Do Circuit Courts Have Jurisdiction to Resolve Workers' Compensation Matters ?
In Employers Mutual Cos. v. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d 284, 644 N.E.2d 1163, 206 Ill. Dec. 110 (1994), the supreme court acknowledged the Workers' Compensation Act's pronouncement that all questions arising under the Workers' Compensation Act shall be determined by the Industrial Commission. Employers Mutual Cos. v. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 289.
Nevertheless, the Skilling court, relying heavily on NL Industries, held that circuit courts do have jurisdiction to resolve certain disputes in workers' compensation matters. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 289.
Skilling involved a declaratory judgment action filed by the insurance carrier for an employer following an employee's injury. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 285.
The employee was injured in Illinois and the carrier filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration by the court that its policy only covered injuries occurring in Wisconsin. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 285.
The employee and employer sought dismissal of the declaratory judgment action, arguing that the Industrial Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over all workers' compensation matters and the carrier failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with the Industrial Commission prior to bringing the declaratory action.
The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit, and the appellate court affirmed. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 286.
The supreme court, however, found the circuit court and the Industrial Commission had concurrent jurisdiction "to hear the insurance coverage issue." Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 287.
Since it "is the particular province of the courts to resolve questions of law such as the" coverage dispute between the parties, the Skilling court found it was proper for the circuit court to exercise jurisdiction in the matter. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 289.
The Skilling court cited to section 2--701 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which pertains to declaratory judgment actions, and acknowledged a circuit court's authority to make binding declarations of rights in cases of actual controversy, including the determination of the construction of a contract and the rights of the parties thereunder. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 289, citing 735 ILCS 5/2--701 (West 1992).
The Skilling court then stated that the circuit court was only asked to determine whether injuries in Illinois were included in the scope of coverage under the plaintiff's workers' compensation insurance contract with defendant's employer.
This, the Skilling court found, presented a question of law best addressed by a court. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 289.
Skilling involved a civil, and not quasi-criminal, matter in which a court was asked to declare the parties' rights and duties under a contract.
That task, the Skilling court acknowledged, presented a "question of law." Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 290.
As such, the Workers' Compensation Act's pronouncement that all questions arising under the Smoke Free Act shall be adjudicated by the Industrial Commission did not defeat the circuit court's authority to enter declaratory judgments pursuant to section 2--701 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. Skilling, 163 Ill. 2d at 290.