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Mon, 26 Jun 2017
The Court of Claims is Not a Remedy

The Illinois Appellate Court has dismissed human services providers’ case seeking to be paid for work performed under legal and binding contracts, directing the Pay Now Illinois plaintiffs – and all unpaid Illinois vendors – to the Illinois Court of Claims.

We have been to the Court of Claims. We know. This is not a solution.

Lapsed Appropriation vs. No Appropriation

It’s important to understand how the Court of Claims operates. According to its website, the Court has consistently interpreted its responsibilities under the law as hearing claims that result from a “lapsed appropriation". A lapsed appropriation is an appropriation that has expired.

But if an appropriation never occurred, can it expire?

This may seem like a philosophical conundrum along the lines of the sound of one hand clapping. Except what we are talking about here is real world urgency. It is not clear on what basis the Illinois Court of Claims would even agree to hear our cases because doing so would require them to dramatically re-interpret the law from what they have done in the past.

Time & Money Raise the Stakes for Providers

Both the length of time the Court of Claims process takes, and the magnitude of the unpaid bills prevent the Court of Claims from being a practical or meaningful remedy for providers.

In ordinary times, the Illinois Court of Claims is notoriously slow; providers have routinely waited years for any kind of hearing. For example, my own organization has had a claim pending in the Court of Claims since September 2015. We have heard nothing for nearly two years. Because this claim is for less than $10,000, we can operate without the missing funds while waiting for our award.

But these are not ordinary times.

Approximately 8,500 cases are filed with the Court of Claims against the State of Illinois annually, ranging from personal injury to awards to victims of violent crime. The Court has seven judges and 16 part-time commissioners who adjudicate these cases. Imagine the backlog that would occur if all providers were to file with the Court of Claims for each unpaid contract AND the Court of Claims agreed to hear each case. The Court would be deluged, and the backlog would be incomprehensible. It is one thing to wait two years for $10,000 to resolve a clerical error; it is another thing entirely when a provider is waiting for payment of a year or more’s worth of work.

A Circular Process: Ending Where We Started

Even when a Court of Claims case is successfully adjudicated, that’s not the end to the process. Providers must wait for the General Assembly to pass new legislation – appropriating funds – to pay the claims awarded by the Court. Payment cannot be processed until the bill is signed into law by the governor.

And that’s why it’s absurd.

The whole reason we are in this disaster now is because the General Assembly and the Governor cannot agree on a budget, which is another word for an appropriations bill. We would not be in this situation if they would fulfill their Constitutional duty and pass a budget that could be signed into law. It is ridiculous and unconscionable that providers would have to trudge through an unclear and overburdened Illinois Court of Claims process simply to end up back where we started – waiting for our elected officials to do their jobs.
Posted 14:33

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