Appellate court rules Bi-State is not a local public entity

Kelly Holleran Aug. 28, 2009, 6:29am





Two Illinois appellate justices disagreed with a previous Appellate Court ruling and decided that an interstate agency is not a local public entity, subjecting it to a two-year statute of limitations.

The question appeared before the court after Bi-State Development Agency of the Illinois-Missouri Metropolitan District argued a case against it should be dismissed because the one-year statute of limitations had already expired when the suit was filed.

Brian T. Hubble instigated the lawsuit against Bi-State after he says a Bi-State bus driver collided with his vehicle on Sept. 13, 2005. Hubble did not file the lawsuit until March 1, 2007, which Bi-State argued was past the one-year statute of limitations.

Generally, Illinois has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases, but the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act contains a one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims against local public entities, a category to which Bi-State says it belongs.

Appellate Court Justices Bruce D. Stewart and Melissa A. Chapman disagreed, and in a majority opinion issued Aug. 6, they ruled Bi-State is not a local public entity.

Their opinion concurred with St. Clair County Circuit Lloyd Cueto's ruling that Hubble's case should not be dismissed.

Hubble was represented by Bruce N. Cook of Cook, Ysursa, Bartholomew, Brauer and Shevin in Belleville.

"Considering the unique nature of Bi-State as a compact clause entity and considering the Tort Immunity Act as a whole, we do not believe that the Illinois legislature intended to include Bi-State within the meaning of the term 'local public entity' in the Tort Immunity Act," Stewart wrote in the majority opinion.

The Tort Immunity Act does not clearly define what falls under the category of local public entity, which is cause for the confusion.

Bi-State was formed as an interstate compact, which is an agreement between two or more states that address a common problem. Before an interstate compact can exist, the United States Congress must consent to the agreement. As a part of Bi-State's approval, Congress authorized mass passenger transportation services for Missouri and Illinois.

Under the Tort Immunity Act, local public entities are allowed to pay off judgments in installments over the course of more than one fiscal year and are allowed to levy real estate taxes to cover the costs of insuring or defending themselves against workers' compensation claims and tort claims.

But since Bi-State is a multi-state organization, Illinois does not have the authority to bestow taxing powers to Bi-State, and so Bi-State should not be considered a local public entity, Stewart and Chapman argue.

"Missouri has not consented to these additional powers or duties contained within article IX of the Tort Immunity Act by enacting identical legislation, nor has Congress granted approval," the majority opinion states. "Article IX of the Tort Immunity Act cannot apply to Bi-State because the Illinois legislature cannot unilaterally grant additional powers to or place additional burdens on Bi-State without an express concurrence from Missouri and congressional approval.

"Since the term 'local pubic entity' as used in article IX of the Tort Immunity act cannot apply to Bi-State, we construe the statute's definition of a 'local public entity' to exclude Bi-State for all the provisions of the Tort Immunity Act."

In support of its argument, Bi-State cited "Grady v. Bi-State Development Agency," where previous Illinois Appellate Court judges ruled that Bi-State was a local public entity.

In the complaint, Grady sued Bi-State for injuries she sustained while riding on one of Bi-State's buses.

Stewart wrote that he and Chapman disagreed with the prior Appellate Court's decision because it did not consider the consequences of including Bi-State within the definition of a local public entity.

In addition, the justices wrote that "Grady V. Bi-State Development Agency" misstates the law. For example, they wrote, the dissent cites that Bi-State's powers include "exercising additional powers as shall be conferred on it by either state legislature." But, in actuality, the statement is false, and Bi-State is prohibited from exercising any additional powers "unless and until such power or powers shall have been conferred upon the Bi-State Agency by the legislature of one of the States to the compact and concurred in by the legislature of the other and shall have been approved by an Act of Congress."

Also in the Grady case, the court did not hear fully developed arguments on both sides of the issue because the party opposing Bi-State chose not to participate in the appeal. But in Hubble's case, both sides were present and both sides were fully litigated.

"We cannot overrule Grady, but we disagree with the Grady court's analysis, and we decline to follow it," Stewart wrote. "We do not do so lightly, and we are mindful that considerations of stare decisis weigh heavily in the construction of a statute. Stare decisis, however, should not preclude us from correcting a mistake and interpreting the statute correctly."

Appellate Court Justice Stephen L. Spomer wrote a strong dissent, stating the majority opinion was a "clear violation" of stare decisis.

"I find the majority disposition only compounds the error of the trial judge by its misapplication of horizontal stare decisis," Spomer wrote. "In the end, the majority opinion eviscerates this cornerstone of American jurisprudence and turns the concept of precedent on its head."

Spomer argues the false facts and misstatements of law made during the Grady decision were not what prior Appellate judges used to render their opinion.

"The majority's analysis falls far short of explaining why the settled rule of law in this case should be overturned," he wrote.

Spomer contends Bi-State is a local public entity because it is a governmental entity and is a unit of local government.

Spomer also disagrees with Stewart's and Chapman's assessment that Bi-State is not a local public entity because it cannot levy taxes. Instead, Spomer contends the interstate compact that created Bi-State allows the organization the power to have taxes levied on its behalf, which falls under the definition of local public entity under the Tort Immunity Act.

In additon, Spomer says the history of the compact agreement should have no bearing on whether or not Bi-State is a local public entity.

"I find it to be a complete leap of logic to conclude, based upon the foregoing, that the two states must pass identical legislation defining Bi-State's status as an entity entitled to the immunities afforded to local public entities within each state," the suit states. "The matter of the status to be afforded Bi-State in this regard is outside the scope of the contract between Illinois and Missouri."

Bi-State was represented by Donald L. O'Keefe of Rabbitt, Pitzer and Snodgrass in St. Louis.

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