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Deborah Seyller, As Kane County v. the County of Kane; the Kane County Board; Karen Mcconnaughay

March 1, 2011

DEBORAH SEYLLER, AS KANE COUNTY
PLAINTIFF AND COUNTERDEFENDANT- APPELLANT,
v.
THE COUNTY OF KANE; THE KANE COUNTY BOARD; KAREN MCCONNAUGHAY, AS COUNTY BOARD CHAIRMAN; DEBORAH ALLAN, CRISTINA CASTRO, DONNELL COLLINS, MARK DAVOUST, JOHN P. FAHY, RON FORD, DREW FRASZ, JOHN J. HOSCHEIT, CATHERINE S. HURLBUT, GERALD A. JONES, MICHAEL KENYON, ROBERT A. KUDLICKI, BONNIE LEE KUNKEL, JENNIFER LAESCH, SYLVIA LEONBERGER, PHILIP LEWIS, HOLLIE LINDGREN, JOHN B. MAYER, ROBERT J. MCCONNAUGHAY, JEANETTE MIHALEC, JAMES C. MITCHELL, JR., JACKIE TREDUP, THOMAS VAN CLEAVE, JESSE VAZQUEZ, BARBARA WOJNICKI, AND WILLIAM A. WYATT, AS COUNTY BOARD MEMBERS, DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERPLAINTIFFS- , APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court Clerk of the Circuit Court, of Kane County. Honorable Stephen Sullivan Judge, Presiding.

Opinion

JUSTICE ZENOFF delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Hutchinson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Plaintiff, Deborah Seyller, as the elected Kane County clerk of the circuit court (Clerk), appeals from an order of the circuit court of Kane County granting a preliminary injunction in favor of defendants the County of Kane, the county board, and members of the county board (collectively the County) and denying her motion for a preliminary injunction. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

The instant controversy is about whether the Clerk may use monies in "special funds"*fn1 to pay personnel costs, or whether personnel costs are to be funded by monies appropriated from the County's General Revenue Fund. The legislature provided for the creation of the special funds, to be retained by the county treasurer and generated from fees collected by the circuit clerk for automated recordkeeping (705 ILCS 105/27.3a (West 2008)) and document storage (705 ILCS 105/27.3c (West 2008)).

The dispute centers on the Clerk's request that the County appropriate monies from its General Revenue Fund, above what it approved for the Clerk's 2010 budget, in order to meet the mandated obligations of the office of the Clerk. The Clerk defines her mandated obligations as those imposed by state statutes, applicable state and federal regulations, rules of the Illinois Supreme Court, orders of the chief judge of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, and orders of other judges. Without such additional funding, the Clerk cautioned, she would be forced to close her office and the courts, as she had exhausted before the end of the fiscal year the monies appropriated to her from the County's General Revenue Fund. The County passed a resolution denying the Clerk's request. The resolution cited the Clerk's action in hiring without the County's consent additional employees whose salaries and benefits were not included in her budget.

On September 14, 2010, the Clerk filed a verified complaint for declaratory judgment and other relief against the County. In that complaint, the Clerk claimed that the County did not appropriate sufficient monies from the General Revenue Fund for her office for the fiscal year 2010 and that, if she did not receive additional monies from the General Revenue Fund, she would be unable to make her payroll for the remainder of the fiscal year and would have to close her office and the courts.

Specifically, the Clerk alleged that, although she had submitted a proposed budget of $4,782,665 for the fiscal year 2010, the County appropriated only $4,147,968. The Clerk requested (1) a declaration that the County is required to fund the reasonable and necessary expenses of the Clerk's office; (2) a writ of mandamus requiring the County to fund those expenses; (3) a declaration that the Clerk is not required to submit line-item budgets for review by the County; (4) an order stating that the Clerk's office is to remain open and staffed and directing the County to fund the requisite expenses; and (5) an injunction requiring the County to approve the funding requested in her supplemental budget request.

The Clerk subsequently filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to compel the County to add funds, beyond those appropriated to her budget from the General Revenue Fund, for the fiscal year 2010, so that her office could continue to operate as usual. Attached to that motion was an affidavit from the Clerk. In that affidavit, the Clerk explained the following. Although case filings had declined between 2006 and 2009, the chancery cases, which were "vastly more time intensive to manage," increased by 3,245 cases. In that same period, the judiciary added new judges and new courtrooms, which required at least one additional clerk to be assigned while court was in session. Between 2007 and 2010, the average number of documents processed monthly by the Clerk's office increased from 91,905 to 121,821. Furthermore, despite the increased workload, the staff had decreased over time, from 99 in 2008 to 96.5 in 2010 and 95.5 when the motion for a preliminary injunction was filed. The County's 2010 budget reduced appropriations for the Clerk's office by $116,549 from the 2009 fiscal year and $474,483 from the 2008 fiscal year.

On September 28, 2010, the County filed a verified answer and a counterclaim. As a threshold matter, the counterclaim explained how the Clerk's office was funded. The County appropriated funds for the Clerk's annual budget from the County's General Revenue Fund. The County appropriated further funds for the Clerk's office from the special funds as well as theChild Support Fund and the Court Operation and Administrative Fund (other named funds), which are funded by the litigation fees the Clerk charges. The County alleged that it determined that the Clerk's 2010 budget needs from the General Revenue fund should not exceed the 2009 level because of the decrease in court filings and the improved efficiency of running the Clerk's office, but that the Clerk's allocation from the other named funds, including the special funds, should be increased. The County alleged that the Clerk hired additional personnel and charged their compensation to the General Revenue Fund appropriations for the Clerk's 2010 budget, thus exhausting those monies without using the other named funds available to her.

The counterclaim sought to: (1) prohibit the Clerk from spending funds in excess of her budget; (2) compel the Clerk to use monies appropriated from the special funds to meet payroll for the remainder of fiscal year 2010; or (3) compel the Clerk to seek her remedy under sections 15 and 22 of the Clerks of Courts Act (705 ILCS 105/15, 22 (West 2008)), by which a majority of the judges of a court may determine and fix the number of deputy clerks necessary to perform the requisite functions and order those deputy clerks to be employed and compensated. Finally, the counterclaim alleged a constitutional-tort claim, seeking to hold the Clerk personally liable for intentionally and knowingly overspending the budget appropriated for her office.

The County also filed its own motion for a preliminary injunction. The County explained that there were monies from both the General Revenue Fund and the special funds appropriated for the Clerk's office and that her 2010 budget exceeded her actual expenditures for the previous fiscal year by more than $1 million. The County argued that the special funds had excess monies available and that those funds could lawfully be used to pay personnel costs. The County requested that the Clerk be ordered to use the specialfunds as well as the Court Operation and Administrative Fund to meet her payroll expenses for the remainder of fiscal year 2010.

On October 15, 2010, a hearing was held on the preliminary injunction.*fn2 In opening, the Clerk argued that the County had an obligation to fund the reasonable and necessary expenses of the Clerk's office. She also argued that everyone agreed that shutting down the Clerk's office mid-month due to budgetary shortfalls was not an option. The Clerk argued that the issue was whether the status quo should be maintained by the County continuing to fund her office from the General Revenue Fund or whether she should be required to expend monies from the special funds. The Clerk argued that there are restrictions on the use of the special funds and that she was already expending those funds to the maximum extent possible. She further argued that there would be no harm from the County funding her office with monies from ...


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