Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Workers' Compensation Commission Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 15-L-50663
Honorable Kay M. Hanlon, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman, Harris, and
Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.
2 Claimant, Rudy Guzman, Jr., sought benefits pursuant to the
Workers' Compensation Act (Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et
seq. (West 2006)) for an injury he allegedly sustained
while working for respondent, Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel.
The parties executed a lump-sum settlement contract, which
provided, in part, that respondent had paid all of
claimant's medical bills. Almost 2½ years after
the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission
(Commission) approved the settlement contract, claimant filed
a "Motion to Enforce Contract and Penalties." In
the motion, claimant alleged that some of his medical bills
remain unpaid and respondent "has refused to honor the
[settlement] contract and pay the outstanding medical
bills." Claimant requested that respondent be ordered to
pay "any and all medical bills that are pending."
Claimant also requested the imposition of penalties and
attorney fees for respondent's failure to pay the
outstanding charges. Following a hearing, the Commission
entered an order granting claimant's motion and directing
respondent to pay claimant $16, 618.88 in medical expenses.
The Commission also awarded claimant $8, 309.44 in penalties
pursuant to section 19(k) of the Act (820 ILCS 305/19(k)
(West 2012)) and $3, 323.78 in attorney fees pursuant to
section 16 of the Act (820 ILCS 305/16 (West 2012)). On
judicial review, the circuit court of Cook County confirmed
the Commission's order. Respondent then initiated the
3 On appeal, respondent argues that the Commission lacked
jurisdiction to hear claimant's motion. Respondent
asserts that even if jurisdiction lies with the Commission,
the Commission misinterpreted the settlement contract in
finding that respondent was obligated to pay claimant's
outstanding medical bills. Respondent also argues that the
Commission erred in assessing penalties and attorney fees
against it. Alternatively, respondent asserts that
claimant's motion was barred by equitable estoppel and
laches. For the reasons set forth below, we find
that the Commission lacks jurisdiction to enforce a final
award and that the proper venue for a claimant to seek
enforcement of a final award of the Commission is in the
circuit court pursuant to section 19(g) of the Act (820 ILCS
305/19(g) (West 2012)). Moreover, although the Commission is
authorized to assess penalties and attorney fees under the
Act against a party who fails to comply with the terms of a
final settlement contract approved by the Commission, we
conclude that claimant abandoned his request for the
imposition of penalties and attorney fees in this case.
Accordingly, we vacate both the judgment of the circuit court
confirming the order of the Commission and the
Commission's order awarding medical expenses, penalties,
and attorney fees.
4 I. BACKGROUND
5 On December 19, 2006, claimant filed an application for
adjustment of claim alleging that on October 7, 2006, he
sustained an injury to the "rear of head" while in
the employ of respondent. Claimant initially treated at
Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group, where he was
diagnosed as having a contusion to the neck with
cervico-thoracic pain. At that time, claimant was authorized
to return to work with restrictions until his next
appointment. Claimant returned to respondent's employ,
but ceased working after one day due to pain.
6 On October 26, 2006, claimant began chiropractic treatment
with Melvin D'Souza of St. Anthony's Spine and Joint
Institute (St. Anthony's). D'Souza's notes
contain the following history of injury:
"The patient stated that on 10/07/2006, he was working,
moveing [sic] a box weighing about 50 pounds. While
he was placing the box on the floor, a ple [sic] of
boxes [was] about [to] fall on him. However he was able to
manage the pile of boxes to stabilize [sic] with his
right arm. But, one of the boxes from the pile, weighting
[sic] 20 pounds, fell on his back.
Upon impact, he felt *** pain in [the] neck and also he felt
a popping sound in his lower back. From this incident he
developed pain in his neck, upper back and lower back. He has
also been experiencing headaches in the back of his head and
sometimes on the top."
diagnosed claimant with a cervical sprain/strain, a lumbar
sprain/strain, a thoracic sprain/strain, and myospasm.
Claimant treated with D'Souza until August 2007. At that
time, claimant's account balance was $16, 618.88.
7 Meanwhile, on February 6, 2007, claimant underwent an
independent medical examination (see 820 ILCS 305/12 (West
2006)) by Dr. Martin Lanoff. As part of this assessment, Dr.
Lanoff reviewed claimant's medical records, including
those from D'Souza, and conducted a physical examination.
