St. Clair County Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf on Thursday dismissed the city of Belleville’s lawsuit seeking to stop construction of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s replacement hospital in O’Fallon.
The city filed suit in May of last year against the state health board, its members, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and the Hospital Sisters Health System, which owns and operates St. Elizabeth’s, among other hospitals. The suit sought to overturn the state’s approval of the $253 million project, which was granted in April.
In making his ruling, Rudolf said he couldn’t ignore case law, which dictates the city of Belleville and Eckert do not have a standing to file for judicial review in court as they are not a competing healthcare facility; an argument the plaintiffs’ attorneys made to the judge during the hearing.
“HSHS St. Elizabeth’s is pleased that the Circuit Court ruled that Mayor Mark Eckert and the city of Belleville had no standing to bring their lawsuit and has dismissed the case,” HSHS St. Elizabeth’s said in a statement. “We hope today’s court action puts an end to the mayor’s eight months of litigation against us. We look forward to working with local elected officials and members of the community regarding how best to repurpose our Belleville campus when we move inpatient services to our new medical campus along I-64.”
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The new hospital is expected to be completed in December 2017.
We hope today’s court action puts an end to the mayor’s eight months of litigation against us. We look forward to working with local elected officials and members of the community regarding how best to repurpose our Belleville campus when we move inpatient services to our new medical campus along I-64.
Statement from HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
Eckert left the courthouse immediately following the judge’s decision. The city was represented by City Attorney Garrett Hoerner and Mark Silberman of the Duane Morris law firm in Chicago.
“We certainly respect the judge’s decision today (Thursday) but obviously, we are also somewhat disappointed,” Silberman said following the hearing. “What it means is that all of the concerns that were raised by the city of Belleville, by its mayor, by its citizens are never going to have the opportunity to be heard because the appellate court decision presents the conclusion, which obviously we don’t agree with.”
“The only entities that have the right to challenge the decisions of this board regarding fundamental access to healthcare instead of being the citizens, instead of being people personally affected are now actually going to be competing healthcare facilities,” Silberman said. “The only thing I think really worth noting as I argued before the judge — and as the judge acknowledged in his decision — what the citizens of Belleville did, what the city of Belleville did, what Mayor Eckert did on their behalf, really was unprecedented. The commitment that they showed to protecting the access of their citizens to health care is impressive and should be noted.”
In making his decision, Rudolf cited the Fifth District Appellate Court’s decision in the Ahmad vs. Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board from 2013. Maqbool Ahmad and Marion Eye Centers Ltd. filed a complaint asking for judicial review of the state health board’s approval of another eye surgery center’s purchase of a controlling interest in the surgical center in which plaintiff held a 30 percent interest and performed most of the eye surgeries was properly dismissed on the ground that the plaintiff lacked standing. The appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision.
“It appears to me to be a distinction without a distinction,” Rudolf said.
The competing hospital in town — Memorial Hospital in Belleville — “elected not to come before the court,” Rudolf said.
Daniel Lawler of Barnes and Thornburg LLP in Chicago and Michael Nester of Donovan Rose Nester represented HSHS and St. Elizabeth’s, and Assistant Attorney General Adam Poe represented the Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
Lawler presented arguments on behalf of HSHS and St. Elizabeth’s. “They do not have standing to proceed in court,” he said, adding a city, a mayor or residents have no standing to challenge a state health board’s decision. “We are not saying no one can challenge a board’s decision,” but it has to be a competing healthcare facility.
“The plaintiffs want you to broaden standing for administrative review and who has standing,” Lawler argued. By the plaintiff’s argument, he said, “any person residing in the county has standing ...They are basing Mr. Eckert’s standing, because he’s a resident of the geographic service area.
“The plaintiffs make no argument they operate a competing healthcare facility and have no standing for judicial review,” Lawler argued.
Silberman argued on behalf of the city of Belleville and Eckert. Silberman said he didn’t feel that “this court has to follow” a previous court’s decision. “We have standing,” he said of the city, mayor and community who will be “adversely affected” if St. Elizabeth’s relocates to O’Fallon. “We believe it’s fundamentally important for members of the community ... to be able to hear this case on its merits.”
Rudolf said he reviewed all 5,900 pages relevant to the case prior to Thursday’s hearing. He thanked the attorneys for getting him the materials ahead of time.
“I don’t think it should have gotten to this point,” Rudolf said. “I am required to go to case law ... I certainly take no pleasure to come to that conclusion.”
Before his ruling, Rudolf praised Eckert for his commitment to the city he’s elected to serve. “He felt that was the right thing to do,” Rudolf said of Eckert. “I understand why someone would do that — absolutely.”
The only thing I think really worth noting as I argued before the judge — and as the judge acknowledged in his decision — what the citizens of Belleville did, what the city of Belleville did, what Mayor Eckert did on their behalf, really was unprecedented. The commitment that they showed to protecting the access of their citizens to healthcare is impressive and should be noted.
Mark Silberman, attorney representing the city of Belleville and Mayor Mark Eckert
He also praised the attorneys on both sides who provided “excellent” arguments.
Rudolf also was expected to hear a “motion to stay” on Thursday filed in September on behalf of the city of Belleville and Eckert, which would have halted construction of the 144-bed hospital if granted. However, Rudolf never got to that motion as he dismissed the suit.
In November, the Collinsville-based Southwestern Illinois Building Trades Council through their counsel James Singer and Patrick Shinners of Schuchat, Cook and Werner in St. Louis filed a petition to intervene. This petition states eight member local labor organizations of the council have logged 21,000 man-hours on the construction of the new hospital since it began in spring 2015.
“In total, the Council estimates that there will be approximately one million man-hours by unions members on this project until completion,” the petition states. “If the plaintiffs successfully challenge the approval of the application and/or stay is ordered, the union workers on this project represented by the members of the council will suffer a tangible detriment in the form of lost wages, benefits and job security.”
Rudolf said his job was to rule on judicial review of the case in its entirety and not the fact that construction of the replacement hospital is currently underway. “I’ve blocked that out of my mind,” he said Thursday. “The fact that work is underway makes no difference to the court.”
HSHS St. Elizabeth’s said construction of the new state-of-the-art hospital and ambulatory care center in O’Fallon has been “progressing on time and on budget” since the project received approval from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board in April.
“We look forward to completing the project so that we can continue to meet the changing health care needs of residents from across the region,” HSHS St. Elizabeth’s said in its statement.