Jonathan Bilyk May 4, 2015, 5:45pm

The question of how much public employers are allowed to charge their retirees for health benefits – if at all – under the Illinois Constitution’s diminishment and impairment clause, and which workers are eligible to claim such protections, will return to the Illinois Supreme Court next week, as the court begins its May term.

Lawyers for the Chicago Transit Authority and associated retirement plans will square off with attorneys representing a group of CTA employees and retirees before the state high court on Thursday, May 14, as the justices take on the case of Matthews, et. al. vs CTA.

The class action case’s arrival at the state Supreme Court follows a decision by the Illinois First District Appellate Court on the case.

The case arose in 2011, when the current and recently retired CTA workers sued in Cook County Circuit Court over the CTA’s decision to force retirees to pay for a portion of their health benefits, when previously they did not. The CTA workers and retirees argued the decision violated both the workers’ contract with the CTA and the state Constitution.

Last year, the three-justice panel at the appellate court upheld the lower court decision finding current CTA employees were ineligible to participate in the action, since their benefits are governed by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by their union with the CTA.

The appellate panel also upheld the circuit court’s ruling finding the retired CTA workers were not similarly represented by the transit unions, and thus had standing to bring the challenge.

However, the justices rejected the lower court’s decision to find the retirees lacked a “vested right” to the continuation of their health benefits, saying no statutes or case law would indicate the CTA was able to simply reserve the right to change the level of coverage for workers who retired under a particular CBA.

The justices also demurred on the constitutional questions, noting similar questions were being asked in the case of Kanerva vs. Weems, then pending before the state Supreme Court. In that case, the state high court found retiree health benefits were constitutionally protected, even though they are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

In all, the Illinois Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two dozen cases during its May term, running from Tuesday, May 12, to Thursday, May 21.

Other cases scheduled to be called include:

Jeff Gurba vs. Community High School District No. 155 – Justices are expected on Wednesday, May 20, to address the question of how much zoning control local municipal governments can exert over the building activities of public school districts. This case centers on the contentions by homeowners neighboring the football field at Crystal Lake South High School that the high school should have obtained zoning permits before it tripled the size of the stadium’s bleachers. The school has argued it did not need to do so. Lower courts have sided with the homeowners.

Kristine O’Toole vs. The Chicago Zoological Society –  Also on May 20, justices will hear arguments over whether entities like the Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, are truly public entities entitled to exemption from lawsuits under the Tort Immunity Act. In this case, a woman sued the zoo over injuries she alleges she sustained at the zoo because of the zoo’s negligence. The zoo argued it should be immune under the act. A First District Appellate decision found the zoo is not such an exempt public body, even though it sits on land owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District and receives tax dollars.

James R. Stevens vs. McGuireWoods LLP – In this case, a group of individual investors are suing a law firm who they allege bungled their case against commodities trading fund, Beeland Management LLC, whose founder and majority member Jim Rogers stood accused of misappropriating Beeland’s assets, and against law firm Sidley Austin, which had represented Beeland. Lower courts had divided over the question of whether the investors could sue McGuireWoods over the investors’ claims the law firm had not moved quickly enough to bring within the statute of limitations their action against Sidley Austin for allegedly aiding and abetting Rogers’ actions. Arguments are scheduled for Thursday, May 21.

Ellen Folta vs. Ferro Engineering – Lawyers in this case will argue on Thursday, May 14, over whether the spouses of those who died from an asbestos-related disease should be barred from suing their spouses’ former employers under the Workers’ Compensation and the Workers’ Occupational Diseases acts. An appellate panel had determined Illinois case law finds such spouses are free to pursue common law claims, since their claims are “not compensable” under the acts.

Henderson Square Condominium Association vs. LAB Townhomes – This case centers on the questions of how much disclosure of potential building problems and defects developers are required to give buyers under building codes, and how much money the developers need to set aside at the time of turning over property management responsibilities to a homeowners association to remedy potential problems that might arise even a decade or more in the future. Arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, May 19.

Other civil cases pending before the court in May include:

Reuben D. Walker vs. Pamela J. McGuire, No. 117138 (Will County);

Kevin McElwain vs. Office of the Secretary of State, No. 117170 (Cook County);

Sharon Price vs. Philip Morris, No. 117687 (Fifth District);

Lake Environmental vs. Damon T. Arnold, No. 118110 (Fifth District);

ComEd vs. Illinois Commerce Commission, No. 118129 (First District);

Village of Vernon Hills vs. William J. Heelan, No. 118170 (Second District);

Carol Klaine vs. Southern Illinois Hospital Services, No. 118217 (Fifth District);

Terry L. Seymour vs. Bradley Collins, No. 118432 (Second District);

Ballard RN Center Inc. vs. Kohll’s Pharmacy and Homecare Inc., No. 118644 (First District);

DeShaw Nelson vs Donald Artley, Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago, appellant, No. 118058 (First District.)

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Organizations in this Story

Cook County Circuit Court
50 W Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602

Illinois Supreme Court
200 E Capitol Ave
Springfield, IL 62701

Chicago Transit Authority
567 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60661

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