Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County 2016-CH-0011386
Honorable Diane Joan Larsen, Judge Presiding
Attorneys for Appellant: Todd Williams, of Park Forest,
appellant pro se.
Attorneys for Appellee: Kwame Raoul, Attorney General, of
Chicago (David L. Franklin, Solicitor General, and Caleb
Rush, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellees.
JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Howse and Cobbs concurred in the judgment
1 Plaintiff, Todd Williams, pro se, who has a
disability that qualifies him for vocational rehabilitation
services from defendant, Division of Rehabilitation Services
of the Department of Human Services, requested $81, 138 in
2016 in order to start a home-based instructional video
business. The agency denied Williams's request. When
Williams appealed, an administrative hearing officer affirmed
the agency's denial, and when he further appealed, the
circuit court affirmed the final administrative decision. The
circuit court also denied Williams's motion to be
appointed with legal counsel. Now in the appellate court,
Williams asks that we reverse the hearing officer's
decision, "repeal about 18" sections of the
Illinois Administrative Code as inconsistent with his federal
rights, and order that an attorney come to his assistance on
remand. The agency responds that Williams did not meet the
requirements of the vocational rehabilitation program and
that there are no grounds to grant his request for legal
2 Williams, of Park Forest, Illinois, is in his mid-fifties,
has an undergraduate degree in math, and has a graduate
degree in business administration. Williams has been a client
of the division "on and off since year 1990" due to
an impairment that interferes with his ability to obtain or
retain employment. The record does not disclose the nature of
the disability. The agency provides vocational rehabilitation
services to eligible persons pursuant to the Rehabilitation
of Persons with Disabilities Act (20 ILCS 2405/0.01 et
seq. (West 2016)), state regulations for implementing
the program, and the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29
U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (2012)).
3 The federal provisions indicate that when a person is
eligible for services, the person and his or her
rehabilitation counselor are to create a written plan known
as an "individualized plan for employment" or
"IPE" which outlines the person's vocational
goal and the services to be provided to reach that goal. 29
U.S.C. § 722(b)(4) (2012); 34 C.F.R. § 361.48
(2016). The IPE must be consistent with the client's
"unique strengths, resources, priorities, concerns,
abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice"
and must be "approved" by a qualified vocational
rehabilitation counselor and "agreed to" by the
client. 29 U.S.C. §§ 722(b)(4), 722(b)(3)(C)
4 Consistent with the federal statutes and regulations,
Illinois requires that individuals must establish an IPE
before the agency can provide vocational rehabilitation
services (89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.20 (2012)) and that persons
who are interested in self-employment meet additional
requirements in order to become eligible for that program.
Interested individuals must complete a questionnaire that
aids in determining whether self-employment is viable. 89
Ill. Adm. Code 590.20, 590.315(b) (2012). Individuals
interested in self-employment must also provide
"evidence that the proposed business has a reasonable
chance of success (i.e., provide net income to meet
a majority of the customer's living expenses)." 89
Ill. Adm. Code 590.320(a) (2012). Another requirement is the
creation of a detailed business plan that includes financial
estimates of the total capital needed to establish the
business. 89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.320(a) (2012). The applicant
must provide evidence of his or her cash or credit resources,
"i.e., personal account statements [and]
verification of loan availability," that demonstrate the
person's ability to cover costs that will not be paid by
the agency. 89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.320(a)(3) (2012). The
applicant's evidence must show that he or she can pay 50%
of eligible costs and pay all costs beyond the agency's
maximum contribution of $10, 000. 89 Ill. Adm. Code
590.315(b)(4), (b)(5) (2012); see also 89 Ill. Adm. Code
590.320(c) (2012). The bureau chief may, but is not required
to, grant exceptions to the agency's contribution limit.
89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.320(c) (2012). Once all of the
preliminaries are met and "the customer, counselor and
the Supervisor" have determined "that
self-employment is a realistic employment goal for the
individual," the agency may provide "[t]ools,
equipment, supplies and initial stock necessary to begin a
specific business." 89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.320(b) (2012).
