Argument Report: The Perils of Waiting Too Long on Your Fees Claim

Our reports on the oral arguments of the Illinois Supreme Court's September term continue with Rodriquez v. Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. To watch the video, click here.

The facts and holding below are set forth in detail in our preview of the argument. Here's the question - when you get an administrative rule struck down, do you have to bring your claim for attorneys fees under Section 10-55(c) of the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act, 5 ILCS 100/10-55(c), in the same action as your challenge to the rule, or can it wait? In Rodriquez, the trial court held that the plaintiff was required to bring the fees claim as part of his challenge to the administrative rule; but the Appellate Court reversed, holding that the legislature had not imposed a time limit on the Section 10-55(c) action for fees.

Counsel for the State argued that the plain language of the statute makes it clear that the legislature was talking about a fees request brought as part of a single action. According to counsel, no one had ever tried to extend the statute to multiple actions. Justice Garman asked whether, if the Appellate Court strikes down a rule, the Appellate Court awards attorneys fees. Counsel responded that the court striking the rule should hear the motion for fees. The challenger should plead the claim for fees in the complaint, or he (or she) can plead the claim for thirty days after the final order striking the administrative rule. Counsel for the State pointed out that if the plaintiff's position prevailed, the State would be looking at long-tail liability for fees, given the plaintiff's apparent position that a fees request remained viable forever. Justice Burke asked whether that wasn't what the Appellate Court had found -- that the legislature had not intended to impose a time limit? Counsel responded that the language of the statute should be limited to a single action -- the case in which the administrative order was struck down. Justice Garman asked whether the State's argument was that the fees claim was a separate cause of action or a separate claim. Counsel responded that it was a separate claim, but not a separate cause of action. Chief Justice Kilbride asked whether, if the case had wound up in a final administrative action, the individual could couple a claim for fees with a complaint seeking judicial review of the final administrative action. Counsel for the State answered that that was a plausible scenario, and he thought that was what the legislature intended to happen, as opposed to declaratory judgment actions brought before the administrative rule fell. Justice Theis asked counsel to respond to the Appellate Court's reliance on Town of Libertyville v. Bank of Waukegan. Counsel for the State responded that in Libertyville, the Court retained jurisdiction to consider an award of fees in a single action. He concluded by summarizing his position: (1) the statute controls; and (2) res judicata bars the plaintiff's action.

When the plaintiff began, Justice Garman asked whether counsel could name any other examples of a cause of action with no statute of limitations. Counsel responded that the claim for fees might have a statute of limitations -- the five-year catch-all statute that might apply. Justice Theis asked whether plaintiff argued that the fees request was a claim or a cause of action. Counsel responded that the request was a cause of action. Then why shouldn't it be handled pursuant to our usual rule, Justice Theis asked -- all claims must be brought before final judgment, and if they're not, there's a res judicata bar? Counsel responded that the claim did not accrue until the rule was invalidated. Justice Theis followed up by asking when the claim accrued; counsel responded that the claim had accrued twice, once when the trial court invalidated the order, and again when the Appellate Court reinstated the court's original order and struck down the rule. Justice Thomas asked whether there was an opportunity in the second Rodriquez action to bring the attorneys fees claim. Counsel responded that there was not, since the action was not ripe until the rule had been struck down.

Counsel for the State concluded, arguing that the statute plainly intended for the fees claim to be part of a claim, not a separate cause of action. Counsel emphasized once again the various terms in the statute which appeared to refer to a single, unitary lawsuit.

 

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