Lawsuit About Prisoners Burned With Hot Grease During Work In the Kitchen
In Brandon v. Bonell, 368 Ill. App. 3d 492, 858 N.E.2d 465, 306 Ill. Dec. 668 (2006), the plaintiffs, inmates at a correctional facility assigned to work in the kitchen, alleged the defendants, correctional-facility employees assigned to manage the kitchen, breached their duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace after plaintiffs were burned with hot grease. Brandon, 368 Ill. App. 3d at 494, 858 N.E.2d at 471.
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that sovereign immunity applied to bar the claims against them. Brandon, 368 Ill. App. 3d at 495, 858 N.E.2d at 471.
In Brandon, 368 Ill. App. 3d at 505-07, 858 N.E.2d at 480-81, the court discussed the "source of the duty" test, which is used to determine whether an employee breached a duty owed independently of his employment:
"According to the test, in order to determine if sovereign immunity protects an employee for his own act of negligence, one must look to the source of the duty the employee is charged with breaching in committing the negligent act.
When the state employee allegedly breaches a duty that arises solely by virtue of his state employment, sovereign immunity will bar in circuit court an action that is founded on that breach.
However, when an employee breaches a duty imposed independently of his state employment, he is entitled to no more immunity than is a private individual who breaches that same duty and the mere fact of his employment will not endow him with heightened protection.
Thus, even if an employee is acting in the scope of his employment, he will not be protected by sovereign immunity for breaching a duty that arises separately from his state employment.
When applying the 'source of duty' test, courts have found that an independent duty is a duty imposed by the employee's status as something other than an employee.
For example, professionals employed by the State, such as public defenders and doctors at state hospitals, are not protected by sovereign immunity when they breach a professional duty owed by every member of that profession.
Because a professional duty derives from the duty of care imposed by one's status as a professional, this is an independent duty that does not arise solely from one's employment and, thus, a breach is not protected by sovereign immunity.
In the same way, the duty to drive safely is a duty one owes to others regardless of one's employment, because it arises from one's status as a person operating a vehicle on a state roadway and not as a person employed as a driver.
As a result, when a state employee breaches her duty to drive safely, even if she is driving within the scope of her state employment, she has breached a duty not imposed solely by her employment and is not protected by sovereign immunity.
However, the 'source of duty' test is not without exceptions.
When the conduct related to a state employee's independent duty is unique to his state employment such that a suit challenging this conduct could affect state policies or control its actions, then sovereign immunity will bar a suit against the state employee.
For example, where a police officer was responding to an emergency call by driving south across westbound traffic, this manner of driving was considered unique to her state employment, and sovereign immunity applied despite her independent duty to drive with reasonable care.
Like duties as a professional and duties as a motor vehicle operator, duties imposed by statute are normally considered independent duties because most statutes impose specific requirements on all people regardless of their employment.
For example, when an employee in the course of his employment breaches a duty imposed by the Illinois Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/1-1 [through 47-25] (West 2004)), he has breached an independent duty and is not protected by sovereign immunity.
However, recently in Fritz[v. Johnston, 209 Ill. 2d 302, 314, 807 N.E.2d 461, 468-69, 282 Ill. Dec. 837 (2004),] our supreme court clarified that where a statute imposes a duty only upon state employees, this statutory duty arises solely from their employment.
As a result, an action resulting from a state employee's breach of a duty imposed solely by a statute pertaining only to state employees is protected by sovereign immunity.
For example, where a professor sued the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities of Illinois, alleging that they had discharged her in violation of a section of the board of governors act, which applied only to the operation, management, and control of the State Colleges and Universities System, the court applied sovereign immunity despite the plaintiff's argument that the Board of Governors violated a statute."
The court noted the parties distinguished public from private kitchens and focused their arguments on whether the defendants' duty to plaintiffs was unique to their state employment. Brandon, 368 Ill. App. 3d at 507, 858 N.E.2d at 481.
The court affirmed on the basis that the statute relied on in the complaint imposed a duty on only the Department of Corrections. Brandon, 368 Ill. App. 3d at 508, 858 N.E.2d at 482.
The Second District then stated as follows:
"Consequently, the statute imposes a duty solely on the Department of Corrections, and thus, any duty it imposes on Department of Corrections employees arises solely by virtue of their employment.
Further, this court cannot find any common-law duty, akin to that of lawyers, doctors and other health professionals, and motor[-]vehicle operators, that kitchen supervisors have to keep kitchen staff members safe.
Therefore, the trial court did not err in concluding that the duty defendants allegedly breached arose solely from their employment.
Because plaintiffs do not allege any facts showing that defendants breached a duty to plaintiffs that arose independently of defendants' state employment, the action is considered one against the State.
In addition, because defendants' duty does not arise independently of their employment, we need not address if defendants' conduct was unique to their employment such that a lawsuit aimed at their conduct would operate to control state policies or actions, such that sovereign immunity applies." Brandon, 368 Ill. App. 3d at 508, 858 N.E.2d at 482.