Recently, an Illinois appellate court determined that a local government was protected from liability under the Tort Immunity Act where the municipality’s sewage system flooded residents’ homes. In Nichols v. City of Chicago Heights, the municipality, in response to the residents’ negligence claims for the ineffective maintenance of the sewer system, sought protection under the Tort Immunity Act.

Under the Tort Immunity Act, discretionary acts by the government are immune to liability; however, ministerial acts are not afforded the same protection. Here, the plaintiffs claimed that the local government’s inability to adequately implement repairs to the sewage system was a ministerial, not discretionary, action. In its defense, the municipality rebutted this contention, stating its decision to repair the sewage system overtime was discretionary because the municipality’s budget had been created with regard to this extended schedule for repairs.

Ultimately, the appellate court agreed with the local government that the actions concerning the maintenance of the sewage system were discretionary. Precisely, the court found that a “municipality must function while balancing many interests, including a limited budget,” and that the local government, in its discretion, was going forward with its maintenance plan while balancing its budgetary interests.

Municipalities should rest easy knowing that courts are actively looking to the budgetary interests of municipalities when deciding whether discretion exists for purposes of the Tort Immunity Act.

William C. Westfall

Authors: William C. Westfall, Jacob Caudill