Illinois Supreme Court Reverses Circuit Court Finding Lack of Jurisdiction Over Public Utility Administrative Actions

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On October 18, the Illinois Supreme Court decided the case of Ameren Transmission Co. of Illinois v. Hutchings, et al. According to the Illinois Supreme Court, there is no presumption that Illinois courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over administrative actions. The availability of any review of this determination was controlled by the Public Utility Act (PUA), and under that law, the Circuit Court had no authority to assess the constitutionality of the Illinois Commerce Commission’s (Commission) proceedings when it was sitting as a court of general jurisdiction.

To facilitate the construction of a high-voltage powerline after the project had been approved by the Commission, Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (Ameren) filed eminent domain claims against several landowner in Edgar County, IL to gain access to their land, after having received authority to do so from the Commission to negotiate easement rights with the landowners.

The landowners then challenged the eminent domain actions in the Illinois Circuit Court, which dismissed Ameren’s complaints on the basis that the former Public Utilities Act was unconstitutional as applied to these landowners. Ameren than filed a direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which has ruled that the Illinois Circuit Court had no jurisdiction over these complaints.

The Commission approved the application to construct the ”Illinois Rivers Project,” which itself was earlier and unsuccessfully challenged in court. That Court held that the approval was valid, and dismissed the affected landowners’ complaint that the approval process violated their due process rights.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled:

“We need not reach the merits of the circuit court’s due process analysis, as the circuit court clearly lacked the necessary jurisdiction to review the legality and constitutionality of the Commission’s administrative proceedings.”

Accordingly, the judgment of the Illinois Circuit Court was reversed.

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