Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 09L99 Honorable Corporation, Patrick W. Kelley, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook
JUSTICE COOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Turner and Justice Steigmann concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 In April 2009, plaintiff, Daniel L. McKinney, sued defendants, the Salvation Army and Jeff Castleman, whom McKinney calls its "director of operations," for injuries McKinney sustained while performing "work therapy" tasks related to his drug and alcohol rehabilitation in a Salvation Army program. McKinney alleged that defendants' negligence caused his injuries and that they wrongfully discharged him from the program in retaliation for his filing a workers' compensation claim. In July 2009, the trial court dismissed McKinney's retaliatory-discharge claims. In January 2011, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants on McKinney's remaining negligence claims. McKinney appeals, arguing summary judgment was inappropriate. We disagree with McKinney and affirm.
¶ 3 In March 2008, McKinney entered the adult rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army in Springfield. The Salvation Army, a religious and charitable organization, operates the adult rehabilitation program for "the social and physical rehabilitation and the spiritual regeneration" of the program's beneficiaries. Beneficiaries in the program are offered religious, educational, and therapeutic services, housing, and food for 12 months, so long as they participate actively in their rehabilitation and continue to require such services. As part of the rehabilitation program, beneficiaries are expected to participate in "work therapy" by performing assigned tasks under the supervision of Salvation Army employees.
¶ 4 As a condition of his admission into the Salvation Army rehabilitation program, McKinney was required to agree to the terms of a one-page document entitled "Beneficiary's Admittance Statement" and another one-page statement regarding work therapy. The beneficiary's admittance statement defined McKinney's relationship with the Salvation Army. In relevant part, the statement contained a clause providing, "I agree for myself, my heirs or assigns, that should any accident occur involving personal injury to myself or loss or damage to my property during my residence in this Center, to hold The Salvation Army free and harmless from any and all liability in connection therewith." It further indicated beneficiaries are not considered employees of the Salvation Army but are expected voluntarily to perform "such duties as may be assigned." The work-therapy statement provided that work therapy is essential to a beneficiary's rehabilitation and is "never to be considered employment."
¶ 5 The director of the rehabilitation program, Lance Marshall, explained the nature of the program and the terms of these agreements to McKinney. Marshall reviewed the statements with McKinney and signed them as a witness. McKinney's signature appears on both documents, dated March 11, 2008.
¶ 6 In July 2008, McKinney suffered wrist injuries when he fell from a ladder in the warehouse at the rehabilitation center while performing tasks as part of his work therapy. Later that year, McKinney filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits against the Salvation Army. An arbitrator who heard McKinney's claim found McKinney could not recover workers' compensation benefits because he was not an employee of the Salvation Army. In September 2008, after McKinney had filed his workers' compensation claim, McKinney was involuntarily discharged from the rehabilitation program.
¶ 7 In April 2009, McKinney sued the Salvation Army, Inc., Castleman, and Salvation Army Services, Inc., in a six-count complaint. McKinney claimed he was harmed by (1) each defendant's negligence and (2) his retaliatory discharge from the program after he filed for workers' compensation benefits. The claims against Salvation Army Services, Inc., were later dismissed without objection, and McKinney proceeded on his claims against the Salvation Army and Castleman.
¶ 8 In July 2009, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss McKinney's retaliatory-discharge claims. The court made no specific findings. Defendants had argued McKinney could not make out a claim of retaliatory discharge because he was at no time an employee of the Salvation Army-a fact that could not be relitigated, defendants contended, after it was conclusively found by the workers' compensation arbitrator. As employment was an essential element of retaliatory discharge, defendants argued, McKinney would be unable to prove these claims.
¶ 9 In July 2010, defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining negligence counts. They argued McKinney's claims were barred by the exculpatory clause of the beneficiary's admittance statement, whereby McKinney agreed to hold the Salvation Army free from liability for injuries sustained while he was in the rehabilitation program. In January 2011, the trial court granted defendants' motion, finding the exculpatory clause "constitutes an unambiguous waiver of liability by Plaintiff of a claim against Defendant of loss or damage during Plaintiff's residence at the Salvation Army facility."