The Bar News

Quick Takes on Illinois Supreme Court Opinions Issued Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Illinois Supreme Court handed down nine opinions on Thursday, September 24. In People v. Stoecker, the Court affirmed the dismissal of a defendant’s petition for relief from judgment. In People v. Hollahan, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no error in a circuit court allowing a jury to watch a video of the defendant’s DUI stop in the courtroom with the defendant present. In People v. Gaines, the Court considered whether a trial court’s sua sponte vacatur of a defendant’s guilty plea and his subsequent trial violated double jeopardy. In People v. Deleon, the Court considered whether section 112a-11.5 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 which permits the issuance of a protective order in a crime involving domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking, is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to a defendant. In United States v. Glispie, the Supreme Court answered a certified question by the Seventh Circuit, holding that the limited authority doctrine applies to residential burglary by entry.

In Sharpe v. Westmoreland, the Court ruled that parents involved in civil unions have the same stepparenting rights as married individuals and that those rights continue even after the death of their spouse. In Berry v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court held that the trial court properly dismissed a class action lawsuit against the City of Chicago that had claimed that the city’s water main replacement program increased the risk of harm to the plaintiffs of lead poisoning. In People ex rel. Department of Human Rights v. Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC, the Court declined to apply the federal doctrine of successor liability in an action to satisfy an award for employment discrimination determined to violate the Illinois Human Rights Act. In McAllister v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, the Court discussed and clarified the test used to determine whether injuries caused by common bodily movements and everyday activities are compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

People v. Stoecker

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

Ronald Stoecker was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault in 1998. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal and in numerous collateral proceedings. In 2016, Stoecker filed a petition for relief from judgment under 735 ILCS 5/2-1401 which was the subject of the instant appeal. In that petition, Stoecker alleged that his life sentence was improper under Apprendi and because the trial court had failed to articulate the reasons for imposing a life sentence on him. The circuit court appointed counsel to represent Stoecker. Counsel did not file anything, but the state filed a motion to dismiss. Four days after the state’s motion was filed, the court dismissed the petition. The state was present in court at the time of dismissal; Stocker and his counsel were not.

Stoecker argued that the ex parte hearing on the motion to dismiss was error, that he had not been given an opportunity to respond to the state’s motion, and that appointed counsel’s performance was deficient. Those arguments were rejected by the appellate court in a two-to-one decision, and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed.

The Supreme Court concluded that Stoecker’s due process rights were violated by the proceedings on the state’s motion to dismiss. Stoecker and appointed counsel were served with the motion but were not given a reasonable opportunity to respond when that motion was granted just four days later at a proceeding of which counsel and Stoecker had no notice.

However, the Court found that this due process violation was subject to harmless error review because it was not a structural error. In the context of a 2-1401 petition, the specific defects here—lack of notice and reasonable opportunity to respond—do not fit within the narrow class of errors that are so serious that they are automatically reversible. In the instant case, Stoecker’s petition was filed outside of the two-year limitations period and he had no viable claim of exception to that limitations period. Stoecker had also raised the Apprendi claim previously, so it was barred by res judicata, and his claim alleging inadequate findings by the sentencing judge was based on the trial record and could have been raised on direct appeal so it was forfeited. Thus, the procedural errors were harmless.

With regard to Stoecker’s complaints about appointed counsel, the Court first clarified that appointed counsel is held to a due diligence standard in 2-1401 proceedings because the appointment of counsel is wholly discretionary; it is not required by the constitution or any statute or rule. In 2-1401 proceedings, meeting the due-diligence standard means that “counsel has an obligation, to the best of his or her legal ability, to make a cogent argument in support of petitioner’s section 2-1401 claims and to overcome any procedural hurdles where it can legally and ethically be done.” Since Stoecker’s petition did not include any arguably meritorious claim, it could not be said that counsel failed to exercise due diligence by not amending the petition. Accordingly, the dismissal of Stoecker’s 2-1401 petition was affirmed.

People v. Hollahan

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

Joseph Hollahan was convicted of aggravated DUI at a jury trial. During that trial, a redacted video recording of Hollahan’s traffic stop was played for the jury. The video included footage of Hollahan’s driving prior to the stop and his interaction with the officer after the stop, including the administration of field sobriety tests. During jury deliberations, the jurors asked to review the video. The video was replayed for the jurors in the courtroom, with the judge, the attorneys, and Hollahan present. The judge stated there was no means to replay the video in the jury room. The parties were admonished not to say anything while the jurors were watching the video, and the jurors were told, “I have instructed everyone not to say a word and we will play the video for you.” The defense did not object to this procedure, and Hollahan was ultimately convicted.

