Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed November 21, 2013


People ex rel. Department of Labor v. E.R.H. Enterprises, Inc., 2013 IL 115106

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (4th) 110943.

      JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      The Village of Bement, in Piatt County, uses a company known as E.R.H. Enterprises, Inc., to assist in fulfilling its obligation to operate and maintain the Village’s potable water facility and parts of the water delivery infrastructure. The company has a five-year contract. In 2008, the Department of Labor issued a subpoena to defendant company’s attorney seeing employment records and other documents as part of an investigation under the Prevailing Wage Act. After unsuccessful attempts to secure compliance, the Department filed a verified complaint for an adjudication of civil contempt against E.R.H., seeking enforcement of the subpoena. As a response, E.R.H. asserted that it was exempt from the Act as a public utility. Ultimately, the circuit court ruled in favor of the Department. It ordered E.R.H. to provide the requested documents after concluding that it was not an exempt public utility as it claimed, noting, among other things, that it was not regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission. E.R.H. appealed, and the appellate court reversed, finding that E.R.H. was a public utility exempt from the Act. With this proposition, the Illinois Supreme Court did not agree, and, when the appeal was brought before it, it reversed the appellate court.

      Unfortunately, the Prevailing Wage Act does not provide a definition of the term “public utility company” used in the statute’s exemption language. This absence has brought the language of the Public Utilities Act into dispute in this appeal.

      In this decision, the supreme court said that E.R.H. is clearly not regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission, but is simply an outside contractor. The appellate court erred in concluding that E.R.H. was entitled to an exemption as a public utility in circumstances in which there was no supporting evidence that it was a regulated utility.

      The circuit court’s ruling in favor of the Department of Labor was affirmed.