statute must be construed as a whole. Kates, 198 Ill. 2d at 163. Thus, any part of the Act may provide some evidence of what the legislature intended in section 42(e). However the strongest evidence is, of course, the language of section 42(e) itself. Because the meaning of section 42(e) is plain, inferences based on language found in scattered ancillary provisions of the Act are insufficient to change the outcome of this case. See Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, 531 U.S. 457, 468, 149 L.Ed. 2d 1, 13, 121 S.Ct. 903, 909-10 (2001) ("Congress, we have held, does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in *** ancillary provisions-it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes").

Third, the State argues that the legislature's recent amendment of section 42(e) "clarifies" what the legislature meant by the phrase "injunction to restrain" by stating that it includes mandatory injunctions. The State relies on Collins v. Board of Trustees of the Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago, 155 Ill. 2d 103 (1993). In Collins, we stated that "[a]n amendment that contradicts a recent interpretation of a statute is an indication that such interpretation was incorrect and that the amendment was enacted to clarify the legislature's original intent." Collins, 155 Ill. 2d at 111, citing Bruni v. Department of Registration & Education, 59 Ill. 2d 6, 11-12 (1974). Defendants reply that Roth v. Yackley, 77 Ill. 2d 423 (1979), precludes consideration of the amendment as clarification of the original meaning of section 42(e). In Roth, we held the legislature could not "constitutionally overrule a decision of this court by declaring that an amendatory act applies retroactively to cases decided before its effective date." Roth, 77 Ill. 2d at 429. For the following reasons, we conclude Roth precludes giving the recent amendment controlling weight, and that Collins is distinguishable.

Roth concerned the following situation. In People v. DuMontelle, 71 Ill. 2d 157 (1978), we held that fines and costs were not "reasonable terms and conditions of probation" within the meaning of section 10 of the Cannabis Control Act, and thus could not be imposed under that section. In response, the legislature amended section 10 to expressly permit imposition of fines and costs and stated that the amendment was a declaration of existing law and thus applicable to events prior to the effective date of the amendment. Roth, 77 Ill. 2d at 426, quoting Pub. Act 80-1202, §3, eff. June 30, 1978. We held the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers precludes the legislature from assuming this court's role by retroactively applying new statutory language. Roth, 77 Ill. 2d at 428-29, citing Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1. We stated that, "[w]hile the General Assembly has the power *** to amend statutes ...

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