On appeal, Hollahan argued that the procedure employed by the court amounted to plain error. The appellate court majority agreed with Hollahan, finding that it was structural error for the parties and the judge to be present while the jurors reviewed evidence during deliberations. The dissenting justice in the appellate court concluded that it was within the trial court’s discretion to proceed in the manner it did, and because Hollahan had not shown any prejudice from the procedure, there was no basis for reversal.

The Illinois Supreme Court took up the issue and, in an unanimous opinion, concluded that there was no reversible error here. The Court compared this case to United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725 (1992), a case where alternate jurors were present in the jury room during deliberations in violation of a court rule. Olano did not object to the presence of the alternates. In Olano, the Court proceeded on the assumption that this constituted error and went on to consider whether it affected Olano’s substantial rights and held that  it was “not the kind of error that ‘affect[ed] substantial rights’ independent of its prejudicial impact.” Because Olano had not shown that the alternates participated in the deliberations or that their presence had a chilling effect on deliberations, there was no prejudice and therefore no reversible error.

Ultimately, the Court concluded that there was not even error in the way the court proceeded here, let alone plain error. While a trial court can send a recording to the jury room to be reviewed without restriction, it is not required to do so. There is no error in allowing the jury to review evidence in open court. And, Hollahan did not show that any of the non-jurors present in the courtroom participated or reacted, either verbally or through body language, during the review of the tape. Thus, there was no suggestion in the record that the jury’s deliberations were impacted by the presence of the parties and the court while the tape was replayed, and Hollahan was not prejudiced by this procedure.

The Court also noted that the trial court is permitted to suspend deliberations, and what happened here essentially operated as such a suspension. Accordingly, there were no deliberations in the presence of non-jurors while the tape was being replayed.

People v. Gaines

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

Keith Gaines was charged with various offenses after a dispute at his parents’ house became physical. Gaines reached an agreement with the state where he would plead guilty to two charges in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges and a sentence of probation. At the plea hearing, when the state presented its factual basis, Gaines agreed that the witnesses would testify consistently with it, but did not agree that was what happened. The trial court accepted the plea. When Gaines was given the opportunity to make a statement before sentence was imposed, he said, “if it was to go to trial no one would be coming to court.” At that point, the trial judge sua sponte vacated the plea, reinstated the charges, and set the case for trial. Gaines was ultimately convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

At issue in the Illinois Supreme Court was whether the trial court’s sua sponte vacatur of Gaines’s guilty plea and his subsequent trial violated double jeopardy. Gaines had prevailed on that claim in the Appellate Court, in a two-to-one decision. 

The Supreme Court began by answering the question of when jeopardy attached. In the guilty plea context, jeopardy attaches when the plea is accepted by the trial court. The more pointed question is when is the plea “accepted.” While the state advocated that there be either a formal entry of guilt or imposition of sentence for the plea to be considered accepted, Gaines argued that nothing beyond the court’s unconditional acceptance of the plea is required. On this point, the court sided with Gaines. Jeopardy attached when the court stated that it accepted Gaines’s plea.

Having concluded that jeopardy had attached, the question became whether the trial court improperly terminated the plea proceedings such that Gaines’s subsequent trial violated double jeopardy principles. Reviewing the trial judge’s decision for an abuse of discretion, the Supreme Court concluded that there was no double jeopardy violation. A trial court may sua sponte vacate a guilty plea where the court has “good reason to doubt the truth of the plea.”

Although the trial court knew when it accepted the plea that Gaines took issue with the state’s factual basis, Gaines had at least agreed that the witnesses would testify to such facts prior to the court’s acceptance of his plea. When Gaines was given the opportunity to make a statement prior to imposition of sentence and stated that the witnesses would not even appear in court to testify, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in vacating the plea. A defendant need not proclaim his innocence for the trial court to have good reason to doubt the truth of the plea; it is enough that the defendant claim that the state could not even present witnesses to sustain the charges.

People v. Deleon

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

Under 725 ILCS 5/112A-11.5, Miguel DeLeon was the subject of a civil no-contact order based solely on his having been charged with a crime involving sexual assault. Section 112A-11.5 requires such a protective order to be issued where the circuit court finds prima facie evidence that defendant committed a sexual assault offense, among others, and provides that an indictment charging a qualifying offense constitutes prima facie evidence.

DeLeon challenged the constitutionality of that statute, and the Cook County circuit court held that it violated the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 2 and 10 of the Illinois Constitution. Today, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed that judgment.

