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Grady v. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

November 2, 2016

LAURETTA GRADY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CH 20233 Honorable Mary L. Mikva, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE COBBS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          COBBS JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff Lauretta Grady appeals from the dismissal with prejudice of her complaint seeking judicial review of an administrative decision nominally rendered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) regarding her eligibility for a Medicaid program. In her complaint, plaintiff named the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) and its director, Julie Hamos, as defendants but not DHS or that agency's head. On appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in dismissing her complaint for failure to name required parties, arguing that DHFS has the statutory authority to determine questions of Medicaid eligibility and consequently was the proper defendant. Alternatively, she contends that if she failed to name the proper parties she was entitled to amend her complaint to correct the error, pursuant to subsection 3-107(a) of the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-107(a) (West 2014)). For the reasons that follow, we find plaintiff failed to name the proper defendant in her complaint but was entitled to amend her complaint. We reverse and remand.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff participates in the Home Services Plan, a program intended to prevent unnecessary institutionalization of individuals, pursuant to the Traumatic Brain Injury Medicaid Waiver Program. As part of the plan, participants take part in regular reassessments to determine their continued eligibility and needs. Following a reassessment in June 2014, plaintiff was assigned a plan that granted her 155 hours of medical services per month.

         ¶ 4 Subsequently, plaintiff filed an administrative appeal of the plan, seeking additional hours for an assistant to aid with certain therapies prescribed by her doctor. An administrative hearing was held before an officer of DHS, and the officer recommended a new service plan with marginally increased hours. The caption atop the officer's written decision stated "STATE OF ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, " and the decision's first paragraph indicated that the officer was a hearing officer for "the Department of Human Services *** Bureau of Hearings." The officer later noted that "the Department of Human Services has jurisdiction" over the administrative appeal. The decision's final page was signed by Michelle R.B. Saddler, the secretary of DHS at the time, and indicated that Saddler was adopting the findings and recommendations of the hearing officer. The decision was sent to plaintiff with a cover letter, signed by Saddler and indicating that the "Illinois Department of Human Services reviewed" her appeal.

         ¶ 5 Alleging that the increased hours were still insufficient, plaintiff appealed the administrative decision in a complaint filed in the Cook County circuit court on December 18, 2014. The complaint did not name DHS or Saddler as defendants; instead, it named DHFS and its then-director, Hamos. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint without leave to amend, arguing that DHS was a necessary party because it had issued the decision to be reviewed. Plaintiff responded that DHFS was the agency responsible under the law for rendering the decision to be reviewed and thus was the correct party. She also argued alternatively that the court was required to grant her 35 days to serve the correct defendant and that any mistake should be excused as a "good faith" error.

         ¶ 6 Before the trial court made its ruling on the motion to dismiss, the Appellate Court, Fourth District, rendered its decision in Mannheim School District No. 83 v. Teachers' Retirement System, 2015 IL App (4th) 140531, holding that subsection 3-107(a) of the Administrative Review Law does not require leave to amend a complaint "to include the agency that rendered the final decision as a defendant when an individual member of that agency was not named." Id. ¶ 28. Defendants were granted leave to cite Mannheim as additional authority, and plaintiff responded that the case was wrongly decided. In a written order, the trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss, stating that plaintiff's failure to name DHS was fatal to her claim. The court also denied plaintiff leave to amend, explaining that although it agreed that Mannheim was wrongly decided, it was bound by the Fourth District's holding.

         ¶ 7 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff first contends that defendants were properly named in her suit because the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2014)) requires the agency "having power under the law to make administrative decisions" to be named as defendant. Citing Gillmore v. Illinois Department of Human Services, 218 Ill.2d 302 (2006), she argues that "power under the law" refers solely to power under the relevant statute and that DHFS has the statutory authority to determine Medicaid eligibility. Defendants respond that the Administrative Review Law requires that the agency that actually issued a ruling be named as defendant. They argue that it is clear from the record that DHS issued the determination in question and thus DHS should have been named as defendant.

         ¶ 9 Where the circuit court has granted a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2014)), as occurred in this case, our review is de novo. Rodriguez v. Sheriff's Merit Comm'n, 218 Ill.2d 342, 349 (2006). Plaintiff raises matters of statutory interpretation, which are similarly reviewed de novo. Skaperdas v. Country Casualty Insurance Co., 2015 IL 117021, ¶ 15.

         ¶ 10 When construing a statute, our primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent through giving the statutory language its plain and ordinary meaning. People v. Lloyd, 2013 IL 113510, ¶ 25. If the language is clear and unambiguous, a court may not deviate from that language by inferring exceptions or conditions that the General Assembly did not set forth. Wilkins v. Williams, 2013 IL 114310, ¶ 22. However, statutory interpretation "cannot always be reduced to 'the mechanical application of the dictionary definitions of the individual words and phrases involved.' " People v. Wood, 379 Ill.App.3d 705, 708-09 (2008) (quoting Whelan v. County Officers' Electoral Board, 256 Ill.App.3d 555, 558 (1994)). A court should not read language in an excessively literal fashion such that it produces an absurd construction. See id. at 709.

         ¶ 11 The Administrative Review Law governs all proceedings in which a party seeks judicial review of an administrative eligibility decision under article V of the Illinois Public Aid Code (305 ILCS 5/5-1 (West 2014)). Gilmore, 218 Ill.2d at 314; see also 305 ILCS 5/11-8.7 (West 2014). Subsection 3-107(a) of the Administrative Review Law requires that "in any action to review any final decision of an administrative agency, the administrative agency and all persons, other than the plaintiff, who were ...

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