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Mark Gruszeczka v. the Illinois Workers

February 14, 2012

MARK GRUSZECZKA,
APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION ET AL.
ALLIANCE CONTRACTORS, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County No. 09-MR-245 Honorable Thomas A. Meyer, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice McCullough and Justice Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Stewart dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Holdridge.

Justice Holdridge dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The claimant, Mark Gruszeczka, appeals from an order of the circuit court of McHenry County which affirmed a decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission), denying him benefits pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2002)) for injuries that he allegedly sustained on July 21, 2004, while working for Alliance Contractors (Alliance). Alliance filed a cross-appeal from the circuit court's denial of its motion to dismiss the claimant's action for judicial review of the Commission's decision for want of jurisdiction. For the reasons which follow, we vacate the judgment of the circuit court as having been entered in the absence of subject-matter jurisdiction and dismiss the claimant's appeal.

¶ 2 The facts necessary to our resolution of this case are not in dispute. The claimant filed an application for adjustment of claim with the Commission, seeking benefits under the Act for injuries that he allegedly sustained on July 21, 2004, while working for Alliance. Following a hearing, an arbitrator issued a decision denying the claimant benefits. The arbitrator found that the claimant did not sustain injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment with Alliance. The arbitrator also found that, assuming the claimant fell while working on July 21, 2004, he failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his condition of ill-being was causally related to his claimed work accident.

¶ 3 The claimant sought review of the arbitrator's decision before the Commission. In a unanimous decision, the Commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator's decision. A copy of the Commission's decision was received in the office of the claimant's attorney on April 20, 2009.

¶ 4 The claimant sought judicial review of the Commission's decision. The claimant's request for the issuance of summons and his attorney's affidavit of payment of the probable cost of the record were file stamped by the clerk of the circuit court of De Kalb County on May 14, 2009, a date 24 days after the claimant's attorney received the Commission's decision. In his brief, the claimant concedes that "there is no evidence of when the Circuit Court Clerk received the documents."

¶ 5 Alliance filed a motion in the circuit court of De Kalb County arguing both that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the claimant's action for judicial review because it was filed more that 20 days after the Commission's decision was received by the claimant's attorney and that venue was improper in the circuit court of De Kalb County as Alliance is located in McHenry County. The claimant responded to the motion, arguing that he fulfilled the jurisdictional requirement for the filing of an action for judicial review of a decision of the Commission by mailing all of the necessary documents to the clerk of the court within 20 days of his attorney's receipt of the decision. Attached to the claimant's response were the affidavits of his attorney and of Coreen Berg, a clerk in the attorney's office. In her affidavit, Berg states that on May 4, 2009, she mailed to the clerk of the circuit court the claimant's request for the issuance of summons, summons to the defendants, a certificate of mailing, the attorney's affidavit of payment of the probable cost of the record, and checks for both filing fees and for the certified mailing of the summons. As to the issue of venue, the claimant argued that the circuit court of De Kalb County was an appropriate venue because he was injured while working in De Kalb County.

¶ 6 An order was entered in the circuit court of De Kalb County, denying Alliance's motion to dismiss the claimant's action for want of jurisdiction and granting its motion to transfer venue of the cause to the circuit court of McHenry County. Following the transfer of the matter to the circuit court of McHenry County, Alliance filed a motion to reconsider the denial of its motion to dismiss. The circuit court denied the motion to reconsider.

¶ 7 On the merits of the claimant's action for judicial review, the circuit court of McHenry County confirmed the Commission's decision denying the claimant benefits under the Act. Thereafter, the claimant appealed and Alliance cross-appealed.

¶ 8 We address first Alliance's cross-appeal from the denial of its motion to dismiss the claimant's action for judicial review of the Commission's decision. Alliance argues, as it did before the circuit court, that the requisite subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain the claimant's action for judicial review was lacking because the action was not filed with the clerk of the circuit court within 20 days of receipt of the Commission's decision by the claimant's attorney. The claimant asserts that proof of the mailing of all of the necessary documents to the clerk of the court within the 20-day period is sufficient to vest the circuit court with subject-matter jurisdiction.

¶ 9 The jurisdiction exercised by the circuit court under the Act is a special statutory jurisdiction, and the circuit court can obtain jurisdiction over such a proceeding only in the manner provided by the statute. Peter H. Clark Lodge No. 483 v. Industrial Comm'n, 48 Ill. 2d 64, 68, 268 N.E.2d 382 (1971). Section 19(f)(1) of the Act provides that a proceeding for judicial review of a Commission decision "shall be commenced within 20 days of the receipt of notice of the decision." 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(1) (West 2008). Our supreme court has consistently held that the timely filing of a request for the issuance of a summons and the timely exhibition of proof of payment for the probable cost of the record are jurisdictional requirements which must be strictly ...


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