The Bar News

Quick takes on Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court opinions

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court opinions in the civil cases State of Illinois v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, Vaughn v. City of Carbondale and Jones v. Municipal Employees' Annuity & Benefit Fund and the criminal cases People v. Timmsen and People v. Burns.


State of Illinois v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31

By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC

In one of two March 24, 2016, decisions that directly affect thousands of individuals working for the State of Illinois and indirectly affect all Illinois taxpayers, the Illinois Supreme Court vacated an arbitration ruling requiring the state to pay a 2% wage increase to state employees under a collective bargaining agreement between the state and the American Federation  of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (“AFSCME”).  The court ruled that the arbitration award, which required immediate payment of the wage increase, regardless of the legislative appropriation of funding for the pay raise, violates  Illinois public policy as determined by the General Assembly in section 21 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, 5 ILCS 315/21 (West 2014).   

Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote for the court, which reasoned that the Act broadly provides public employees the freedom to associate and organize for collective bargaining over the terms of their employment. Section 21, however, contains an appropriation contingency. The right of “employers and exclusive representatives [to] negotiate multi-year collective bargaining agreements” is subject to “the appropriation power of the employer” -- which includes the state --  and the General Assembly exercises the power to appropriate public funds on behalf of the state.

The court acknowledged strict limitations on judicial review of an arbitrator’s award. This award reached that “high hurdle,” because the ruling violated a “well-defined and dominant public policy” subjecting multiyear collective bargaining agreements to the appropriation power exercised by the General Assembly for the state. The court defended this interpretation of the appropriation contingency by distinguishing collective bargaining in the private sector from bargaining in the public sector; in the latter situation, a labor union often may have to obtain approval of a proposed contract by a legislative body which appropriates the funds. In the court’s view, Section 21, in effect at the time the agreement was executed, is part of AFSCME’s agreement with the state; thus, the provision did not offend the contract clause of the Illinois Constitution forbidding the General Assembly from passing acts that impair the state’s contractual obligations.

Justice Thomas Kilbride dissented. Noting that public policy calls for holding the state to its contractual obligations, he observed that the majority’s ruling may impair the state’s ability to secure future contracts with employees and vendors and may adversely impact the state’s ability to function. Justice Kilbride would uphold the contract, even if fulfilling the obligation had to await legislative appropriation.

Vaughn v. City of Carbondale

By Alyssa M. Reiter, Williams, Montgomery & John Ltd.

What is an “emergency” for purposes of the Illinois Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (the “Act”)? Without explicitly articulating a “test,” the Supreme Court held that there was no emergency where there were no unforeseen circumstances, no unexpected developments, and no facts establishing imminent danger.

Plaintiff, a police officer, was outside of his patrol vehicle when a dispatcher called for plaintiff to respond over the radio. Plaintiff reached headfirst through the driver’s side door to reach the radio microphone and struck his head. A subsequent MRI showed a compression fracture of plaintiff’s T1-T3 vertebrae. Plaintiff never returned to work as a police officer.

At some point the Carbondale Police Pension Board terminated plaintiff’s health insurance coverage that he had been receiving as part of the disability.

Plaintiff sought injunctive relief to prevent termination of the health insurance. Plaintiff contended that he was entitled to coverage pursuant to section 10 of the Act. The circuit court denied relief; the appellate court reversed, and the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court.

Section 10 of the Act requires that the officer must suffer a catastrophic injury in the line of duty and that the injury must have occurred in one of four ways: as a result of the officer’s response to a fresh pursuit, a response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency, in response to an unlawful act perpetrated by another, or during the investigation of a criminal act.

The only potentially applicable criterion was an “emergency.” Plaintiff claimed that, subjectively, he reasonably believed the dispatch call could have been an emergency. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Notably, although the case involved review of an order denying injunctive relief, the Court did not use a manifest-weight-of-the-evidence standard. Because the order involved a question of law, the Court reviewed the case de novo.

Jones v. Municipal Employees' Annuity & Benefit Fund

By Michael T. Reagan, Law Offices of Michael T. Reagan

Jones v. Municipal Employees’ Annuity And Benefit Fund of Chicago, a unanimous opinion for the Court by Justice Theis, affirms the circuit court’s judgment that legislation altering the pension benefits and funding provisions for certain pension funds for public employees of Chicago is unconstitutional in its entirety. These two consolidated cases were taken by the court on direct appeals under Supreme Court Rule 302(a), from what the court described as the "thorough" ruling of Judge Novak.

The legislative changes would have reduced the value of annual annuity increases, eliminated them entirely for certain years, postponed the time at which they would have begun, and eliminated the compounding component. In addition, current employees would be required "to contribute more to obtain the reduced benefits," though the court said that it need not consider that added cost circumstance here. "These modifications to pension benefits unquestionably diminish the value of the retirement annuities the members...were promised when they joined the pension system." Following precedent, and the recent leads of Kanerva v. Weems (2014) and In re Pension Reform (2015), the court held that those provisions contravened the absolute prohibition against diminishment of pension benefits of the pension protection clause, Article XIII, Section 5, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, and therefore exceeded the General Assembly’s authority.

The court rejected the two primary arguments offered by defendants. First, defendants argued that the legislation provided a net benefit to plaintiffs because the act rescued the funds from certain imminent insolvency, and placed new funding requirements on the City, as opposed to the claimed circumstance that current rights existed only against the funds themselves. The opinion reviewed in detail the history which makes clear that the constitutional right at issue is to receipt of the benefits, as opposed to a specific method of funding the pension obligations. "Legislative funding choices...remain outside the protection of (the pension protection clause), as consistently explained by this court over the past 40 years..." This portion of the opinion is laden with clear statements of the principles at work. One such explanation is that "we reject the City’s assertion that the funding provisions in the Act must be regarded as a ‘benefit’ because they replace an illusory set of unfunded statutory promises."

