HARRIS v. QUINN (September 1, 2011)

The Illinois Department of Human Services runs two programs that provide in-home care to Illinois residents. One is operated by the Division of Rehabilitation Services and the other is operated by the Division of Developmental Disabilities. In both programs, eligible individuals work with program counselors to develop individual service plans. In the Rehabilitation Program, once a service plan is in place, the eligible individual may select any qualified personal assistant to implement the plan. The individual and the assistant enter into employment agreement, the terms of which are dictated by the Department. In 2003, after the Illinois legislature passed a law designating the personal assistants as state employees for collective bargaining purposes, a majority of the Rehabilitation Program personal assistants voted to unionize. A majority of the Disability Program personal assistants rejected unionization. The collective bargaining agreement between the Rehabilitation Program Union and the State contains a "fair share" provision that requires personal assistants who are not members of the union to pay a proportionate share of the collective bargaining costs. In 2010, personal assistants from both programs filed suit against the Governor and the unions. They alleged that the fair share fees violated the First Amendment. The Disability Program personal assistants alleged that they were harmed by the threat of a future agreement. Judge Johnson-Coleman (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the Rehabilitation Program claim for failure to state a claim and dismissed the Disability Program claim on jurisdictional grounds. The personal assistants appeal.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Manion, Wood, and Hamilton affirmed and remanded. The Court first addressed the Rehabilitation Program plaintiffs. It remarked that there is a long line of Supreme Court cases approving fair share agreements. The Court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the Supreme Court cases were not controlling because the personal assistants are employees of the patients, not the state. The Court relied on the ordinary definition of employer -- one who directs the activities of a worker under a contract and pays his wages -- as well as the concept that an employee can have more than one employer. The Court gave the legislative designation no weight but, instead, looked at the State's relationship to the personal assistants. It concluded that the state has significant control -- it sets qualifications, defines job responsibilities through the service plan, and pays the wages, among other things. The Court concluded that this significant amount of control made the State an employer. It also rejected plaintiffs' argument that the Supreme Court cases should not apply because of their unique circumstances. The Court turned to the Disabilities Program personal assistants’ claim. It agreed with the district court that that claim was not ripe in that it rested on future events that may or may not occur. The Court did conclude that the district court erred in dismissing the Disability Program claim with prejudice. A claim dismissed on ripeness grounds is typically dismissed without prejudice. The Court remanded for the proper dismissal.