Illinois high court: Circuit courts should decide cases on nonconstitutional grounds 'whenever possible'

By Karen Kidd | Dec 11, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline) – A wrongful death suit that the Cook County Circuit Court declined to dismiss is on its way back after the Illinois Supreme Court's recent ruling that the lower court should limit itself to deciding cases on nonconstitutional grounds.

In its unanimous 12-page judgment and opinion issued Nov. 29, the high court pointed out it has previously "admonished circuit courts that 'cases should be decided on nonconstitutional grounds whenever possible, reaching constitutional issues only as a last resort.'"

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of Union Health Service Inc., a Chicago-based multi-specialty medical group and not-for-profit health plan, and vacated the Circuit Court's previous order that denied a Union Health motion for dismissal and remanded the case.

Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote the high court's judgment and opinion in which justices Robert R. Thomas, Thomas L. Kilbride, Rita B. Garman, Anne M. Burke, Mary Jane Theis and P. Scott Neville Jr. concurred.

Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier   illinoiscourts.gov

Sarahi Vasquez Gonzalez, as administrator of the estate of Rodolfo Chavez Lopez, filed the initial wrongful death and survival action against Union Health "and numerous other defendants" over Lopez's 2014 death following a lymph node biopsy. 

Union Health Service claimed immunity under the Voluntary Health Services Plans Act, which Union Health claims holds it not liable for injuries that result from negligence, misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance or malpractice.

The circuit court denied Union Health's motion to dismiss, ruling that a 1988 amendment to a section of the Act was unconstitutional.

In its reversal of the circuit court's ruling, the Supreme Court said it was not necessary - or an especially good thing - to address the constitutionality of the amendment to resolve the case.

"Statutes carry a strong presumption of constitutionality," the Supreme Court's opinion said. "Improvident or unnecessary declarations that a statutory enactment is constitutionally infirm compromise the stability of our legal system. Moreover, when a circuit court prematurely invalidates legislation that might ultimately be disposed of on a nonconstitutional basis, 'the effect is to circumvent the normal appellate process and require this court to accept cases it might otherwise decline to hear.'"

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