Second, the court rejected the argument that the legislation is supportable on a contract theory as a bargained-for exchange. While there was a working group of union representatives which contributed to a proposal presented to the legislature, the unions were not acting as authorized agents within a collective bargaining process. The members of the funds cannot be said to have done anything which constituted unequivocal assent to the new pension terms. The court does state that "ordinary contract principles allow for the modification of pension benefits in a bargained-for exchange for consideration." But it didn’t happen here.

The opinion contains an interesting passage to the effect that the principal function of a legislature is not to make contracts, but to make laws that establish the policy of the state. Those policies are inherently subject to revision and repeal. It is presumed, in the first instance that laws do not create private contractual rights.


People v. Timmsen

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Around 1:15 a.m. on December 17, 2011, Jacob Timmsen crossed into Illinois from Iowa traveling eastbound.  Timmsen observed an Illinois State Police roadblock just ahead, and made a legal U-turn at a railroad crossing approximately 50 feet from the roadblock - the only location to turn around before reaching the roadblock.  Subsequently, a Hancock County Deputy initiated a traffic stop of Timmsen’s vehicle and discovered that his license was suspended.  An inventory search of the vehicle revealed a metal pipe and small amount of marijuana.

The question before the Court was whether Timmsen’s U-turn 50 feet before the roadblock provided the police with reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop.  The State argued that: (1) avoidance of the roadblock provided reasonable suspicion; and (2) the officer’s reasonable mistake of law justified the stop.

The Court declined to establish a bright-line rule concerning whether avoiding a roadblock, alone, would establish reasonable suspicion.  Instead, the Court concluded that the “totality of the circumstances” supported a finding of reasonable suspicion.  Those circumstances included: that defendant made U-turn 50 feet before the roadblock, which the court labeled “evasive behavior”; that it was 1:15 a.m. on a Saturday (indicating “more of a probability of criminal behavior such as driving under the influence than does the same action at 8 a.m. on a weekday” according to the Court); and that the roadblock was well-marked as such and was not busy and thus would not justify any fear of a long delay.

Timmsen argued that his U-turn was consistent with an individual’s established right to ignore the police and go about his business when no reasonable suspicion or probable cause is present.  The Court rejected that contention and stated that Timmsen’s U-turn “was the opposite of defendant going about his business.”  Continuing in the direction of the roadblock would have been going about his business according to the Court.  Of course, continuing eastbound would have required Timmsen to subject himself to the roadblock, and thus he would not have been able to ignore the police had he taken that path.

In a special concurrence, Justice Thomas stated that he would have adopted a per se  rule allowing the police to stop individuals who evade roadblocks.  Justice Burke dissented, concluding that the totality of the circumstances did not establish reasonable suspicion for the stop.  She noted that Timmsen did not commit any traffic violation and that an individual’s right to avoid a police encounter “cannot vary depending on the time of day or whether other people are also being stopped.”

People v. Burns

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Police received an anonymous tip that Burns was selling marijuana and that she received shipments of marijuana from her brother in California.  Several weeks later, after midnight on January 10, 2013, an officer went to the multi-unit apartment building where Burns lived; he was let in to the locked building by another tenant.  Subsequently, another officer arrived with a police dog and was granted entry to the building by an officer. At 3:20 a.m., the police conducted a dog sniff of Burns’s apartment door from the third-floor landing of the building.  The dog alerted, and the police included that alert in an application for search warrant.  The warrant was granted, and marijuana was found in Burns’s apartment during a search later that day.

The circuit court allowed Burns’s motion to suppress the evidence, and the appellate court affirmed.  In a 5-2 split, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts.

First, the Court found that the landing outside of Burns’s apartment constituted “curtilage” and therefore was protected by the Fourth Amendment.  The Court discussed Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013), at length in reaching its decision.

The Court went on to reject the State’s good-faith argument.  The Court declined to apply US Supreme Court case law holding that a dog sniff is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because those cases involved traffic stops.  The Court noted that individuals have an increased expectation of privacy in their homes and curtilage.  The Court also rejected the assertion that the police relied in good faith on Illinois precedent finding no reasonable expectation of privacy in the common areas of an apartment building because, with regard to locked apartment buildings there was, at best, a split of authority.  On one side of that split was the Fourth District court’s opinion in People v. Trull, 64 Ill. App. 3d 385 (1978), which had not been overruled, and which held that a warrantless entry to a locked apartment building violated the Fourth Amendment.  Given that this case arose within the Fourth District, Trull controlled.

Finally, the Court found the remaining evidence in the warrant application insufficient to establish probable cause for a search warrant.  That evidence included: the anonymous tip that defendant was selling marijuana and had sold ecstasy to the tipster’s girlfriend; that the tipster stated that defendant’s supplier was her brother in California; that defendant had a 2008 notice to appear for possession of drug paraphernalia and a 2003 conviction of possession of marijuana; that defendant’s social media page included photographs of marijuana, money, and materials supporting the legalization of marijuana; and, that a package addressed to defendant from “Bob Jones” in California was observed by the police in a common area of the apartment building when the first officer entered.

In a special concurrence, Justice Garman discussed the concept of “curtilage” at length in a stated effort to provide clarity on the subject moving forward.  In dissent, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Karmeier, would have found that the landing was not curtilage and that defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy to assert a Fourth Amendment violation.

Posted on March 23, 2016 by Morgan Yingst
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Member Comments (1)

AFSCME case holds that it violates public policy for an arbitrator to order state to pay a negotiated wage increase in the absence of an appropriation by the General Assembly to fund that increase. Wondering how this might impact the operation of the state given the current absence of a budget?

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