Appellate Court Victory – Case of First Impression
In a case of first impression in Illinois, partners Matthew J. Egan and Brendan J. Nelligan secured a victory in the Appellate Court for a labor union and a union attorney who were sued in the Circuit Court of Cook County by the plaintiff, a union member, based on legal representation the attorney provided the plaintiff at an arbitration hearing which challenged his firing as a police officer by a local municipality. The plaintiff asserted a claim of legal malpractice against the attorney and a separate claim of negligence against the union. The Circuit Court granted Matt and Brendan’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that the attorney was immune from suit and the Illinois Labor Relations Board, and not the Circuit Court, had exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims against the union. The Appellate Court unanimously affirmed this ruling on the grounds that Matt and Brendan had argued.
In a matter of first impression under Illinois law, the Appellate Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., 370 U.S. 238 (1962), provided the attorney, as a union representative, with immunity from personal liability for actions taken on the employee’s behalf under a collective bargaining agreement, such as the arbitration hearing with the municipality. Previously, Illinois law was unclear about whether the Atkinson doctrine applied outside the context of the federal National Labor Relations Act. That question has now been answered in the affirmative, providing unions and their representatives in Illinois with protection from claims based on actions which arise from the collective bargaining process. The Appellate Court also confirmed that the Illinois Labor Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction over claims against a union which arise from the union’s conduct under a collective bargaining agreement, even if the claim is styled as one for malpractice or other negligence. See 2019 IL App (1st) 181868.