In the report of his findings, Dr. Lanoff concluded that
claimant did not sustain any lumbar abnormality as a result
of the alleged work accident. Rather, Dr. Lanoff opined that,
at most, claimant sustained a mild cervico-thoracic strain
that should have improved within six to eight weeks after the
alleged accident. Dr. Lanoff added that claimant's
condition did not warrant any further chiropractic treatment,
claimant had reached maximum medical improvement, and
claimant could return to full, unrestricted duty.
8 At some point, the parties began settlement negotiations.
To this end, respondent prepared a form agreement entitled
"Settlement Contract Lump Sum Petition and Order"
(settlement contract). The first page of the settlement
contract provided in part that claimant's accident
occurred when a "[b]ox fell on [his] neck." The
settlement contract listed the body part affected as the
"[n]eck" and the nature of the injury as a
"[b]ulging disc without nerve involvement." The
first page of the settlement contract also contained sections
referencing "Temporary Total Disability Benefits"
and "Medical Expenses." The section labeled
"Temporary Total Disability Benefits" provided that
claimant was temporarily totally disabled from October 8,
2006, through January 31, 2007, a period of 16 weeks, during
which he received temporary total disability (TTD) benefits
at a rate of $346.66 per week. The section labeled
"Medical Expenses" had a line to indicate whether
the employer had or had not paid all of the employee's
medical bills. Respondent checked that it had paid all of
claimant's medical bills. The "Medical
Expenses" section also instructed the preparer to
"[l]ist unpaid bills in the space below."
Respondent left that space blank. On the second page of the
settlement contract, a paragraph entitled "Terms of
Settlement" provided in relevant part as follows:
"Respondent denies that the [claimant] sustained
accidental injuries as alleged and further denies any causal
connection between the alleged condition of ill-being and the
alleged accidental injuries, but to avoid further litigation
the Respondent offers and [claimant] accepts a lump sum of
$7, 800.00 per petition below in full, final, and complete
settlement of this claim. Respondent is hereby released,
acquitted, and discharged from any and all liability under
the *** Act *** in any way arising out of the accidental
occurrence herein referred to including the known, unknown,
fatal or non-fatal, past, present, or future effects,
developments, or sequelae including medical and hospital
expenses incurred or to be incurred, known or unknown. Review
of this agreement under §8(a) and §19(h) are
expressly waived. The lump sum represents 5% loss of use of
the man as a whole and hereby settles all disputed issues.
Respondent shall retain all rights under Section 5(b) of the
*** Act and any other rights and recovery it may have
relative to this claim."
signed the proposed settlement contract on July 31, 2007, and
submitted it to claimant. For reasons not entirely clear from
the record, neither claimant nor his attorney signed the
settlement contract until October 11, 2011, more than four
years after respondent. On October 27, 2011, the Commission
approved the settlement contract. The settlement amount, less
certain fees, was subsequently tendered to and accepted by
9 No further proceedings were had in the matter until April
2, 2014, when claimant filed a "Motion to Enforce
Contract and Penalties." In the one-page motion,
claimant noted that although the settlement contract
specifically stated that respondent had paid "all
medical bills, " claimant has received medical bills
that are still unpaid and respondent "has refused to
honor the [settlement] contract and pay the outstanding
medical bills." Claimant requested that respondent be
ordered to pay "any and all medical bills that are
pending." In addition, claimant requested penalties
pursuant to sections 19(k) and 19(1) of the Act (820 ILCS
305/19(k), 19(1) (West 2012)) and attorney fees pursuant to
section 16 of the Act (820 ILCS 305/16 (West 2012)).
10 In its response to claimant's motion, respondent
argued that it did not owe payment for the medical bills in
question, which were from D'Souza at St. Anthony's,
because it denied payment for these bills before the
settlement contract was approved and the settlement contract
"contains no language declaring [that] the Respondent
assumes any obligation to pay for any past, present, or
future medical bills subsequently incurred, or previously
denied by the Respondent at any time." Respondent also
challenged its liability for the medical bills on the grounds
that they are for: (1) treatment administered after
respondent signed the settlement contract; (2) treatment
administered to parts of claimant's body not injured in
the alleged work accident; and (3) treatment that is not
reasonable or medically ...