The Supreme Court first considered the holding in Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437 (1992), that it is within the power of the state to regulate procedures for carrying out the law and that a due process violation will not be found unless the procedure in question “offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.” In light of that standard, the Court held that allowing the state to make a prima facie case based solely on the indictment, without requiring the complaining witness to testify and be subject to cross examination, was not a due process violation. The Court looked to Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975), where the United States Supreme Court held that the fourth amendment requires a judicial determination of probable cause to detain a defendant after arrest. There, the Court went on to state that probable cause determinations do not require procedural safeguards like confrontation and cross-examination, and an indictment returned by a grand jury satisfies the probable cause standard. Applying that reasoning to Section 112A-11.5, the Illinois Supreme Court concluded that a civil no-contact order is a less restrictive constraint on liberty than pretrial imprisonment, and since an indictment is constitutionally sufficient to sustain the latter, it is sufficient for the former. Thus, the statute survives review under the Medina standard.

The Court next looked at the procedural due process analysis set out in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), requiring that a court consider three factors: (1) the government’s interest in the procedure, (2) the private interest affect by the governmental action, and (3) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that private interest. Notably, while Mathews involved an administrative procedure (whether Social Security disability payments could be terminated without an evidentiary hearing), the test it set out has been applied in consider criminal matters, as well. Considering the Mathews factors here, the Court held that the government has a strong interest in protecting victims of the enumerated offenses from ongoing contact by the accused, and the issuance of a protective order helps to further that interest. The accused also has a fundamental liberty interest to move about unrestricted prior to trial, which is curtailed to some degree by the issuance of a no-contact order limited in scope and duration. Here, the protective order largely paralleled defendant’s bond conditions and was not overly broad. And, finally, the Court concluded that the absence of a right of confrontation under the statute was not likely to result in an erroneous deprivation of liberty given that issuance of a no-contact order does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, the Court held that Section 112A-11.5's requirement that an accused present a meritorious defense to avoid issuance of a protective order does not infringe upon a defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination because the statute does not compel a defendant to attempt to rebut the state’s prima facie case. And, the statute does not conflict with the more general Civil No Contact Order Act because the statutes serve different purposes and are part of the legislature’s comprehensive scheme to protect individuals affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

United States v. Glispie

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

Jeremy Glispie, who has four prior residential burglary convictions in Illinois, was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm in federal court. In that case, the government also sought to designate Glispie as an armed career criminal under 18 USC § 924(e), which increases the applicable sentence where an individual has three prior convictions of a “violent felony.” Burglary, as defined in the federal statutes, is a violent felony, but not all state burglary charges fit within that definition. Here, the Seventh Circuit certified a question of law to the Illinois Supreme Court, specifically whether the limited authority doctrine applied to Illinois’ residential burglary statute, which would render it broader than “generic burglary” and therefore not a qualifying offense for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The limited authority doctrine provides that a person’s authority to enter a building for a lawful purpose is vitiated when he or she departs from that purpose and commits a felony or theft. In Illinois, residential burglary is committed when an individual knowingly and without authority enters, or knowingly and without authority remains within, the dwelling place of another with the intent to commit a felony or theft therein. The Illinois Supreme Court easily concluded that burglary in Illinois includes the limited authority doctrine, citing a line of cases dating back to People v. Weaver, 41 Ill. 2d 434 (1968), and most recently reaffirmed in People v. Johnson, 2019 IL 123318. And, the Court noted that the limited authority has been applied in the home invasion context, as well. Accordingly, the Court rejected any notion that the limited authority doctrine would somehow not also apply to residential burglary.

In answering the certified question, the Supreme Court stated, “the limited authority doctrine applies to residential burglary by entry.” The question of whether the doctrine applies to residential burglary by remaining was not before the Court and thus was not considered.

Sharpe v. Westmoreland, 2020 IL 124863

By Joanne R. Driscoll, Forde & O’Meara LLP

In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court answered certified questions asking whether a civil union partner is a “step-parent” as defined by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Dissolution Act) (750 ILCS 5/101 et seq. (West 2016)) for purposes of seeking visitation and parental responsibilities.  A unanimous court answered the questions in the affirmative, reversing the appellate court. 

A.S., the child, was born during the marriage of Crystal Westmoreland and Matt Sharpe. When they divorced, they agreed to a joint parenting agreement, with Sharpe providing A.S.’s legal residence. Sharpe later entered into a civil union with Kris Fulkerson. After Sharpe died, Westmoreland no longer let A.S. reside with or visit Fulkerson and her children; and Fulkerson filed a petition seeking rights of visitation and allocation of parental responsibilities. The appellate court answered the certified questions to deny Fulkerson’s petition. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. 

