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Frederick V. Allen and William v. Peoria Park District

April 24, 2012

FREDERICK V. ALLEN AND WILLIAM
T. FRANKLIN,
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
PEORIA PARK DISTRICT, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT GREGORY R. JAMES, JR.,
CONTEMNOR-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois Circuit No. 10-L-80 Honorable Joe R. Vespa and Honorable David J. Dubicki, Judges, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Schmidt

PRESIDING JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Lytton specially concurred, with opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiffs-appellees, Frederick B. Allen and William T. Franklin, were seasonal employees of defendant-appellant Peoria Park District. They filed suit against defendant, alleging breach of contract and personal injury in connection with the termination of their employment. The trial court granted plaintiffs' combined motions under sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 2010)), dismissing all counts with leave to amend within 90 days. Plaintiffs alleged that their terminations may have somehow been illegal, but they had no facts to support this suspicion. They could not file an amended complaint without discovery first. Over defendant's objection, the trial court ordered that discovery could proceed. Plaintiffs failed to file an amended complaint but did seek discovery from defendant. Defendant sought a protective order, arguing that it was improper to allow discovery while no complaint was before the court. The trial court denied the protective order and at lead counsel, appellant-contemnor, Gregory R. James Jr.'s request, held him in civil contempt so that he could immediately appeal the discovery issue. Defendant and contemnor appeal the trial court's order allowing discovery and the finding of contempt.

¶ 2 FACTS

¶ 3 Plaintiffs, seasonal employees, filed suit against the Peoria Park District. They made two claims: breach of contract and personal injury. Plaintiffs' complaint included the following allegations. In December of 2008, as had happened in previous years, plaintiffs received a seasonal layoff. Defendant indicated to them that they would be rehired. Early in April of 2009, plaintiffs contacted defendant about when they would begin work again. Defendant told them that they were terminated. Defendant told Allen that he was terminated for improper use of park district equipment, which occurred on June 10, 2008. Franklin was told that his termination was due to budget constraints and the incident which occurred on June 10, 2008. On April 21, 2009, defendant informed the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund that plaintiffs had resigned.

¶ 4 Plaintiffs alleged that the incident from June 10 was resolved on June 11, without termination. They further claim that between the date of their layoff and April of 2009, they could not have violated any of defendant's policies contained in the employee manual, as they were not working for defendant during that time. Therefore, they claim that their termination by defendant was contrary to defendant's policies as outlined in the employee manual. Plaintiffs' complaint also stated that their termination may have been illegal for other unknown reasons, but admitted that they did not have proof of any such illegality. They hoped to obtain proof during discovery.

¶ 5 Defendant filed a motion to dismiss both counts. Defendant argued that the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to section 2-615 as the employee manual stated they were at-will employees with no contractual right to employment; therefore, they failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The employee manual states in relevant part:

"You are employed with the Peoria Park District on an at-will basis, and nothing contained in this policy manual is intended to provide or guarantee you with employment for any specific period of time. As an at-will employee of the Park District you are free to terminate your employment at any time, with or without cause or notice, and the Park District retains the same right. None of the policies or procedures contained in this policy manual are intended by reason of their publication to confer any right or privileges upon you, or to entitle you to remain employed by the District.

This at-will employment relationship can only be modified by a written contract signed by the employee and approved by the Board of Trustees.

THIS PERSONNEL POLICY MANUAL IS NOT AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT. NOTHING CONTAINED IN THIS MANUAL OR ANY WRITTEN OR ORAL STATEMENT CONTRADICTING, MODIFYING, INTERPRETING, EXPLAINING OR CLARIFYING ANY PROVISION OF THE MANUAL IS INTENDED TO CREATE OR SHALL CREATE ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATIONS THAT ARE BINDING UPON EITHER THE PARK DISTRICT OR YOU. *** THIS AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP CAN ONLY BE MODIFIED BY A WRITTEN CONTRACT ***."

¶ 6 Defendant also argued that the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to section 2-619 as the claims were barred by the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/1-1010 to 10-101 (West 2010)); the complaint was filed more than one year after plaintiffs were terminated. The trial court granted defendant's motion on July 13, 2010. The trial court's order dismissed both counts, granted plaintiffs 90 days to file an amended complaint, and stated the parties were allowed to proceed with discovery. The order did not state the grounds upon which the court granted the motion.

ΒΆ 7 Plaintiffs have never filed an amended complaint. On August 23, plaintiffs served interrogatories and a request to produce on defendant. On August 27, defendant filed a motion for a protective order, arguing that plaintiffs had no right to discovery since no complaint was on file with the court. The trial court denied the protective order. Defendant's lead counsel then requested the trial court hold him in contempt so that he could appeal ...


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