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Dixon v. Mercury Finance Co.

May 06, 1998

PAMELA DIXON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MERCURY FINANCE COMPANY OF WISCONSIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE (ROHR-VILLE MOTORS, INC., DEFENDANT). REBECCA HOLLAND-WILSON, EUGENE WILLIAMS, LETITIA S. COOK, AND CYNTHIA SMOOTS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MERCURY FINANCE COMPANY OF WISCONSIN; ROHR-VILLE MOTORS, INC., D/B/A SATURN OF WAUKEGAN; AND MERCURY FINANCE COMPANY OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES. MERCURY FINANCE COMPANY OF WISCONSIN, PLAINTIFF AND COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLEE,
v.
MIKE FRAZIER AND WENDY FRAZIER, DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERPLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS.



Inglis, J. Geiger, P.j., and McLAREN, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Inglis

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 95--LM--4223

Honorable Emilio B. Santi, Judge, Presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 94--CH--781

Honorable Emilio B. Santi, Judge, Presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 95--LM--1848

Emilio B. Santi, Judge, Presiding.

In this consolidated case, plaintiff Pamela Dixon, plaintiffs Rebecca Holland Wilson, Eugene Williams, Letitia Cook, and Cynthia Smoots (the Holland-Wilson plaintiffs), and counterplaintiffs Mike and Wendy Frazier ( all parties, collectively, plaintiffs), appeal the order of the circuit court of Lake County granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Mercury Finance Company of Wisconsin (MFC Wisconsin) and Mercury Finance Company of Illinois (MFC Illinois) (collectively, defendants). Plaintiffs alleged that MFC Wisconsin violated the Sales Finance Agency Act (Act) (205 ILCS 660/1 et seq. (West 1994)) by failing to obtain a license and, thus, their motor vehicle retail installment contracts with MFC Wisconsin were void. We affirm.

MFC Wisconsin is a sister company to MFC Illinois. Both companies purchase or make loans secured by motor vehicle installment contracts. At times relevant to this action, MFC Wisconsin was not licensed as a sales finance agency in Illinois under the Act.

In December 1992, MFC Wisconsin opened a branch office in Racine, Wisconsin, under the management of Kelly Hill, who was transferred from the Waukegan office of MFC Illinois. Hill continued her business relationships with a number of Illinois dealerships while managing the Racine office. During the time Hill managed MFC Wisconsin's Racine office, it purchased more than 700 contracts from Illinois dealerships.

Plaintiffs alleged that they all purchased cars with financing from MFC Wisconsin. Plaintiffs alleged that MFC Wisconsin originated the loan to purchase the car; MFC Wisconsin maintained that each dealership assigned it the financing contract.

In November 1994, the Holland-Wilson plaintiffs filed suit against MFC Wisconsin, alleging that MFC Wisconsin violated the Act by failing to obtain a sales finance agency license. After plaintiffs filed their suit, the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions (Department) informed MFC Wisconsin that it was conducting business in Illinois as a sales finance agency and, as such, required an Illinois license. After some negotiation, the Department sent MFC Wisconsin a cease and desist letter requiring it to become licensed in Illinois in order to continue to purchase Illinois contracts. MFC Wisconsin disagreed that it needed an Illinois license but nevertheless agreed to stop purchasing Illinois contracts.

On February 1, 1995, the Holland-Wilson plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. Count I sought to set aside the contract as void; count II sought damages under section 16 of the Act (205 ILCS 660/16 (West 1994)). MFC Wisconsin filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. The trial court denied the motion with respect to count I but dismissed count II, finding that the Holland-Wilson plaintiffs failed to identify any losses they suffered with sufficient particularity.

Effective July 11, 1995, MFC Wisconsin assigned all Illinois finance contracts to MFC Illinois. The Holland-Wilson plaintiffs thereafter added MFC Illinois as a defendant to this action by virtue of the assignments.

The Holland-Wilson plaintiffs then filed a motion for class certification. While the motion for class certification was pending, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied. The trial court directed the Holland-Wilson plaintiffs to prepare a motion for summary judgment before it would address the class certification motion. Thereafter, the trial court concluded that there were no issues of material fact and that defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The trial court held that plaintiffs' financing contracts were voidable due to the Department's intercession. The trial court reasoned that the Department's action of requiring MFC Wisconsin to assign its Illinois contracts to MFC Illinois ratified the financing contracts. The Holland-Wilson plaintiffs filed an objection to the court's ruling on the grounds that the trial court refused to rule on the class certification before the motion for summary judgment and because defendants had no pending motion for summary judgment before the court. The trial court overruled the objections and entered judgment, dismissing the claims against defendants. As the same issues were involved in the consolidated cases, the trial court also dismissed Dixon's and the Fraziers' actions against defendants. Plaintiffs timely appeal.

Plaintiffs raise five issues on appeal, contending that the trial court erred by (1) concluding that the financing contracts provided by defendants were illegal but not void; (2) ruling that the Department's actions ratified the financing contracts; (3) granting summary judgment in favor of defendants where defendants had no pending motion for summary judgment; (4) refusing to hear plaintiffs' motion for class certification and instead ordering plaintiffs to file a ...


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