As in any statutory construction case, the Court looked to another relevant statute, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (the Civil Union Act) (750 ILCS 75/1 et seq. (West 2016)), liberally construing that Act, as instructed by the legislature (id., § 5), giving its terms their plain and ordinary meaning, and refusing to read into them exceptions, limitations or conditions that conflict with the legislature’s express intent. The first provision in the Civil Union Act, section 10, provides that as “used throughout the law,” i.e., the Illinois Compiled Statutes, the terms “spouse” or “other terms that denote the spousal relationship,” include a “‘[p]arty to a civil union.’” Id. ¶ 10. The second provision, section 20, entitled parties to a civil union “the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law.” Id. § 20. 

Based on these provisions, the Court concluded that the clear and unambiguous legislative intent as to the Civil Union Act was to “create an alternative to marriage that was equal in all respects and, important at that time, open to two persons of the same sex.” It further concluded that the Civil Union Act changed the definition of “spouse,” including in the Dissolution Act, so that “when a child’s parent enters into a civil union with an individual who is not the child’s other parent, that individual becomes the child’s stepparent as defined by the Dissolution Act,” giving that person standing to petition the court for visitation, allocation of parental responsibilities, or both.

Berry v. City of Chicago, 2020 IL 124999

By Joanne R. Driscoll, Forde & O’Meara LLP

In a rare circumstance, this case was decided by only four justices, with three other justices not taking part. Because all four agreed on the outcome, the Illinois Supreme Court was able to decide the appeal. 

In this case, the Court reviewed the appellate court’s reversal (with one dissent) of the circuit court’s section 2-615 (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2016)) dismissal of an amended class-action complaint for negligence and inverse condemnation brought against the City of Chicago in relation to its replacement of water meters and water main pipes and partial replacement of lead service lines running between the water mains and residences.   

The negligence count alleged that the city’s work to replace antiquated water mains and meters disturbed the residents’ individual service lines and created an increased risk of lead exposure and that the city failed to warn residents about that risk. It sought damages for those risks, even though the two named plaintiffs had not suffered any physical injuries and the complaint did not allege that every class member had elevated levels of lead. The count sought establishment of a “trust fund *** to pay for the medical monitoring of all Class members” and written notification that they may require frequent medical monitoring to diagnose lead poisoning. The inverse condemnation count alleged that the city’s repair and update of its water supply system increased the risk of corrosion in their service lines and therefore increased the risk of lead in their water supplies. It sought compensation in the amount “necessary to fully replace their lead service lines with copper piping.” 

The circuit court dismissed the negligence count, holding that there could be no recovery for medical monitoring absent an allegation of a present injury, and it dismissed the inverse condemnation count because there was no allegation of special damage to property in excess of that sustained by the public generally. In a 2-1 decision, the appellate court reversed, holding that a present injury due to consumption of water containing high levels of lead was alleged in the negligence count and that the inverse condemnation count alleged facts showing a direct physical disturbance of a right that an owner enjoys in connection with his property. The Supreme Court agreed with the circuit court.

As to the negligence count, the Court cited to Williams v. Manchester, 228 Ill. 2d 404 (2008), as well as other of its decisions, which held that a plaintiff who suffers bodily harm caused by a negligent defendant may recover for an increased risk of future harm as an element of damages, but the plaintiff may not recover solely for the defendant’s creation of an increased risk of harm absent a present injury. According to the Court, this result is consistent with traditional notions of tort law, which is not to punish or deter but rather to compensate victims when the creation of risk tortiously manifests into harm. Plaintiffs’ contention that the need for medical testing or monitoring is an injury was rejected as simply being another way of saying that plaintiffs have been subjected to an increased risk of harm.

 As to the inverse condemnation count, the Court noted that such a claim exists only when there is an interference with the use and enjoyment of the property, as evidenced by a physical disturbance that actually impairs the value of the plaintiff’s property and inflicts a special damage in excess of that sustained by the public generally. As the Court explained, an allegation that property is more dangerous is not susceptible to objective measurement and, thus, cannot by itself be damage under the Illinois takings clause. Here, plaintiffs did not allege that their service lines were completely unusable and unfit for human loss and, thus, could not allege any measurable, pecuniary loss caused by the city’s repair work.

People ex rel. Department of Human Rights v. Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC

By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC

Disapproving of the appellate court’s creation of an additional exception to the common-law doctrine of corporate successor nonliability, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to apply the federal doctrine of successor liability in an action to satisfy an award for employment discrimination determined to violate the Illinois Human Rights Act (“the Act”). The judgment was obtained on behalf of a former employee of Oakridge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC (“Oakridge Rehab”), an entity that went out of business before enforcement of the order.  

