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Lavite v. Dunstan

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

August 5, 2016

BRADLEY A. LAVITE, Superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Madison County, Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ALAN J. DUNSTAN, Chairman of the Madison County Board; JOSEPH D. PARENTE, County Administrator of Madison County, Illinois; THE MADISON COUNTY BOARD; and JOHN D. LAKIN, Sheriff of Madison County, Illinois, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County, No. 15-MR-145; the Hon. Stephen A. Stobbs, Judge, presiding.

          Thomas W. Burkart and Karen D. Burkart, both of Burkart Law Offices, of Hamel, for appellant.

          John L. Gilbert and Timothy C. Sansone, both of Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, P.C., of St. Louis, Missouri, for appellees Alan J. Dunstan, Madison County Board, and Joseph D. Parente.

          Heidi L. Eckert, of Lowenbaum Law, of Clayton, Missouri, for appellee John D. Lakin.

          Panel JUSTICE CATES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Chapman and Stewart concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          CATES, JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 This appeal is brought by Bradley A. Lavite, in his capacity as superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Madison County, Illinois, from an order dismissing his three-count complaint with prejudice. Lavite filed an action against the named defendants for a writ of mandamus, claiming, in count I, that the defendants had no authority to keep him from entering his office located in the Madison County Administration building. In count II, Lavite requested that the Madison County Board issue checks for his salary as superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Madison County, Illinois. Count III sought payment of the attorney fee invoices submitted for Lavite's legal representation.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 This litigation arises under various provisions of the Military Veterans Assistance Act (Act) (330 ILCS 45/0.01 et seq. (West 2014)). The purpose of this Act is to provide monetary assistance to honorably discharged military veterans, their families, and the families of deceased veterans. 330 ILCS 45/2 (West 2014). The Act requires, whenever practicable, that all efforts be made to allow military veterans with families and the families of deceased veterans to be provided for and assisted at their homes. 330 ILCS 45/6 (West 2014). In the event that the veteran does not have a home or family, the Act allows for alternative assistance in order to aid the veteran in need.

         ¶ 4 In order to administer the assistance as mandated, the Act authorizes the organization of a central assistance committee in counties where there are more than two posts, camps, chapters, or detachments of military veterans. This committee is known as the Veterans Assistance Commission (VAC) for the county involved. 330 ILCS 45/2 (West 2014). It is undisputed that Madison County has two or more posts, camps, chapters, or detachments of military organizations chartered by the Congress of the United States. Thus, in accordance with the Act, a VAC had been formed for Madison County, formally referred to as the Veterans Assistance Commission of Madison County, Illinois (Madison VAC). The Madison VAC is composed of one delegate and one alternate from each of the posts, camps, units, and chapters located in Madison County (County).

         ¶ 5 The Act also designates an individual, referred to as the superintendent, to act on behalf of the VAC. Pursuant to section 10 of the Act, "[t]he executive powers of the commission shall be vested in a superintendent elected by the commission from among those who served in the armed forces of the United States." 330 ILCS 45/10 (West 2014). The VAC's superintendent and employees are not considered employees of the county, and they are exempt from the provisions of civil service acts and laws of the state. 330 ILCS 45/10 (West 2014).

         ¶ 6 Under the circumstances herein, the Madison County Board (Board) is the unit of government responsible for providing such sums of money as may be "just and necessary" to carry out the mandate of the Act. 330 ILCS 45/2 (West 2014). The process is fairly simple. The Madison VAC submits a proposed budget setting forth the amount of money it deems "just and necessary, " and the Board makes the final decision as to the funds to be expended. Makowicz v. County of Macon, 78 Ill.2d 308, 399 N.E.2d 1302 (1980). Where the county board fails to appropriate the "just and necessary" amounts required for the veteran benefits, the Act allows the superintendent to seek a writ of mandamus against the county board for the appropriation of the necessary funding. 330 ILCS 45/2 (West 2014). Once appropriated, the decision regarding how the monies are spent to implement the support for eligible veterans is made based upon the recommendations of an assistance committee within the VAC, and the superintendent draws such funds. 330 ILCS 45/2 (West 2014).

         ¶ 7 The Act further provides that in addition to those sums appropriated for the aid to veterans, the VAC shall recommend to the county board the necessary amounts of additional monies needed to properly compensate the VAC officers and employees required to administer the assistance. 330 ILCS 45/10 (West 2014). Here, there is no dispute that the Madison VAC submitted a proposed budget to the Board and that the Board had approved monies to fund both the assistance for veterans and the employee compensation. Specifically, by ordinance No. 2014-07, the Board approved and allocated the sum of $505, 035 to the Madison VAC for the fiscal year 2015. This appropriation incorporated monies for services and supplies, as well as for funding for the employee payroll, which included Lavite's salary as superintendent.

         ¶ 8 The Act also requires that the Board provide the Madison VAC with an office and all necessary sup

"The superintendent, designated Superintendent of Veterans Assistance of the county, shall, under the direction of the commission, have charge of and maintain an office in the county building or other central location, to be used solely by the commission for carrying on its assistance work. The county shall provide the office and furnish all necessary supplies, including telephone, printing, stationery and postage therefor." 330 ILCS 45/10 (West 2014).

         There is no dispute that as of March 12, 2015, the plaintiff, Bradley A. Lavite, had been serving as the duly elected superintendent of the Madison VAC. It is also undisputed that as of that date, the Board had designated an office for the Madison VAC in the Madison County Administration building.

         ¶ 9 On June 12, 2015, Lavite filed a verified, three-count complaint in mandamus. He filed the cause of action in his capacity as the superintendent of the Madison VAC. He did not include the Madison VAC as a named plaintiff or a nominal party to the proceeding. Lavite named as defendants Alan J. Dunstan, chairman of the Madison County Board; Joseph D. Parente, county administrator of Madison County; the Madison County Board; and John D. Lakin, sheriff of Madison County.

         ¶ 10 In count I of his complaint, Lavite sought a writ ordering the defendants to allow him access to the Madison VAC office located in the administration building. In particular, Lavite alleged that on March 12, 2015, he experienced a medical emergency requiring his hospitalization at the St. Louis Veteran's Administration Hospital in Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. He was admitted under the medical care of Dr. Jane Loitman, a psychiatrist with whom he had been treating for some period of time. Several days later, on March 18, 2015, Dr. Loitman issued a letter indicating that Lavite could return to work on March 23, 2015, without restrictions. A copy of Dr. Loitman's letter was attached to the plaintiff's complaint as exhibit B.

         ¶ 11 On March 20, 2015, defendant Joseph D. Parente, in his official capacity as the county administrator for Madison County, issued a letter directed to Bradley A. Lavite at his home address. That letter indicated, "Per our telephone conversation this morning, please be advised that until further notice, you are not permitted to enter the Madison County Administration Building." A copy of the Parente letter was attached to Lavite's complaint as exhibit A. No details were provided regarding the content of the telephone conversation referred to in the letter, and no reasons were given for the decision to deny Lavite access to the administration building. Nevertheless, denying Lavite entry to the building meant that Lavite could not access the Madison ...

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