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November 3, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 93-MR-25. Honorable John S. Teschner, Judge, Presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 79-D-2588. Honorable George J. Bakalis, Judge, Presiding.

Colwell, Bowman, Doyle

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colwell

JUSTICE COLWELL delivered the opinion of the court:

These consolidated appeals arose from separate but interrelated proceedings stemming from the dissolution of the parties' marriage. The issues concern the enrollment of a foreign judgment and the effect of the doctrine of merger on a dissolution judgment.

In appeal No. 2-93-0853, defendant, Gary Johnson (respondent), appeals the order of the circuit court enrolling a Florida judgment obtained by plaintiff, Phyllis Johnson (petitioner). The Florida judgment was rendered on January 17, 1986, on a common-law cause of action petitioner filed based on the dissolution judgment and a subsequent agreed order. The Florida judgment was against respondent for $33,366.08. The issue for review is whether a foreign judgment must be registered in Illinois within five years of its entry.

On appeal, respondent contends that the court erred in registering the Florida judgment in Illinois because it is barred by the five-year statute of limitations for civil actions. (See 735 ILCS 5/13-205 (West 1992).) This contention is patently without merit.

Prior to September 1, 1991, the general five-year statute of limitations applied to the enrollment and enforcement of foreign judgments. ( In re Marriage of Kramer (1993), 253 Ill. App. 3d 923, 926-27, 192 Ill. Dec. 653, 625 N.E.2d 808.) However, at that time Illinois adopted the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (Act) (735 ILCS 5/12-650 through 12-657 (West 1992)), the purpose of which is to implement the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution (U.S. Const., art. IV, § 1) and to facilitate the interstate enforcement of judgments. ( Practice Management Associates, Inc. v. Thurston (1992), 225 Ill. App. 3d 470, 473, 167 Ill. Dec. 767, 588 N.E.2d 408; see also 735 ILCS 5/12-651 (West 1992).) Full faith and credit prohibits the court of the State in which a foreign judgment is sought to be enforced from rehearing the case on the merits. ( In re Estate of Wallen (1994), 262 Ill. App. 3d 61, 70, 199 Ill. Dec. 359, 633 N.E.2d 1350.) Section 12-652 of the Act states:

"A copy of any foreign judgment authenticated in accordance with the acts of Congress or the statutes of this State may be filed in the office of the circuit clerk for any county of this State. The clerk shall treat the foreign judgment in the same manner as a judgment of the circuit court for any county of this State. A judgment so filed has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses and proceedings for reopening, vacating, or staying as a judgment of a circuit court for any county of this State and may be enforced or satisfied in like manner." (735 ILCS 5/12-652 (West 1992).)

Thus, a foreign judgment filed under this section is treated as an Illinois judgment. As such, the limitations period for enforcing a judgment applies, rather than the five-year period for other actions. See Kramer, 253 Ill. App. 3d at 927.

Respondent further argues that the Act should not be construed so as to grant "foreign judgments an endless life of enforcement." Petitioner asserts that the statute of limitations would not begin to run until the judgment is registered in Illinois. While it is clear that Illinois applies its own statute of limitations to the enforcement of a foreign judgment, there is a question regarding when that limitations period begins to run: from the date of rendition of the judgment, or from the date it is registered. We need not answer this question because petitioner has yet to seek enforcement of the Florida judgment, and respondent's appeal is limited to the issue of whether the judgment was properly registered. We conclude that the court did not err in allowing petitioner to register the Florida judgment.

In appeal No. 2-93-1238, petitioner filed a motion for a rule to show cause against respondent for failing to comply with the dissolution judgment and the agreed order (dissolution judgment). The dissolution judgment provided in relevant part that, for the property distribution, respondent was to pay petitioner $79,000: a $30,000 lump sum payment, and the rest in monthly installments. The payments were to be secured by the assignment of the beneficial interest in a land trust. Respondent has failed to make the lump sum payment and has not made all of the monthly payments, nor has he made the assignment. The court issued the rule to show cause and ordered respondent to transfer beneficial ownership of the land trust to petitioner. Respondent appeals from this order. The court granted respondent's motion to dismiss the motion for a rule to show cause as it related to respondent's failure to make payments. The court granted the dismissal because the financial aspects of the dissolution judgment merged into the Florida judgment. (The Florida stipulated judgment purported to discharge all of respondent's financial obligations arising under the dissolution judgment.) From this order, petitioner cross-appeals. Essentially, the issue for review in this appeal is whether the doctrine of merger bars the enforcement of the dissolution judgment.

Respondent contends that the court erred in requiring him to comply with the security provision of the dissolution judgment because the cause of action on the judgment in Florida resulted in the dissolution judgment becoming merged into the Florida judgment. Petitioner contends in her cross-appeal that the court erred in applying the doctrine of merger to find that the payment provisions of the dissolution judgment were not enforceable.

Respondent relies on Doerr v. Schmitt (1941), 375 Ill. 470, 31 N.E.2d 971, in support of his merger argument. The merger doctrine provides that a contract or instrument on which a proceeding is based becomes merged in the judgment so that all remaining legal liability is transferred to the judgment. ( Doerr, 375 Ill. at 472.) Petitioner asserts that the merger doctrine does not apply here.

Respondent's reliance on Doerr is misplaced because the court there emphasized that the case before it did not involve whether one judgment may merge into another. The court declined to address whether the merger rule applies in such a situation. (375 Ill. at 473.) Moreover, neither Doerr nor the cases it cites regarding the merger of judgments concern judgments rendered in different States. (See Dow v. Blake (1893), 148 Ill. 76, 35 N.E. 761; McDonald v. Culhane (1940), 303 Ill. App. 101, 24 N.E.2d 737 (when a mortgagee obtains a judgment on a note and then forecloses the mortgage and obtains a deficiency judgment, the judgment on the note is merged into the second ...

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