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Lori Flood v. Washington Square Restaurant

December 21, 2012

LORI FLOOD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WASHINGTON SQUARE RESTAURANT, INC., BILL LIAPIS, MARILYN HACKETT, AND JOSE MONTOYA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

For the reasons explained below, the motion of defendant Washington Square Restaurant, Inc., to dismiss Count V of the complaint (Dkt. No. 15) is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Lori Flood, a former waitress and hostess at Washington Square Restaurant, Inc. ("the Restaurant") filed this suit against the Restaurant, Bill Liapis (the owner and manager of the Restaurant), Marilyn Hackett (a supervisor at the Restaurant), and Jose Montoya (a cook at the Restaurant). Flood's five-count complaint alleges that each of the defendants are liable for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (Count I); that the Restaurant, Liapis, and Hackett are liable for retaliation under Title VII (Count II); that Montoya is liable for battery (Count III); that each of the defendants is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IV); and that Montoya and the Restaurant are liable under the Illinois Gender Violence Act, 740 ILCS 82 (Count V). (Dkt. No. 2 ("Compl.").) The Restaurant, Liapis, and Hackett moved to dismiss Counts I, II, IV, and V of the Complaint as to each of them.

(Dkt. No. 15.)

The court granted the motion with respect to Counts I and II, dismissing them with prejudice as to Liapis and Hackett, and without prejudice as to the Restaurant. The court denied the motion with respect to Count IV, which remained pending against all defendants. The court then took the motion under advisement with respect to Count V, which turned on the question of whether the Illinois Gender Violence Act ("IGVA") applied to corporations. The court ordered additional briefing on that question, and both sides have now submitted supplemental briefs. (Dkt. Nos. 28, 30.)

ANALYSIS

The IGVA provides that

Any person who has been subjected to gender-related violence as defined in Section 5 may bring a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, or other appropriate relief against a person or persons perpetrating that gender-related violence. For purposes of this Section, "perpetrating" means either personally committing the gender-related violence or personally encouraging or assisting the act or acts of gender-related violence. 740 ILCS 82/10. An act of gender-related violence is "[o]ne or more acts of violence or physical aggression satisfying the elements of battery under the laws of Illinois that are committed, at least in part, on the basis of a person's sex, whether or not those acts have resulted in criminal charges, prosecution, or conviction." 740 ILCS 82/5(1).

Flood alleges that the Restaurant threatened Flood to coerce her to drop criminal charges against Montoya after he forcefully twisted her breasts while they were both working a shift at the Restaurant.*fn1 Those allegations sufficiently show that the Restaurant assisted Montoya's gender-related violence, and thus constitute a violation of the IGVA if the Restaurant, a corporation, is a "person" under the IGVA.

Illinois law provides a framework for deciding that question. The Illinois Statute on Statutes provides rules of statutory construction that "shall be observed, unless such construction would be inconsistent with the manifest intent of the General Assembly or repugnant to the context of the statute." 5 ILCS 70/1. One of those rules provides that "'[p]erson' or 'persons' as well as all words referring to or importing persons, may extend and be applied to bodies politic and corporate as well as individuals." 5 ILCS 70/1.05. The rule is permissive and does not apply in every situation, as it states only that the term "person" "may" apply to corporate bodies. Nonetheless, the general instruction that the rules of the Statute on Statutes "shall be observed" except in certain specified circumstances creates what amounts to a presumption that the term "person" includes corporations. As one court put it, the Statute on Statutes establishes that "[w]hen the word 'person' is used in a statute, it is construed as applying to corporations and bodies politic as well unless the context, language, or legislative history indicates otherwise." McCaleb v. Pizza Hut of Am., Inc., 28 F. Supp. 2d 1043, 1049 (N.D. Ill. 1998).

The Restaurant attempts to make the showing that "person" does not apply to corporations first by attaching legislative history to its motion, including the transcripts of the floor debates in the Illinois General Assembly. (Dkt. No. 28, Exs. W, X, Y.) After summarizing the debates, the Restaurant argues that "person" cannot apply to corporations because "[t]he legislative debates do not indicate any intention of applying the IGVA to corporations." (Dkt. No. 28, at 4.) That argument gets the presumption precisely backward, as the Statute on Statutes does not require an affirmative showing that "person" includes corporations. The court agrees that the available legislative history does not speak to the question. The debates (to the extent one can call them that, given that the bill passed unanimously in both chambers of the General Assembly) reveal only a general intention to, as Representative Cross put it on the floor of the House, provide "civil relief to people that have been harmed as a result of their particular gender." (Dkt. No. 28, Ex. W, at 50.) The debates remain at that level of generality throughout, and fail to indicate whether the legislature contemplated a civil remedy against corporations, a remedy that would no doubt bolster the bill's purpose, but is not absolutely necessary to its advancement. The legislative history is silent, and thus does not remove the presumption that the term "person" applies to corporations.

The Restaurant next points out that the IGVA uses the term "person" in a way that cannot extend to corporations when it grants a right of action to "[a]ny person who has been subjected to gender-related violence." 740 ILCS 82/10. A corporation cannot be subjected to gender-related violence, it reasons, so the term "person" must exclude corporations in that context. The Restaurant then argues that the term "person" must have a consistent meaning throughout the statute, and concludes that "person" must exclude corporations everywhere the IGVA uses the term.

That argument fails as well, because Illinois courts applying the Statute on Statutes have not defined "person" identically in every context in a statute, but have instead given it different meanings in different contexts. For example, in Paxson v. Board of Education of School District Number 87, 658 N.E.2d 1309 (Ill App. Ct. 1995), the court evaluated § 3(a) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act providing that "any person . . . may bring a civil action in the circuit court for the judicial circuit in which" an alleged violation of the Act occurred. Id. at 1312 (quoting 5 ILCS 120/3(a) (1995)). Another section of the Open Meetings Act stated that public bodies could hold closed meetings to consider "[t]he selection of a person to fill a public office." 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(3) (1995). In that context, a "person" plainly could not be a corporation. Nonetheless, the court concluded that the term "person" in § 3(a) included a corporation, establishing that the term "person" can have a different meaning in different parts of a statute. See Paxson, 658 N.E.2d at 1313; see also Town of City of Champaign v. Overmeyer's, Inc., 152 N.E.2d 752, 754 (Ill. App. Ct. 1958) (holding that the Dram Shop Act's right of action against "any person" serving liquor under certain circumstances applied to a township, ...


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