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The Public Servant
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

June 2005, vol. 6, no. 4

Price v. State of Illinois: complaint against State’s Attorney must go to Court of Claims

In Price v. State of Illinois, 354 Ill. App. 3d 90, 820 N.E.2d 104, 289 Ill. Dec. 596 (2004), the appellate court held that because a State's Attorney is a State employee who was acting within the scope of his employment during a sentencing hearing, the circuit courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to hear actions brought against the State's Attorney and related vicarious liability claims against the State of Illinois arising from acts performed within the scope of the State's Attorney's employment. Rather, such claims must be heard in the Court of Claims.

In Price, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the circuit court alleging that he had been convicted of committing theft by deception, a class 2 felony under Illinois law. The plaintiff filed a tort action in the circuit court against the Cook County State's Attorney and the State of Illinois alleging that the State's Attorney misrepresented the offense as a class 1 felony, thus causing the plaintiff to receive a sentence in excess of the statutory maximum allowed for the offense. The circuit court dismissed the plaintiff's cause of action ruling: (1) that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claims; and (2) that the cause of action must be brought in the Court of Claims.

On appeal, the First District Appellate Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling. The appellate court acknowledged that section 8(d) of the Illinois Court of Claims Act (705 ILCS 505/8(d) (West 1994)) establishes exclusive jurisdiction over tort claims against the State within the Court of Claims. The court also noted the "formal designation" by the parties is not determinative if claims are against the State. The court must analyze an employee's acts under the three-part test set forth by the Illinois Supreme Court in Healy v. Vaupel, 133 Ill. 2d 295, 309 (1990), to determine if claims are against the State.1 If an employee was acting in the scope of his or her employment, the cause of action is against the State, and only nominally against the employee.

The First District answered the threshold question of whether the State's Attorney is an employee of the State or of the county by reviewing the holding in Sneed v. Howell, 306 Ill. App. 3d 1149 (5th Dist. 1999). In Sneed, the Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of a tort action brought against the Jefferson County State's Attorney after applying the Healy test. The Fifth District determined that the Jefferson County State's Attorney was an employee of the State rather than the county; therefore, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claims.

The Fifth District acknowledged the Illinois Supreme Court's holding in Hoyne v. Danisch, 264 Ill. 467 (1914). In Hoyne, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the 1870 Illinois Constitution established State's Attorneys as State employees. In 1990, the Illinois Supreme Court again held State's Attorneys were State employees in Ingemunson v. Hedges, 133 Ill. 2d 364 (1990). In Ingemunson, the Supreme Court noted that the drafters of the 1970 Constitution and the debates of Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention embraced the decision in Hoyne classifying State's Attorney as employees of the State.

The Price court adopted the holding in Sneed and held that the Cook County State's Attorney was a State employee acting within the scope of his employment. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of the plaintiff's cause of action based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction and affirmed the ruling that the cause of action must be heard in the Court of Claims.

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1 Healy criteria: "When 'there are (1) no allegations that an agent or employee of the State acted beyond the scope of his authority through acts; (2) the duty alleged to have been breached was not owed to the public generally independent of the fact of State employment; and (3) where the complained-of actions involve matters ordinarily within that employee's normal and official functions of the State, then the cause of action is only nominally against the employee.'" Healy, 133 Ill.2d at 309, quoting Robb v. Sutton, 147 Ill. App. 3d 710, 716 (1986).