The agency, however, can never provide "cash for
establishing a business." 89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.330(a)
5 In addition to these resources, the agency will pay
"up to 100% of any Program for Self-Employment cost
associated with accommodating the customer's
disability." 89 Ill. Adm. Code 590.320(d) (2012). See,
e.g., Jones v. Illinois Department of Rehabilitation
Services, 689 F.2d 724 (7th Cir. 1982) (deaf student who
qualified for financial assistance with college tuition,
books, and room and board was entitled to 100% of the costs
of the interpreter services needed to accommodate his hearing
6 In early 2016, Williams filed a new application with the
Illinois vocational rehabilitation program in which he asked
for resources to start a business creating and marketing
instructional DVDs. Although Williams does not have a law
degree, he proposed giving advice on "how to do your own
divorce" and "how to file bankruptcy." His
third instructional topic was "how to do your own auto
repairs." Williams's request for $81, 138 in cash
included $3067 for the purchase of a "Camcorder,"
camera tripod, and related equipment; $36, 000 for a "TV
commercial;" $5000 for a "Call Center;" and
$22, 000 for a vehicle to be used as his transportation (not
as the subject of his automobile repair video). Williams made
clear that he had no resources to contribute to his proposed
7 The agency denied the application, citing the agency
regulations requiring Williams to contribute some of the
funding and prohibiting the agency from providing cash to
establish a business or more than $10, 000 in resources. The
agency advised Williams that in order to support his proposal
to begin a business that required $81, 138, "You must
provide evidence of $71, 138 in resources to cover the
expense over the $10, 000 [limit]," or that he could
submit a scaled back plan that nevertheless indicated he
could cover 50% of the eligible costs and that the agency
would contribute no more than $10, 000 in resources.
8 Williams asked for an exception to the state regulations,
which the bureau chief denied.
9 Williams then administratively appealed in mid-2016. He and
his rehabilitation counselor submitted written exhibits to
the administrative hearing officer and testified during a
hearing convened in October 2016. The agency's written
submissions included Williams's application and the
agency's internal e-mails about the request. In his
written submissions to the hearing officer, Williams
contended that his 2016 application corrected defects that a
hearing officer identified in Williams's previous
application for resources to start an instructional video
enterprise. Williams contended that the various state
regulations, which capped the agency's contribution
towards a self-employment plan at $10, 000, required that he
pay 50% of the costs, and imposed other terms, were
inconsistent with federal requirements for vocational
10 At the start of the telephonic hearing, the hearing
officer reminded Williams that as the petitioning party, he
bore the burden of proving that the defendant agency had
erroneously denied his application:
"ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: Let me explain how the
hearing will proceed. Mr. Williams you have the
responsibility to prove by the preponderance of the evidence
that the action or inaction by DRS [(Division of
Rehabilitation Services)] was not in accordance with federal
or state laws or regulations[, ] against DRS policy, not in
accordance with your plan[, ] or inappropriate for you.
TODD WILLIAMS: Okay, I want to add that I received from the
bureau of administrative hearings in the mail ***
your procedures and it states in there a set of regulations,
29 U.S.C. 722, and within that federal regulation that they
said that the [agency] is supposed to *** only
consider state policies and regulations that are consistent
with federal requirements.
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: Okay, so do you have a
TODD WILLIAMS: No, no, no, no, I just wanted to bring that up
for the record.
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: Okay, then did you have a
TODD WILLIAMS: Well, *** it says that ***
most of the burden of proof is on me but, one of the federal
requirements is that the [agency] cannot arbitrarily put any
limitations on the nature or scope of rehabilitation
services. And *** it says whatever reason they give
cannot be arbitrary.
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: Okay.
TODD WILLIAMS: So, would that not kind of like shift part of
the burden over to them?
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: No.
TODD WILLIAMS: Okay.
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: No, because it's your
burden to prove that their action was incorrect.
TODD WILLIAMS: Okay, but, what if they don't have a
reason to *** not provide [or] put any limitations
on *** the scope of my services?
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: Then you have to show that
that was incorrect.
TODD WILLIAMS: Okay.
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING OFFICER: They don't have to show
that it was correct, you have to show ...