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Leetaru v. Board of Trustees of University of Ill.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

February 14, 2014

KALEV LEETARU, Plaintiff-Appellant,
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, a Public Corporation; and HOWARD R. GUENTHER, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in His Official Capacity Only, Defendants-Appellees

Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 13CH70. Honorable Michael Q. Jones, Judge Presiding.


Plaintiff graduate student's action seeking injunctive relief against defendant university's investigation into his alleged research misconduct was properly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, notwithstanding plaintiff's contentions that he was only seeking prospective injunctive relief, not monetary relief or enforcement of a present claim, since his complaint involved a present claim based on alleged procedural errors by defendants in connection with their investigation, the Court of Claims had jurisdiction, plaintiff sought to control defendants' authorized actions with regard to the investigation, a governmental function, and the University of Illinois Act did not provide the trial court with jurisdiction.

James A. Martinkus (argued), of Erwin, Martinkus & Cole, Ltd., of Champaign, for appellant.

William J. Brinkmann (argued) and Kenneth D. Reifsteck, both of Thomas, Mamer & Haughey, LLP, of Champaign, for appellees.

JUSTICE POPE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Knecht and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.


Page 315


[¶1] On May 6, 2013, the trial court dismissed plaintiff Kalev Leetaru's complaint

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for a preliminary and permanent injunction against defendants, the Board of Trustees (Board) of the University of Illinois (University) and Howard R. Guenther in his official capacity as the associate vice chancellor for research at the University. Plaintiff appeals, arguing the court erred in dismissing his complaint. We affirm.


[¶3] On February 22, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendants, seeking both a preliminary and a permanent injunction to halt an ongoing University investigation into plaintiff's alleged research misconduct. Realizing the jurisdiction of the trial court would be in question, plaintiff alleged the court had jurisdiction because he is only seeking prospective injunctive relief to enjoin defendants from taking further action in excess of their delegated authority. According to the allegations in the complaint, neither the State Lawsuit Immunity Act (745 ILCS 5/1 to 1.5 (West 2012)) nor the Court of Claims Act (705 ILCS 505/1 to 29 (West 2012)) applied to plaintiff's claim because he was seeking neither monetary damages nor the enforcement of a present claim.

[¶4] Plaintiff also alleged the trial court had jurisdiction pursuant to section 1 of the University of Illinois Act (110 ILCS 305/1 (West 2012)), which states:

" The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois shall be a body corporate and politic, and by that name and style shall have perpetual succession, have power to contract and be contracted with, to sue and be sued, provided that any suit against the Board based upon a claim sounding in tort must be filed in the Court of Claims, to plead and be impleaded, to acquire, hold, and convey real and personal property; to have and use a common seal, and to alter the same at pleasure; to make and establish by-laws, and to alter or repeal the same as they shall deem necessary, for the management or government, in all its various departments and relations, of the University of Illinois, for the organization and endowment of which provision is made by this act." 110 ILCS 305/1 (West 2012).

According to plaintiff, " [b]ecause the nature of Plaintiff's claim does not 'sound in tort' and is not otherwise required to be brought in the Court of Claims, this Court has jurisdiction."

[¶5] Plaintiff claims defendants, in conducting their investigation, exceeded their delegated authority, acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and abused their discretion, resulting in the denial of his due process rights. Plaintiff alleges defendants violated their own policies and procedures by (1) failing to make a timely determination to proceed with an inquiry, (2) failing to consult with him regarding any variance to the required time limit to proceed with the inquiry, (3) attempting to exclude a graduate student from the inquiry team, (4) instructing the inquiry team not to communicate with or contact plaintiff, (5) failing to allow the inquiry team to draft the inquiry report, (6) failing to sequester and preserve evidence that would permit plaintiff to defend himself against the allegations of misconduct, and (7) failing to timely notify plaintiff whether an investigation would go forward.

[¶6] Plaintiff alleged judicial action is needed because he has a " clearly ascertainable right in need of protection to have the investigation stopped and the University enjoined from continuing the process against him." According to his complaint:

" 101. In the absence of an Injunction, Leetaru will suffer irreparable harm in the loss of his ability to continue his doctoral studies, write and defend his dissertation, and be awarded a Ph.D.,

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the loss of additional research grants beyond those already lost, the loss of his reputation and stature in the community in his field to such extent that [plaintiff] could not be fully compensated by money damages."

As a result, plaintiff requested an injunction restraining defendants from proceeding with their investigation against him.

[¶7] On March 27, 2013, defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2012)). The motion noted plaintiff's claim was based on defendants' actions, which were allegedly in excess of their delegated authority resulting in " 'gross injustice and denial of due process.'" Defendants argued the Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims " because Plaintiff seeks to control a [S]tate officer's conduct in governmental matters with respect to which he has been granted discretionary authority and a judgment for Plaintiff could operate to control the actions of the State."

[¶8] On March 27, 2013, plaintiff filed a petition for a temporary restraining order. The petition for a temporary restraining order restated the allegations in his complaint for a preliminary and permanent injunction. Plaintiff alleged a temporary restraining order was needed to maintain the status quo and keep defendants from proceeding with an investigation until a court could determine the merits of the dispute.

[¶9] That same day, plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss. Plaintiff argued the trial court had jurisdiction over his claim because he was only seeking prospective injunctive relief.

[¶10] On April 29, 2013, defendants filed a reply to plaintiff's memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss. According to defendants' memorandum:

" Specifically, Plaintiff argues that allegations in the Complaint of failure to follow rules and regulations of the University by Guenther mean that he is acting outside of his official capacity. Plaintiff fails to distinguish between an employee acting in a ...

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