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Supreme Catering v. the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission et al.

August 20, 2012

SUPREME CATERING, APPELLANT,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION ET AL. (RENE DIAZ, APPELLEE).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 L 50665 Honorable James C. Murray, Jr. Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Stewart

JUSTICE STEWART delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice McCullough and Justices Hoffman, Hudson, and Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The sole issue raised by the parties in this appeal is whether the claimant, Rene Diaz, was an employee of Supreme Catering (Supreme), or an independent contractor, at the time of his injury. However, this case requires that we again consider whether a decision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) remanding to the arbitrator for further proceedings on the issue of vocational rehabilitation is final and appealable or interlocutory in nature.

Accordingly, we entered an order, sua sponte, requiring the parties to address the issue of jurisdiction of the circuit court at oral argument. Since we have determined that the order of the Commission was interlocutory, we are unable to reach the merits of this appeal.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 The claimant filed an application for adjustment of claim against Supreme seeking workers' compensation benefits for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident on May 16, 2005, while he was operating a catering truck for Supreme. On February 20, 2008, the claim proceeded to an arbitration hearing under the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq.(West 2006)). All issues were presented for determination, including the nature and extent of any permanent disability suffered by the claimant. The claimant presented medical bills in the amount of $141,917.72 and claimed temporary total disability (TTD) benefits of $200 per week for 52 5/7 weeks. Supreme did not dispute the fact of the claimant's injury. Its sole defense to the payment of compensation was based upon its position that the claimant was an independent contractor rather than an employee of Supreme. Since we are unable to reach the merits of this issue, it is not necessary that we recite the evidence presented at the hearing. The arbitrator found that the claimant failed to prove that an employer-employee relationship existed and denied his claim for compensation. Since compensation was denied on that basis, the arbitrator did not reach any of the other issues.

¶ 4 The claimant sought review of the arbitrator's decision. On May 11, 2009, the Commission filed its decision and opinion on review. The Commission reversed the decision of the arbitrator and found that an employer-employee relationship did exist between Supreme and the claimant. The Commission ordered Supreme to pay the claimant TTD benefits in the amount of $200 per week for 52 5/7 weeks. The Commission further ordered Supreme to pay $141,917.72 for necessary medical expenses. Although the Commission recited that it considered "the nature and extent of the injury," it reached no decision on that issue. It noted that the claimant's treating physician had recommended a functional capacity evaluation and that Supreme's independent medical examiner "indicated the likelihood that (the claimant) would need to undergo rehabilitation" and that after such rehabilitation he "may be able to return to work." Accordingly, the Commission remanded the case to the arbitrator for a determination of the claimant's "need for vocational rehabilitation and/or maintenance," as well as any need for further treatment, and a determination of the nature and extent of his disability pursuant to Thomas v. Industrial Comm'n, 78 Ill. 2d 327, 399 N.E.2d 1322 (1980). One Commissioner dissented, agreeing with the arbitrator's decision on the issue of the employer-employee relationship.

¶ 5 Supreme appealed the Commission's decision to the circuit court. On April 19, 2010, the circuit court determined that the Commission's reversal on credibility grounds was not sufficiently explained, and remanded the case to the Commission to explain the basis for its credibility findings. On February 9, 2011, the Commission entered its decision on remand, explaining the basis for its ruling. Upon further review, on March 31, 2011, the circuit court entered an order confirming the Commission's decision. Supreme filed a timely notice of appeal.

¶ 6 ANALYSIS

¶ 7 Although the parties did not raise the issue of the circuit court's jurisdiction in this appeal, this court is required to do so sua sponte, for if the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, then its orders are void and of no effect. Rojas v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Comm'n, 406 Ill. App. 3d 965, 970, 942 N.E.2d 668, 672 (2010). The failure of a party to object to the lack of subject matter jurisdiction cannot confer jurisdiction upon the court. Taylor v. Industrial Comm'n, 221 Ill. App. 3d 701, 703, 583 N.E.2d 4, 6 (1991). Subject matter jurisdiction either exists or it does not, and it cannot be waived, stipulated to, or consented to by the parties. Jones v. Industrial Comm'n, 335 Ill. App. 3d 340, 343, 780 N.E.2d 697, 700 (2002).

¶ 8 "Only final determinations of the Commission are appealable." Bechtel Group, Inc. v. Industrial Comm'n, 305 Ill. App. 3d 769, 772, 713 N.E.2d 220, 221 (1999). A judgment is final if it determines the litigation on the merits, and it is not final if the order leaves a case pending and undecided. Honda of Lisle v. Industrial Comm'n, 269 Ill. App. 3d 412, 414, 646 N.E.2d 318, 320 (1995). In determining whether a decision of the Commission is final, the question to be decided is whether administrative involvement in the case has been terminated or the Commission has ordered further administrative proceedings. International Paper Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 99 Ill. 2d 458, 465-66, 459 N.E.2d 1353, 1357 (1984)

¶ 9 In the instant case, the Commission reversed the arbitrator's award, determined an award of TTD benefits and medical expenses, and remanded to the arbitrator for a determination of the claimant's need for vocational rehabilitation, his need for maintenance, and his need for further treatment, as well as the nature and extent of his permanent disability, purportedly pursuant to Thomas v. Industrial Comm'n, 78 Ill. 2d 327, 399 N.E.2d 1322 (1980). The Commission decision also provided that the remand would take place "only after the latter of expiration of the time for filing a written request for Summons to the Circuit Court has expired without the filing of such a written request, or after the time of completion of any judicial proceedings, if such a written request has been filed." Since the Commission did not determine the nature and extent of the claimant's disability, it implicitly decided that the claimant's condition had not yet reached permanency. The Commission awarded only temporary benefits, and remanded for further proceedings, including a determination of whether the claimant was entitled to vocational rehabilitation.

ΒΆ 10 In Thomas, the supreme court held that the arbitrator need not rule prematurely on the issue of permanency, but may determine the claimant's temporary disability, and the fact that permanent disability will be determined later, upon remand, does not divest the Commission or the courts of jurisdiction to consider the temporary award, since that has been finally determined. Bechtel Group, Inc., ...


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