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Barrall v. Board of Trustees of John A. Logan Community College

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

September 12, 2019

CHERYL BARRALL, JANE BEYLER, NIKKI BORRENPOHL, DAVID COCHRAN, DAVID EVANS, MOLLY GROOM ALTER, and JENNIFER WATKINS, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF JOHN A. LOGAN COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No. 17-MR-275 Honorable Brad K. Bleyer, Judge, presiding.

          Attorney for Appellants Loretta K. Haggard, Schuchat, Cook & Werner

          Attorneys for Appellee Don E. Prosser, Rhett T. Barke, Gilbert, Huffman, Prosser, Hewson & Barke, Ltd.,

          JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Overstreet concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CHAPMAN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The plaintiffs are tenured faculty members who were laid off from their teaching positions by the defendant, the Board of Trustees of John A. Logan Community College. Under section 3B-5 of the Public Community College Act (Act), tenured faculty members such as the plaintiffs have a "preferred right to reappointment" for a period of 24 months after the beginning of the school year in which they are laid off. 110 ILCS 805/3B-5 (West 2016). Under the same provision, "no non-tenure faculty member or other employee with less seniority" may be hired during that period to provide a service that a tenured faculty member with this right is "competent to render." Id. The rights conferred by this statute are commonly referred to as "bumping rights." The primary issue in this appeal is the meaning of the phrase "other employees with less seniority." We also consider whether, under the circumstances of this case, bumping rights apply only to teaching positions or to individual courses as well.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, alleging that the defendant violated the statute by hiring adjunct instructors to teach many of the courses previously taught by the plaintiffs. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that under the Second District's holding in Biggiam v. Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 516, 154 Ill.App.3d 627, 634 (1987), adjuncts are not "employee[s] with less seniority" within the meaning of the statute. The trial court granted the motion. The plaintiffs appeal, arguing that (1) Biggiam was wrongly decided, (2) under the plain language of the statute, adjunct instructors are "employees with less seniority" than the plaintiffs, thus giving the plaintiffs a right to be recalled before adjuncts are hired to teach their courses, and (3) bumping rights apply to individual courses, which are "services" the plaintiffs are "competent to render." We reverse.

         ¶ 4 The plaintiffs filed their complaint in September 2017. They alleged that the defendant voted in March 2016 to reduce the number of full-time faculty members employed by John A. Logan College beginning in August 2016. As a result of this vote, 27 tenured faculty members were laid off, including the plaintiffs. During the 2016-17 school year, the defendant hired adjunct instructors to teach "many of the courses" previously taught by the 27 laid-off tenured faculty members. Six of the seven plaintiffs were recalled to teach during the 2017-18 school year, but one plaintiff, Dr. Jane Beyler, had not been recalled when the plaintiffs filed their complaint. The plaintiffs alleged that during the 2016-17 school year, there was enough work available to employ all seven plaintiffs full-time had the defendant not employed adjunct instructors to teach their classes instead. They further alleged that there was sufficient work available to employ Dr. Beyler full-time during the 2017-18 school year.

         ¶ 5 The plaintiffs requested that the court enter a writ of mandamus directing the defendant to reinstate Dr. Beyler to a full-time teaching position. They also asked the court to award them damages and to order the defendant to make each plaintiff whole with respect to employment benefits and credited service in their retirement system. Finally, the plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction enjoining the defendant from laying off tenured faculty and employing adjunct instructors to teach their classes during the two-year recall period.

         ¶ 6 The defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2016)). The defendant asserted two grounds for dismissal. First, it argued that the plaintiffs' claims were released pursuant to a "Memorandum of Understanding and Settlement Agreement" entered into by the defendant and the faculty association representing the plaintiffs. Second, the defendant argued that under the Biggiam court's interpretation, the relevant statutory provision did not prohibit it from laying off tenured faculty members like the plaintiffs and hiring adjunct instructors to teach their courses.

         ¶ 7 The trial court found that the plaintiffs' claims were not barred by the parties' "Memorandum of Understanding and Settlement Agreement." However, the court concluded that it was "bound to follow Biggiam v. Board of Trustees." As stated previously, that case held that adjunct instructors are not "other employee[s] with less seniority" and that they may therefore be hired to teach the courses of tenured faculty members during the statutory recall period. Biggiam, 154 Ill.App.3d at 643. The Biggiam court also held that bumping rights apply only to teaching positions, not to individual courses. See id. at 647. Because the trial court found that it was obliged to follow these holdings, it granted the motion to dismiss and entered judgment in favor of the defendant. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 8 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 This appeal comes to us after a ruling on a section 2-619 motion to dismiss. Thus, we assume that all of the well-pled allegations in the complaint are true. Ray v. Beussink & Hickam, P.C., 2018 IL App (5th) 170274, ¶ 12. We conduct a de novo review of the court's ruling. Glasgow v. Associated Banc-Corp., 2012 IL App (2d) 111303, ¶ 11. Resolution of the parties' arguments requires us to construe section 3B-5 of the Act (110 ILCS 805/3B-5 (West 2016)). Statutory construction is a question of law, which is likewise subject to de novo review. Solon v. Midwest Medical Records Ass'n, 236 Ill.2d 433, 439 (2010).

         ¶ 10 Our primary goal in statutory construction is to determine and effectuate the intent of the legislature. Nowak v. City of Country Club Hills, 2011 IL 111838, ¶ 11. The best indication of this intent is the express language of the statute itself. Id. Where a statute is clear and unambiguous, we must apply it as written without resorting to extrinsic aids of statutory construction. Id. Only if a statute is ambiguous may we look beyond its express language and rely on extrinsic aids such as legislative history or rules of statutory construction. Id. ¶ 13. In construing a statute, we must consider the purposes of the statute and the problems it was intended to remedy. People v. Davis, 296 Ill.App.3d 923, 926 (1998). We may also find guidance from judicial interpretations of statutes that serve similar purposes, such as the tenure provisions in the School Code. See Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508 v. Taylor, 114 Ill.App.3d 318, 323 (1983).

         ¶ 11 The relevant statute governs layoffs resulting from a community college board's decision to reduce the number of faculty members it employs. The statute also governs the recall of laid-off faculty ...


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