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First Nat'l Bk. In St. Louis v. Coleman

OPINION FILED JANUARY 31, 1979.

FIRST NATIONAL BANK IN ST. LOUIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

BARRETT L. COLEMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE. — (THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID, GARNISHEE-APPELLEE.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. WILLIAM P. FLEMING, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE KARNS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

In October 1977, plaintiff First National Bank in St. Louis secured a judgment against defendant Dr. Coleman in the amount of $39,442.77. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a nonwage garnishment summons on the State of Illinois, Department of Public Aid, seeking to garnishee certain funds due Dr. Coleman for medical services he had provided to public aid recipients and other indigents pursuant to article V of the Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 23, par. 5-1 et seq.). The Department and defendant Coleman moved to quash the summons, alleging that these funds were exempt from garnishment. After a hearing, the Circuit Court of St. Clair County granted the motion and ordered the funds to be held by the garnishee pending an appeal. It is from this order that plaintiff seeks review.

The only issue in this case is whether monies payable by the Department to reimburse a physician for dispensing these medical services are exempt from garnishment by a judgment creditor of the physician under section 11-3 of the Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, par. 11-3). This section provides:

"All financial aid given under Articles III, IV, V, VI and VII shall be absolutely inalienable by assignment, sale, attachment, garnishment or otherwise."

The Department and Dr. Coleman argue that the plain, unambiguous language of this section exempts such funds as are payable to Dr. Coleman from any garnishment proceeding. Specifically, they allege that these funds constitute "financial aid," and cite sections 2-6 and 2-5 of the Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, pars. 2-6 and 2-5) as support for their position. Section 2-6 defines "financial aid" as "a money or vendor payment to or in behalf of a recipient for basic maintenance support or medical assistance provided under Articles III, IV, V, VI and VII." A "vendor payment," as defined by section 2-5, is "a payment made directly to the person, firm, corporation, association, agency, institution or other legal entity supplying goods or services to a recipient."

Plaintiff, however, argues that these vendor payments are subject to garnishment by a judgment creditor of the vendor. It is plaintiff's position that the clear intent of the legislature in enacting section 11-3 was to help public aid recipients to meet their financial needs and not to assist a vendor to avoid his financial obligations.

We note that with the abolition of sovereign immunity by the Illinois Constitution of 1970, except in such situations as the legislature may provide by law (Ill. Const. 1970, art. XIII, par. 4), the question becomes not whether the General Assembly has waived immunity, but whether it has granted such immunity by statute. (First Finance Co. v. Pellum, 62 Ill.2d 86, 338 N.E.2d 876 (1975).) Accordingly, the resolution of this controversy depends on whether section 11-3 of the Public Aid Code provides sovereign immunity to the State in a garnishment proceeding brought by a judgment creditor of a vendor, who is entitled to certain payments from the State by virtue of the services he provided to public aid recipients.

In determining the meaning of this section, it is our primary function to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. (In re Roberts Park Fire Protection District, 61 Ill.2d 429, 337 N.E.2d 8 (1975).) The intention of the legislature is to be determined not only from the language used in the statute but also from the reasons for its enactment and the general purposes sought to be attained. People ex rel. Cason v. Ring, 41 Ill.2d 305, 242 N.E.2d 267 (1968).

The language of sections 2-5, 2-6 and 11-3 is clear that vendor payments constitute financial aid, and therefore are "absolutely inalienable by * * * garnishment." It is not clear, however, from a reading of these statutes, whether the General Assembly sought to protect vendors of medical services in addition to public aid recipients from their respective creditors, or whether it sought to protect the Department of Public Aid from all garnishment proceedings. To resolve this ambiguity, it is necessary to ascertain the general purposes behind this legislation.

Section 1-1 of the Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, par. 1-1) sets forth the government's policy in providing financial aid services:

"The purpose of this Code is to assist in the alleviation and prevention of poverty * * *.

To accomplish this purpose, this Code authorizes financial aid and social welfare services for persons in need thereof by reason of unemployment, illness, or other cause depriving them of the means of a livelihood compatible with health and well-being * * *.

All public aid policies shall be formulated and administered to achieve this end."

Section 5-1 of this chapter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, par. 5-1) declares the purpose of the ...


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