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Bartonville v. Lopez

Supreme Court of Illinois

January 20, 2017

THE VILLAGE OF BARTONVILLE, Appellant,
v.
SALVADOR LOPEZ et al., Appellees.

          JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          Justice Kilbride took no part in the decision.

          OPINION

          THOMAS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 At issue in this case is whether defendants, Salvador Lopez and Policemen's Benevolent Labor Committee, Inc., are precluded from seeking grievance arbitration of Lopez's termination from his employment with plaintiff Village of Bartonville's police department. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff on its complaint for declaratory judgment and to stay arbitration. The appellate court, with one justice specially concurring and one justice dissenting, reversed the trial court and remanded the case to the trial court with directions to order the parties to proceed to arbitration. 2016 IL App (3d) 150341. This court allowed plaintiff's subsequent petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Mar. 15, 2016).

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 This case has a complicated history, so we will set forth the facts in some detail. Defendant Salvador Lopez was a law enforcement officer employed by the plaintiff's police department from February 2012 until October 3, 2014. Defendant Policemen's Benevolent Labor Committee, Inc. (the Union), is the exclusive representative and bargaining agent for all of plaintiff's police officers. At all relevant times, a labor contract was in effect between plaintiff and defendants.

         ¶ 4 Article V of the labor contract addressed the grievance procedure. Section 5.1 of the labor contract defined "grievance" as "a dispute or difference of opinion raised by an Officer covered by this Agreement or by the Union involving the meaning, interpretation or application of provisions of this Agreement." Section 5.2 sets forth a three-step grievance procedure. Section 5.3 provides that the Union may refer the grievance to arbitration if it is not settled within the three-step procedure. Section 5.6 states that the grievance procedure set forth in section 5 "shall be the sole and exclusive procedure for resolving any grievance or dispute which was or could have been raised by an Officer covered by this Agreement or the Union."

         ¶ 5 Article VI of the labor contract addressed discipline. Section 6.1 of article VI provided that "[d]iscipline shall be progressive and corrective and shall be designed to improve behavior and not merely punish it. No employee covered by this Agreement shall be suspended, relieved from duty or disciplined in any manner without just cause." Section 6.2 of article VI stated that "[d]isciplinary actions with just cause shall be limited to verbal reprimand, written reprimand, suspension and, in extreme cases, termination."

         ¶ 6 In August 2014, plaintiff's police chief, Brian Fengel, signed a complaint for termination against Lopez. That complaint was filed with plaintiff's board of fire and police commissioners (the Board). The complaint alleged that Lopez violated certain police department procedures and field training directives during and immediately after a July 7, 2014, traffic stop.

         ¶ 7 With regard to termination, section 10-2.1-17 of the Illinois Municipal Code (Municipal Code) provides:

"Except as hereinafter provided, no officer or member of the fire or police department of any municipality subject to this Division 2.1 shall be removed or discharged except for cause, upon written charges, and after an opportunity to be heard in his own defense. The hearing shall be as hereinafter provided, unless the employer and the labor organization representing the person have negotiated an alternative or supplemental form of due process based upon impartial arbitration as a term of a collective bargaining agreement. Such bargaining shall be mandatory unless the parties mutually agree otherwise. Any such alternative agreement shall be permissive.
*** The board of fire and police commissioners shall conduct a fair and impartial hearing of the charges, to be commenced within 30 days of the filing thereof, which hearing may be continued from time to time. *** In the conduct of this hearing, each member of the board shall have power to administer oaths and affirmations, and the board shall have power to secure by its subpoena both the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of books and papers relevant to the hearing." 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-17 (West 2014).

         ¶ 8 Counsel for defendant Union represented defendant Lopez throughout the proceedings. On August 28, 2014, counsel for the Board spoke with defendants' counsel by telephone and proposed that a hearing on the termination complaint take place between September 2 and 5, 2014. Defendants' counsel responded that those dates would not work, as he would not have enough time to prepare. On September 2, 2014, the Board's counsel sent an e-mail to defendants' counsel stating that the next available hearing date was September 25, 2014. Defendants' counsel responded that same day, suggesting that the hearing be set for October 3 or 10, 2014. On September 3, 2014, counsel for the Board confirmed that the hearing would be set for October 3, 2014.

         ¶ 9 On September 29, 2014, prior to the agreed upon October 3 hearing, Lopez filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in Peoria County circuit court arguing that the Board was divested of jurisdiction over the termination complaint because the Board had failed to commence a termination hearing within the mandatory 30-day time limit for a hearing under section 10-2.1-17 of the Municipal Code. The Board responded that it did not lose jurisdiction because it was at Lopez's request that the hearing was set more than 30 days after the filing of the charges against Lopez.

         ¶ 10 Both parties filed motions for summary judgment in Lopez's declaratory judgment action in January 2015. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Board and denied Lopez's motion for summary judgment. The trial court also denied Lopez's postjudgment motion to vacate the judgment, finding that the delay in the commencement of the hearing was attributable to Lopez. The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, affirmed the trial court. 2016 IL App (3d) 150520. Lopez has not petitioned this court for leave to appeal that decision.

         ¶ 11 Although Lopez had filed a complaint for declaratory judgment contesting the Board's jurisdiction to conduct the termination hearing, the hearing nonetheless proceeded on October 3, 2014. At the outset of the hearing, defendants' attorney noted he had filed a complaint with the circuit court contesting the Board's jurisdiction to conduct the hearing because more than 30 days had passed since the charge against Lopez had been issued. Defense counsel stated that if the Board determined that it had jurisdiction despite the passing of the 30-day time limit, defendants would participate without waiving the issue of jurisdiction. Counsel also stated that the Union's presence did not waive its contractual right to grieve a suspension or termination, if ordered by the Board.

