Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Nov. 29, 2014, 6:00pm

The Fifth District Court of Appeals concluded that summary judgment is proper for a college professor who was sued by his fellow teachers claiming he submitted fraudulent requests for travel reimbursement.

Justice Thomas M. Welch delivered the Rule 23 judgment of the court on Jan. 16, affirming the lower court’s ruling. Justice Richard P. Goldenhersh concurred and Justice Judy Cates specially concurred.

Plaintiffs Kevin Wise and Jerry Becker appealed an order out of the St. Clair County Circuit Court granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Dan Jones.

The Fifth District concluded that the circuit court did not err when it found there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Jones knowingly submitted false travel reimbursement claims.

Welch explains that Wise, Becker and Jones are faculty members in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Jones was hired by the University in 1978 as a professor. As part of his employment, he was required to teach, supervise and observe University students who were student teaching at school districts around Illinois.

He would travel to the various schools to observe the students in the classroom and meet with their cooperating teachers and school administrators.

Jones was also required to attend meetings at the University’s campus in Carbondale.

Due to the amount of time he spent traveling, the University approved his travel reimbursement for work-related travel from his home office to the schools and campus.

On March 3, 2011, Wise, Becker and The Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University field a complaint on behalf of the University, claiming Jones knowingly submitted false claims for travel reimbursement for travel between his Belleville hoe office and the Carbondale campus.

On Sept. 10, 2013, Jones filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether he had knowingly submitted false or fraudulent claims for travel reimbursement.

Jones argued that various University administrators had already approved reimbursement for work-related travel between his home and the campus.

Furthermore, Rita Cheng, chancellor of the University, submitted an affidavit indicating that the plaintiffs filed the action on behalf of the University without the University’s consent. She also said she was aware of the travel reimbursements Jones submitted and approved those requests.

She added that the University did not contend that it had been defrauded by the defendant and it had no interest in pursuing the litigation.

The trial court agreed with Jones and granted summary judgment. It concluded that the plaintiffs “could not claim that Jones knowingly defrauded the state when seeking travel reimbursement where the University, an arm of the state, repeatedly, and knowingly, approved his requests for reimbursement,” Welch wrote.

The plaintiffs argue that Jones did not mention any office or headquarters at his home in his reappointment notices, meaning a Belleville office should not be recognized as work-related for travel purposes.

The plaintiffs also argue that the defendant’s Belleville office did not have a fax machine, it was not wheelchair accessible, there was no lock on the door and the defendant had never used the home office to meet with anyone connected with the University.

The Fifth District was unconvinced. It held that “nothing in the forms precluded the defendant from establishing his home office as his headquarters, nor did the forms require that the on-campus office be established as his headquarters for travel reimbursement purposes.”

Welch held that the plaintiffs failed to show that Jones submitted claims for work-related travel that did not occur. Instead, they just don’t think he should be reimbursed for specific travels, which had already been approved by the University.

Furthermore, even if a conflict existed between the parties, it has been waived by the University’s chancellor.

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