Appellate court: Woman raped walking to car after leaving work can resume suit vs. University of Chicago hospital

Jonathan Bilyk Apr. 20, 2015, 11:43am

A woman who was beaten and raped while walking through a park to her vehicle at the end of her night shift at The University of Chicago Medical Center has won the chance to resume her lawsuit against the school and hospital, after a state appellate panel found a lower court too hastily dismissed her complaint alleging her employer failed to provide her with the level of security she was promised when she took the job.

On April 16, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court ruled in favor of the woman identified only as “Jane Doe,” reversing the decision of Cook County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Lawrence, who had dismissed the woman’s complaint against The University of Chicago and its associated hospital, saying the woman had not provided enough proof to back her assertions the university had promised her as much security as she claims it did.

In the opinion, authored by Justice David Ellis, the justices said the woman’s case had no guarantee of success at trial. But the appeals court determined Lawrence had erred in granting the university’s motion to dismiss at this stage of the proceedings, particularly chiding the judge for demanding, at a pleading stage, the woman’s counsel provide “proof from a nonexistent record” to counter the university’s motion.

Justices James Fitzgerald Smith and Cynthia Y. Cobbs concurred in the opinion.

“Plaintiff, at the pleading stage and faced with a section 2-619 motion, was clearly not required to show a promise beyond what she alleged in her complaint,” the justices said.

The justices remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

The appellate ruling stands as the latest step in the years-long litigation.

Filed in 2011, the case centers on the assault suffered by the unidentified woman shortly after 9 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2009, as she walked from The University of Chicago Medical Center’s Goldblatt Pavilion through Midway Plaisance Park to her vehicle parked nearby.

The woman had been employed at the hospital since May 2008 as a phlebotomist working second shift.

The woman asserts, at the time she took the job at the hospital, numerous representatives of the hospital assured her she could easily request security escorts to her vehicle after her shift ended at security desks, which she asserts they assured her would be manned constantly.

However, that evening, the woman alleges she found the desk at Goldblatt Pavilion vacant, prompting her, after a wait of more than 10 minutes, to depart alone for her vehicle, leaving her vulnerable to the attack in the park.

The university hospital moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming the woman erred in opting not to call either hospital security or university police using either readily available security phones or her own mobile phone to request the security escorts. Further, the hospital said it had no policy to station security at that particular security desk beyond 3:20 p.m. on weekdays.

And the hospital claimed it should not be responsible for attacks on a person off its property who had eschewed the option to obtain a security escort.

In response, the woman reiterated her assertions the hospital had promised the desk would be manned by security from whom she could request an escort, and hospital personnel had actually indicated to her she should not contact security by phone to request the escort.

In dismissing the case, Lawrence had indicated he was treating the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment, so he required the woman’s counsel to demonstrate “where … in the  evidentiary record” the university or hospital had promised it would provide the services the woman alleges she was promised on taking the job.

On appeal, the justices, however, said the woman’s well-pleaded complaint was sufficient to allow the case to move forward.

“(The University of Chicago Medical Center’s) claim that plaintiff could have used her own phone or a nearby university phone to request security services may be a powerful argument in their favor,” the justices wrote. “We emphasize that we find this case at the pleading stage. Plaintiff's deposition has not been taken. Virtually no discovery has taken place. At this stage, we must accept as true plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations that she was explicitly told that she must make an in-person, and only an in-person request for such services.”

Further, the justices said, since the woman has asserted the hospital voluntarily promised her a security escort, the hospital’s duty to provide security for the woman and other similar female employees could well extend beyond their property lines.

The woman is represented in the case by Lane & Lane, of Chicago.

Defendants are represented by Williams Montgomery & John, of Chicago.

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