On Thursday morning, the Illinois Supreme Court resolved a confused issue in utilities law, holding unanimously in The People of the State of Illinois ex rel. Madigan v. Illinois Commerce Commission that the 35-day period provided by the Public Utilities Act (220 ILCS 5/10-201(a)) to appeal from orders of the Illinois Commerce Commission trumped the thirty-day period provided by Supreme Court Rule 335(i)(1) for administrative appeals. Our detailed summary of the underlying facts and lower court opinions is here. Our report on the oral argument is here.

Madigan arises from a decision of the Illinois Commerce Commission to allow the respondent water company to impose a 1.25% reconciliation surcharge on its customers. The Commission also declined to require the utility to adopt a unit sewer rate for low-volume customers. The Attorney General appealed both aspects of the Commission’s decision.

The Attorney General filed the State’s notice of appeal thirty-five days after the Commission issued its order. As such, it was timely pursuant to Section 10-201(a) of the Public Utilities Act, but untimely if Supreme Court Rule 335 applied. The Appellate Court dismissed.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Lloyd Karmeier, the Supreme Court reversed. The Court said that review of ICC decisions is pursuant to “special statutory jurisdiction.” An appellate court has no power with respect to an administrative decision aside from the provisions of the governing statute – strict compliance is required. Accordingly, the Attorney General’s appeal was governed by the Act, not the Court’s own rules. While it was true that the Court has concurrent constitutional authority with the General Assembly to decide on rules for administrative review, the Court’s rules govern judicial review only in the absence of express contrary directions from the legislature. That conclusion necessarily followed from the principles (and limitations) inherent in special statutory jurisdiction.

Image courtesy of Flickr by H. Michael Karshis (no changes).