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Quick takes on Friday's Illinois Supreme Court civil opinions

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Friday's Illinois Supreme Court opinions in the civil cases Griggsville-Perry Community Unit School Dist. No. 4 v. Ill. Educational Labor Relations Bd. and State Bank of Cherry v. CGB Enterprises, Inc. Quick Takes on Friday's criminal opinions will be available next week.


Griggsville-Perry Community Unit School District No. 4 v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board

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

This school employment dispute is about the standard of review of an arbitrator’s decision.

Arbitration was conducted in which a labor arbitrator ordered that the school district reinstate a discharged employee.  When the school district refused to comply, the employee’s Union asserted that the district had committed an unfair labor practice, in violation of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act.  The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (“IELRB”) ordered the school district to comply with the arbitrator’s award.  On review, the Appellate Court held that the IELRB had erred in ordering compliance because the arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement was clearly erroneous.  The Appellate Court further found that the arbitrator had exceeded his authority to interpret the collective bargaining agreement.  The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Appellate Court and confirmed the decision of the IELRB.

The Supreme Court held that it is a “high hurdle” to establish that an arbitrator has failed to interpret a collective bargaining agreement and has instead imposed his own personal brand of justice.  Whether the arbitrator has exceeded his authority is a question of law.  The issue is not the correctness of the arbitrator’s decision.  The sole question is “whether the arbitrator’s decision drew its essence from the collective-bargaining agreement.”

In a special concurrence, Justice Karmeier noted that when the Court grants leave to appeal from the judgment of the Appellate Court in an administrative review case, it is the decision of the administrative body that is before the Court, not the Appellate Court’s judgment.

State Bank of Cherry v. CGB Enterprises, Inc.

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

In State Bank of Cherry, the Supreme Court held that section 1631(e) of the federal Food Security Act of 1985 requires strict compliance.  The bank had failed to provide proper notice of its security interest in the seller’s crops because, contrary to the requirements of section 1631(e), it had failed to specify the county where the crops purchased by defendant were located.  Thus, the defendant was entitled to judgment on the pleadings in the bank’s suit against the defendant buyer.  Of greater interest to those who do not practice in the field of secured transactions was the Court’s discussion of the weight Illinois courts should afford lower court federal decisions when interpreting federal statutes.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, 197 Ill.2d 112 (2001), rev’d on other grounds by Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, 537 U.S. 51 (2002).  When interpreting a federal statute, the Illinois courts are “bound” only by United States Supreme Court decisions.  In the absence of a United States Supreme Court decision, the weight given to federal circuit court and district court decisions depends on the uniformity of the law and the soundness of the decisions.  If the lower federal courts have uniformly interpreted the statute, the Illinois courts should give “considerable weight” to those decisions.  It should apply the case law unless it is wrongly decided, meaning that it is outside of logic and reason (not just that this Court would decide it differently).  If the federal courts are split, the Court follows those decisions it believes to be better reasoned.

Justice Freeman filed a special concurrence, expressing concern that the lengthy opinion would cause confusion as to the appropriate standard to be applied.  He summarized it as “we will consider reasonable and logical federal court precedent to be merely persuasive, with the recognition that uniformity of the law is an important consideration in the interpretation of federal statutes.”  He criticized the majority’s discussion of uniformity of the federal precedent in this case as there was only one federal decision on point and, thus, no issue of “uniformity.”

Posted on February 22, 2013 by Chris Bonjean
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