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Lakewood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC v. Department of Public Health

Supreme Court of Illinois

November 21, 2019

LAKEWOOD NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER, LLC, Appellee,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH et al, Appellants.

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

          OPINION

          NEVILLE JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Lakewood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC (Lakewood), instituted administrative proceedings for the involuntary discharge of Helen Sauvageau, one of its residents. Sauvageau requested a hearing, and the Illinois Department of Public Health approved the discharge. Lakewood subsequently brought an action for administrative review against the Department of Public Health and its director (collectively, the Department), arguing that the hearing and decision were not timely under the Nursing Home Care Act (Act) (210 ILCS 45/1-101 et seq. (West 2012)). The circuit court of Will County determined that the Department did not violate the statutory time requirements. The appellate court reversed, holding that the Department lost jurisdiction over the involuntary discharge of Sauvageau because it had not held a hearing within 10 days of her hearing request. See 2018 IL App (3d) 170177. We allowed the Department's petition for leave to appeal (Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. July 1, 2018)). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In July 2012, Helen Sauvageau became a Lakewood resident and paid for her residency through her pension and Social Security income without the assistance of government financial aid. Sauvageau stopped paying Lakewood in August 2013.

         ¶ 4 On October 28, 2013, Lakewood sent her a notice of involuntary transfer or discharge for failing to pay for her residency at Lakewood. On November 1, 2013, Sauvageau, acting through counsel, filed a request for hearing on the notice of involuntary transfer or discharge. The following day, she filed an application for Medicaid benefits. Her Medicaid application was denied on January 13, 2014, and on January 15, 2014, Lakewood's attorney informed the Department of the denial and requested that a hearing on the notice of intent to discharge be scheduled.

         ¶ 5 On February 10, 2014, a prehearing conference was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ). At that time, Lakewood presented a motion to dismiss contending that, under the Act, the Department could not conduct a hearing more than 10 days from the date of a resident's request. Ten days later, the ALJ denied Lakewood's motion based on the determination that the Department had not lost jurisdiction over the involuntary transfer proceeding.

         ¶ 6 The hearing was conducted on March 24, 2014, and Sauvageau's counsel acknowledged that she owed Lakewood money for her stay. In April 2014, the ALJ issued a report and recommendation in which he recommended that the notice of involuntary discharge be approved 30 days subsequent to the receipt of the final ruling. On May 6, 2014, the chief ALJ issued the Department's final administrative decision, adopting the ALJ's recommendation and approving Lakewood's notice of involuntary discharge within 30 days. Sauvageau left the facility on May 29, 2014.

         ¶ 7 Lakewood thereafter filed a complaint for administrative review of the Department's final decision.[1] Lakewood's complaint asserted, inter alia, that the Department lacked authority to exceed the statutory 10-day hearing time and 14-day decision time for involuntary transfer or discharge proceedings.

         ¶ 8 The circuit court dismissed Lakewood's complaint as moot because Sauvageau had already left the facility. Lakewood appealed, and the appellate court reversed and remanded based on its conclusion that the issues should be considered under the public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. 2015 IL App (3d) 140899.

         ¶ 9 On remand, Lakewood argued that section 3-411 of the Act, which requires that the Department conduct a hearing "not later than 10 days" after a resident's request and render a decision within 14 days after the request, is mandatory. 210 ILCS 45/3-411 (West 2012). Lakewood further claimed that section 3-413 did not give the Department authority to approve the notice 30 days after its final ruling. Id. § 3-413.

         ¶ 10 The circuit court determined that section 3-411 's time requirements are directory because section 3-411 does not include negative language or any consequence for noncompliance that would overcome the presumption that procedural commands are generally interpreted as directory. The circuit court observed that the Act is intended to protect nursing home residents, whose interests are better protected by a directory interpretation of section 3-411. The circuit court also determined that section 3-413 did not prevent the Department from approving a notice of involuntary discharge 30 days after its final decision. Lakewood appealed, arguing that the circuit court's interpretation of sections 3-411 and 3-413 was erroneous.

         ¶ 11 The appellate court reversed, holding that the Department lost jurisdiction over Sauvageau's involuntary discharge proceeding because it did not conduct a hearing within 10 days. 2018 IL App (3d) 170177, ¶ 24. The court concluded that the phrase" 'not later than 10 days' in section 3-411 constitutes negative language" that requires a mandatory construction. Id. ¶ 23. The appellate court also determined that section 3-413 did not give the Department authority to approve the notice of transfer and discharge 30 days after receipt of the final ruling. Id. ¶ 27.

         ¶ 12 The Department appeals to this court. We also allowed Prairie State Legal Services, LAF, Legal Council for Health Justice, and Equip for Equality to file briefs as amici curiae in support of the Department's position. Ill. S.Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sept. 20, 2010).

         ¶ 13 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 14 The Department challenges the appellate court's holding that the 10-day hearing period set forth in section 3-411 is mandatory and that noncompliance with that time period deprives the Department of jurisdiction to conduct a hearing on a notice of involuntary transfer or discharge.[2] In particular, the Department contends that a mandatory construction undermines the legislature's intent to protect a resident's statutory right to an administrative hearing and decision prior to involuntary discharge. The Department further maintains that the terms of the Act, its underlying policies, and its interplay with federal law demonstrate that section 3-411 must be given a directory construction.

         ¶ 15 Lakewood urges that the appellate court's judgment be affirmed, asserting that section 3-411 contains negative language requiring that it be given a mandatory construction. Lakewood further contends that a mandatory interpretation is justified because the specified time requirements affect the private contract rights and property interests of nursing home facilities as well as public interests.

         ¶ 16 The determination of whether a statutory command is mandatory or directory presents a question of law involving statutory construction. In re M.I., 2013 IL 113776, ¶ 15 (citing People v. Robinson, 217 Ill.2d 43, 54 (2005)). Consequently, our review is de novo. Id.; see also In re M.M., 2016 IL 119932, ¶ 15; Slepicka v. Illinois Department of Public Health, 2014 IL 116927, ¶ 13.

         ¶ 17 When construing a statute, this court's primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. In re M.M., 2016 IL 119932, ¶ 16. The best evidence of legislative intent is the language of the statute, which should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. Id. Because the statute is viewed as a whole, words and phrases must be construed in light of other relevant statutory provisions and not in isolation. Id. Each word, clause, and sentence of a statute must be given a reasonable meaning, if possible, and should not be rendered superfluous. Id. In determining legislative intent, a court may consider not only the language of the statute but also the reason and necessity for the law, the problems sought to be remedied, the purpose to be achieved, and the consequences of ...


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