         ¶ 12 At the hearing, five witnesses testified, as well as Lopez. Defense counsel participated in the hearing. Defense counsel cross-examined the witnesses and made a closing argument. Defendants' counsel again reiterated in his closing argument that the presence of the Union and of Lopez did not waive defendants' argument that the Board lost jurisdiction by failing to commence a hearing within 30 days and did not waive defendants' right to grievance arbitration under the contract if discipline was issued.

         ¶ 13 At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board issued an order of discharge. The Board found that it had jurisdiction of the subject matter of the charges and of Lopez. The Board then found that cause existed for Lopez's termination from his position as a police officer and as a member of the plaintiff's police department. The Board therefore ordered that Lopez be discharged and removed from his position as a police officer and as a member of plaintiff's police department as of October 3, 2014.

         ¶ 14 Section 10-2.1-17 of the Municipal Code provides for review of Board decisions. The statute provides that:

"The provisions of the Administrative Review Law [735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2014)] and all amendments and modifications thereof, and the rules adopted pursuant thereto, shall apply to and govern all proceedings for the judicial review of final administrative decisions of the board of fire and police commissioners hereunder. The term 'administrative decision' is defined as in Section 3-101 of the Code of Civil Procedure." 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-17 (West 2014).
Defendants never sought judicial review of the Board's final decision pursuant to the Administrative Review Law.

         ¶ 15 However, on October 10, 2014, defendants filed a grievance with plaintiff's police department. The grievance asserted that Lopez was terminated without just cause in violation of article VI, section 6.1, of the parties' labor contract. The grievance stated that pursuant to article VI, section 6.2, of the labor contract, plaintiff was required to reserve termination solely for "extreme cases" and Lopez's case was not an extreme case. The termination also violated the labor contract because the termination was not progressive or corrective as required by article VI, section 6.1. Finally, the grievance alleged that in conducting a hearing before the Board, plaintiff violated article V, section 5.6, which states that the contractual grievance procedure "shall be the sole and exclusive procedure for resolving any grievance or dispute which was or could have been raised by an Officer covered by this Agreement or the Union." When the grievance was not resolved by the three-step grievance process identified in the parties' labor contract, defendants referred the grievance to grievance arbitration on October 28, 2014.

         ¶ 16 Plaintiff then filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and for stay of arbitration on November 21, 2014, alleging that Lopez's termination and subsequent grievance were not arbitrable matters. Plaintiff noted that defendants' September 29, 2014, complaint for declaratory judgment sought an injunction solely on the grounds that the 30-day time period for conducting the termination period had run, in violation of section 10-2.1-17 of the Municipal Code. Plaintiff argued that in relying on section 10-2.1-17, which granted the Board the authority to hear disciplinary proceedings, defendants essentially admitted that the Board initially had jurisdiction to conduct the termination procedure but lost that jurisdiction when it did not conduct the hearing within 30 days. Because the Board had jurisdiction and issued a final decision on the merits, any review of the Board's decision was subject to the Administrative Review Law, which was the exclusive means to review the Board's decision to terminate Lopez. Plaintiff contended that by attempting to grieve and arbitrate Lopez's termination, defendants were improperly seeking review of the Board's final decision in violation of the Municipal Code and the Administrative Review Law.

         ¶ 17 Plaintiff also argued that the grievance and arbitration provisions in the labor contract did not apply to termination or discharge proceedings because the parties did not negotiate an alternative form of due process based upon impartial arbitration in their labor contract. Plaintiff sought an order declaring that Lopez's grievance was not arbitrable and staying any arbitration proceedings requested by defendants.

         ¶ 18 Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on January 14, 2015, noting that defendants had failed to file a timely answer or appearance in response to its complaint for declaratory judgment. Plaintiff also sought summary judgment on the basis that defendants had failed to review the Board's decision under Administrative Review Law and on the basis of res judicata.

         ¶ 19 On February 25, 2015, defendants were given leave to file their answer and affirmative defenses to plaintiff's complaint for declaratory judgment, as well as a counterclaim setting forth a motion to compel arbitration of their grievance. On March 11, 2015, plaintiff filed a second motion for summary judgment and a motion to dismiss defendants' counterclaim.

         ¶ 20 The motions proceeded to a hearing on April 1, 2015. The parties agreed to focus their argument on plaintiff's January 14, 2015, motion for summary judgment, as a ruling in favor of plaintiff on that motion would render the remaining motions moot. Plaintiff argued that it was entitled to a declaratory judgment and a permanent stay of arbitration based on the fact that a full hearing had been held before the Board. Because defendants did not seek administrative review of the Board's decision terminating Lopez, that decision became final, and the doctrine of res judicata barred defendants from proceeding with further arbitration of the matter.

         ¶ 21 Defendants responded that under the parties' labor contract, as well as Illinois statute, the issuance of discipline by plaintiff is subject to the arbitration procedure set forth in the labor contract. Defendants relied on the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 2014)), as well as the Uniform Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 2014)), in support of their argument.

         ¶ 22 Defendants asserted that there was no adverse disciplinary action until the Board issued its decision terminating Lopez. Once the Board terminated Lopez, it was up to the arbitrator to decide whether the termination violated the labor contract. Defense counsel stated that the arbitrator would not be limited to reviewing the findings of the Board, as would happen in an administrative review, but rather could look at the termination itself and determine whether the labor contract applied. Defense counsel agreed with the trial court that in such a case, the ...


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