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Jeffrey Block v. Office of the Illinois Secretary

April 12, 2013

JEFFREY BLOCK,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
OFFICE OF THE ILLINOIS SECRETARY OF STATE AND MICHAEL PIPPIN,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. No. 11-L-47 Honorable David K. Overstreet, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

NOTICE

Decision filed 04/12/13. The text of this decision may be changed or corrected prior to the filing of a Petition for Rehearing or the disposition of the same.

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

Presiding Justice Spomer and Justice Goldenhersh concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Jeffrey Block appeals from the dismissal with prejudice, by the circuit court of Jefferson County, of count I of his complaint against the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State (the Secretary of State) alleging a violation of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (the Ethics Act) (5 ILCS 430/1-1 to 99-99 (West 2006)). The circuit court held that the suit was barred by sovereign immunity, that it lacked jurisdiction to hear it, and that exclusive jurisdiction lay in the Court of Claims. For reasons which follow, we reverse and remand this cause for further proceedings. We will set forth only those facts pertinent to our disposition on appeal.

¶ 2 Count I of the plaintiff's complaint, filed August 13, 2010, alleges that between 1988 and July 16, 2007, the plaintiff had been an employee of the Secretary of State's police force. In September 2006, the plaintiff reported to his superiors on what he believed to be the unethical or unlawful acts of his supervising officer. Shortly thereafter, in November 2006, the plaintiff was informed by his superior that he was under investigation for various violations of department policies. This investigation continued, and in July 2007, the plaintiff was discharged from his employment. The plaintiff brought this suit, alleging that the Secretary of State had violated the "whistle-blower protection" provisions of the Ethics Act by terminating his employment in retaliation for his reporting the unethical or unlawful acts of another employee.

¶ 3 Section 15-10 of the Ethics Act provides that no officer, member, State employee, or State agency shall take any retaliatory action against a State employee because that employee discloses, or threatens to disclose, any activity by an officer, member, State agency, or other State employee that the State employee reasonably believes is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation. 5 ILCS 430/15-10 (West 2006).

¶ 4 The Ethics Act provides for remedies for its violation. 5 ILCS 430/15-25 (West 2006). At the time of the plaintiff's discharge in 2007, section 15-25 of the Ethics Act provided as follows:

"The State employee may be awarded all remedies necessary to make the State employee whole and to prevent future violations of this Article. Remedies imposed by the court may include, but are not limited to, all of the following:

(1) reinstatement of the employee to either the same position held before the retaliatory action or to an equivalent position;

(2) 2 times the amount of ...


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