The state of Illinois filed a complaint in Cook County to enforce the order against both Oakridge Rehab and its successor, Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC (“Oakridge Healthcare”), an entity to which Oakridge Rehab transferred its assets and the operations of its nursing facility. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the successor entity based on the common-law rule that a corporate successor is not responsible for debts or obligations incurred by the entity that previously operated the business, a rule “developed to protect bonafide purchasers from unassumed liability,” as explained in Vernon v. Schuster, 179 Ill. 2d 338 (1997). Rather than applying Vernon, the appellate court, with one justice dissenting, reasoned that the Illinois Supreme Court had not specifically addressed a successor corporation’s liability in the context of employment discrimination and applied the broader federal test. Under the federal standards, the appellate majority determined that Oakridge Healthcare showed a continuity of business and that the judgment could be enforced against Oakridge Healthcare as the successor of Oakridge Rehab. 

The Supreme Court observed that the appellate court’s conclusion that, in effect, created an additional exception to the general rule undercuts the policy concerns that led to the creation of the current common-law doctrine. Noting that many businesses have relied on the Vernon decision and the importance of stare decisis, the Supreme Court distinguished the appeal from the United States Supreme Court decision cited by the appellate court, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543 (1964), which involved a merger of operations, unlike the successor situation in the present case. The Illinois Supreme Court also noted that the John Wiley situation falls within one of the exceptions recognized in Vernon—where there is a consolidation or merger of the two entities. The Supreme Court also noted that collective bargaining agreements and national labor policy considerations presented in John Wiley are not implicated in this Illinois action. The court concluded with the observation that the legislature had not abrogated the common-law rule adopted in Vernon and stood by the Vernon rule of successor corporate nonliability and its exceptions, consistent with the majority of states. 

The Supreme Court then examined the record to determine whether the fraudulent purpose exception applied on the facts of record. The court concluded that the transfer of substantially all corporate assets at a time when the company arguably was insolvent was not a legally sufficient basis to show an intent to avoid creditors at the time of transfer. Finding no “badges of fraud,” the supreme court reinstated the order granting summary judgment for the successor entity.  

McAllister v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2020 IL 124848

By Amelia S. Buragas, Bolen Robinson & Ellis, LLP

In McAllister v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, the Court discussed and clarified the test used to determine whether injuries caused by common bodily movements and everyday activities, such as bending, twisting, reaching, or standing from a kneeling position, are compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, and, in doing so, overruled a line of cases that placed an additional burden of proof on claimants.

Kevin McAllister injured his right knee while working as a sous-chef and filed a claim pursuant to the Workers’ Compensation Act. Mr. McAllister testified during the arbitration hearing that his job duties included arranging food in the restaurant’s walk-in cooler and that he injured his knee while moving from a kneeling to a standing position while searching the cooler for a misplaced item. The arbitrator found in Mr. McAllister’s favor. The commission, however, set aside that decision and found that the injury did not arise out of the claimant’s employment. The circuit and appellate courts affirmed. However, the appellate court was divided regarding the extent to which injuries caused by everyday activities were compensable under the Act. The majority favored the analysis contained in Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Industrial Comm’n, 129 Ill. 2d 52 (1989). Two concurring justices, however, preferred the analysis contained in Adcock v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2015 IL App (2d) 130884WC, which required the claimant to establish that his or her job duties required the claimant to engage in the everyday activity that caused the injury to a greater degree than the general public, even in situations where the activity was directly related to the claimant’s job duties.

The Supreme Court agreed with the majority and held that Caterpillar Tractor “prescribes the proper test for analyzing whether an injury ‘arises out of’ a claimant’s employment, when a claimant is injured performing job duties involving common bodily movements or routine everyday activities.” The Court explained that, consistent with Caterpillar Tractor, common bodily movements and everyday activities are compensable and employment-related if the activity that caused the injury “had its origin in some risks connected with, or incidental to, employment so as to create a causal connection between the employment and the accidental injury.” The Court then overruled Adcock and its progeny to the extent that they require a claimant to additionally prove that he or she was exposed to a risk of injury to a greater extent than the general public. The Court further found that Mr. McAllister’s injury was the result of a risk that was distinctly associated with his employment and, as such, was compensable, and held that the Commission’s finding that the claimant was injured by a neutral risk that was not related to his employment was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Posted on September 25, 2020 by Rhys Saunders
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