In Illinois State Treasurer v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2015 IL 117418 Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF, the Illinois Supreme Court considered whether the Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund was required to file an appeal bond to appeal the decision of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
The appeal bond requirement is found in section 19(f)(2) of the Act, which provides that no summons for judicial review “shall issue unless the one against whom the Commission shall have rendered an award for the payment of money shall upon the filing of his written request for such summons file with the clerk of the court a bond conditioned that if he shall not successfully prosecute the review, he will pay the award and costs of the proceedings in the courts.” However, the Act provides that “[e]very county, city, town, township, incorporated village, school district, body politic or municipal corporation” is exempt from this requirement. 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(2) Illinois General Assembly | IWCC PDF.
For additional background, if an injured worker and employer have a dispute regarding the claim, they can attempt to resolve the matter informally with the help of an arbitrator assigned by the Commission. If the dispute cannot be resolved, the parties can have a hearing where they present evidence and the arbitrator will issue an award. 820 ILCS 305/19(b) Illinois General Assembly |IWCC PDF.
If a party disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision, they can appeal to a panel of three Commissioners. The decision of these Commissioners is considered the decision of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. 820 ILCS 305/19(e) Illinois General Assembly | IWCC PDF.
In turn, the Commission’s decision can be appealed to the Illinois Circuit Court, then the Illinois Appellate Court, and then finally the Illinois Supreme Court. 820 ILCS 305/19(f) Illinois General Assembly | IWCC PDF. Each level of appeal has strict procedural requirements that must be met or the appeal will be dismissed.
The Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund pays workers’ compensation benefits when employers do not have workers’ compensation insurance (or other coverage) as required by law. The Illinois State Treasurer is the “ex-officio custodian” of the Fund – by virtue of the office – and defends claims against the Fund, which must have an arbitration hearing (no settlements are allowed).
In this case, the claimant was a home healthcare provider for an elderly man. When going to answer his front door for a delivery, she fell down the stairs and broke both of her wrists. Because her employer did not provide workers’ compensation insurance, she filed a claim against the Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund.
At the arbitration hearing, the Treasurer disputed that the claimant’s fall was an accident arising out of and in the course of her employment – a common defense in these types of fall cases. The arbitrator disagreed and awarded her benefits against the Fund.
The Treasurer appealed the arbitration award to the Commission and lost. Then, the Treasurer appealed to the Circuit Court and lost. At the next level of appeal, however, the Appellate Court finally agreed with the Treasurer and reversed the claimant’s award of benefits.
The claimant filed a petition for rehearing and asked the Appellate Court to consider, for the first time, whether the courts ever had jurisdiction to review the Commission’s decision in the first instance. The claimant presented two alternative arguments. First, that a claim against the Treasurer as ex-officio custodian of the Fund was a claim against the State of Illinois for which no appeals of Commission decisions are allowed by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(1) Illinois General Assembly | IWCC PDF. Alternatively, she argued that if her claim against the Fund was not considered a claim against the State of Illinois, then the Treasurer had failed to file an appeal bond that was necessary to vest the courts with jurisdiction.
On petition for rehearing, the Appellate Court agreed with the claimant’s second argument and found that the courts did not have jurisdiction to review the Commission’s decision because the Treasurer did not file an appeal bond. Accordingly, even though the Appellate Court did not agree with the Commission that the claimant had suffered a compensable accident, her workers’ compensation award was reinstated. The Treasurer appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
The Court began its analysis by stating that “in order to vest the courts with jurisdiction to review Commission decisions, strict compliance with the provisions of the Act is necessary and must affirmatively appear in the record.” Citing Gruszeczka v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2013 IL 114212 Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF. The Court found that timely filing the appeal bond was a jurisdictional requirement, which also required strict compliance with the Act’s procedure. Citing Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Industrial Commission, 74 Ill. 2d (1979) Google Scholar; Freedom Graphic Systems, Inc. v. Industrial Commission, 345 Ill. App. 3d 716 (2003) Google Scholar; Kavonius v. Industrial Commission, 314 Ill. App. 3d 166 (2000) Google Scholar. Therefore, without a timely filed appeal bond, the appeal must be dismissed. Citing Coultas v. Industrial Commission, 31 Ill. 2d 527 (1964) Google Scholar; Securitas, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 395 Ill. App. 3d 1103 (2009) Google Scholar | Illinois Courts PDF.
The Court rejected the Treasurer’s numerous arguments for why the Act’s appeal bond requirements should not apply, finding that the Act’s “language must be given its plain, ordinary and popularly understood meaning.” Citing People ex rel. Director of Corrections v. Booth, 215 Ill. 2d 416 (2005) Google Scholar | Illinois Courts. While the Act exempts various public entities from filing appeal bonds – counties, cities, towns, townships, incorporated villages, school districts, bodies politic and municipal corporations – neither the Treasurer nor the Fund is included in this list. Accordingly, the Court agreed that the appeal must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. “To hold otherwise would require us to ignore the plain and unambiguous language of the statute and read into it an exception or limitation which the legislature did not express.”
The Court concluded that while it might make sense for the Treasurer, as ex-officio custodian of the Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund, to be exempt from the appeal bond requirement like the other public entities, the state legislature must expressly state this in the Act. In the end, the Treasurer’s appeal was dismissed and the claimant’s award of benefits were reinstated.