Illinois Supreme Court Interpreting DOC Rule. Is It De Novo Or Is It Abuse Of Discretion?

A prison inmate filed a class action complaint against the Illinois Department of Corrections. He asserted that a co-payment charged to indigent inmates for non-emergency medical and dental services was improper. The issue was whether the DOC’s definition of “indigent” (unable to pay the co-payment for the entire time of incarceration) conflicted with Illinois’ Unified Code of Corrections.

The circuit court dismissed the complaint. But the appellate court reversed. Affirming the appellate court, the Illinois Supreme Court first considered the standard of review. The Supreme Court acknowledged the typical standard of review of a motion to dismiss is de novo. Further, “Whether plaintiff’s complaint was properly dismissed turns on whether plaintiff sufficiently alleged a certain and clearly ascertainable right that needs protection.’”

The standard of review gets clouded in this case because the Supreme Court also stated that the DOC’s interpretation of the Code of Corrections gets a deferential review. “We acknowledge that where, as here, an agency is charged with the administration and enforcement of the statute, courts will give deference to the agency’s interpretation of any statutory ambiguities.”

That’s “abuse of discretion” language. So the appellate court was reviewed de novo, but the Department of Corrections was reviewed for abuse of discretion. Ultimately, the court affirmed because the DOC’s definition of “indigent” cannot be reconciled with the statute [Code of Corrections].”

The whole case, Hadley v. Illinois Department of Corrections, No. 101979 (2/16/07), by clicking here.