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Kaufman v. Edgar

December 01, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McNULTY delivered the opinion of the court.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John K. Madden, Judge Presiding.

Plaintiff, the law firm of Kaufman, Litwin and Feinstein, brought a declaratory judgment action alleging that certain 1997 amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act are unconstitutional. 750 ILCS 5/501, 503, 508 (West 1996). The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, Governor Jim Edgar and Attorney General of Illinois James E. Ryan and intervenor John S. Elson. Plaintiff appeals, and we affirm.

Plaintiff is a Chicago law firm, with attorneys practicing in the domestic relations area. On February 28, 1997, plaintiff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment seeking to invalidate sections 508(c), 508(d), and 508(f) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act)(750 ILCS 5/508(c),(d),(f)(West 1996)) on the ground that the provisions violate the separation of powers doctrine. Plaintiff named as defendants Governor Jim Edgar, Attorney General James E. Ryan, and certain Judges of the domestic relations division of the circuit court of Cook County. Plaintiff also claimed that all or certain of these provisions of the Act are unconstitutional because they violate procedural and substantive due process, violate the contract clauses of the Illinois and United States Constitutions, and constitute special legislation. On March, 31, 1997, plaintiff amended its complaint, claiming that sections 501(c-1)(2), 501(c-1))(3), 503(j), 508(b), and 508(e) of the Act also suffered from the same constitutional defects as those sections originally identified in the complaint. 750 ILCS 5/501(c-1)(2), 501(c-1)(3), 503(j), 508(b),(e)(West 1996).

On April 16, 1997, John E. Elson, a lawyer who practices in the domestic relations division of the circuit court of Cook County, filed a motion to intervene as a party in the action. Elson stated that he had "extensive experience" with the provisions at issue in the case and had played a "major role in the drafting of those provisions."

On May 1, 1997, the trial court granted Elson's motion to intervene. On May 13, 1997, the trial court dismissed the defendant Judges of the domestic relations division.

On May 16, 1997, defendants and Elson filed motions for summary judgment. On May 30, 1997, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and Elson, finding that the amendments are constitutional. Plaintiff appeals.

Summary judgment is properly granted when the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Benamon v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 294 Ill. App. 3d 85, 689 N.E.2d 366 (1997). A reviewing court reviews the granting of a motion for summary judgment de novo. Benamon, 294 Ill. App. 3d 88, 689 N.E.2d at 369. The court of review also reviews de novo, a circuit court's decision with respect to the constitutionality of a statute. Brown's Furniture, Inc. v. Wagner, 171 Ill. 2d 410, 665 N.E.2d 795 (1996).

A strong presumption of constitutionality attaches to legislative enactments. Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill. 2d 367, 689 N.E.2d 1057 (1997). The party who challenges a statute's constitutionality bears the heavy burden of clearly establishing the violation alleged. People v. Jeffries, 164 Ill. 2d 104, 646 N.E.2d 587 (1995). Courts are obligated to affirm the validity of statutes if possible and to construe statutes so as to avoid doubts as to their validity. Rehg v. Illinois Department of Revenue, 152 Ill. 2d 504, 605 N.E.2d 525 (1992).

Plaintiff first claims on appeal that sections 508(b), 508(c)(1), 508(c)(2), 508(c)(3), 508(c)(4), 508(d) and 508(f) and 503(j)(3) of the Act violate the separation of powers provision contained in the Illinois Constitution. Plaintiff claims that it is the province of the Illinois Supreme Court, not the General Assembly, to create supervisory rules for attorneys and that the challenged provisions purport to create new supervisory rules, separate and apart from those already existing. Article II, section 1, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 provides: [T]he legislative, executive and judicial branches are separate. No branch shall exercise powers properly belonging to another." Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1.

The separation of powers clause is not designed to produce a complete divorce among the branches of our single government. People v. Bryant, 278 Ill. App. 3d 578, 663 N.E.2d 105 (1996). The separate spheres of governmental authority may overlap. McAlister v. Schick, 147 Ill. 2d 84, 588 N.E.2d 1151 (1992). To determine whether a legislative enactment pertaining to judicial practice and procedure is constitutional, courts look to whether the statute conflicts with any court rules or unduly infringes on inherent judicial powers. Davidson v. Davidson, 243 Ill. App. 3d 537, 612 N.E.2d 71 (1993).

Where the legislature grants a right that neither existed at common law nor was granted by the constitution, it is free to define the parameters and application of its purely statutory creature. Stenger v. Germanos, 265 Ill. App. 3d 942, 639 N.E.2d 179 (1994). Illinois Supreme Court Rule 1 provides, in part: "The rules on proceedings in the trial court, together with the Civil Practice Law and the Code of Criminal Procedure, shall govern all proceedings in the trial court, except to the extent that the procedure in a particular kind of action is regulated by a statute other than the Civil Practice Law." 134 Ill. 2d R. 1. A dissolution of marriage proceeding is the particular kind of action to which the deferral requirements of Supreme Court Rule 1 are intended to apply. Strukoff v. Strukoff, 76 Ill. 2d 53, 389 N.E.2d 1170 (1979).

Plaintiff cites little or no case law and provides little if any legal reasoning supporting its position that the various amendments to the Act violate the separation of powers provision. In most instances plaintiff, simply states that the amendments are unconstitutional. We explain below why we find no constitutional violations.

Plaintiff first claims that section 508(b) of the Act sets forth what "may be sanctionable conduct conflicting with Supreme Court Rules 137 and 219." 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 219, 237. Section 508(b) provides that when the court finds that the failure to comply with an order or judgment under this section was without compelling cause or justification, the court shall order the party against whom the proceeding is brought to promptly pay the costs and the reasonable attorney fees of the prevailing party. 750 ILCS 5/508(b)(West 1996). Section 508(b) also provides that if the court finds "that a hearing under this Section was precipitated or conducted for an improper purpose, the court shall allocate fees and costs of all parties for the hearing to the party or counsel found to have acted improperly." 750 ILCS 5/508(b)(West 1996). Supreme Court Rules 137 and 219 give courts authority to sanction those who violate court orders. 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 137, 219.

We find no conflict between section 508(b) and these supreme court rules since section 508 simply delineates more specific standards for sanctioning violations of court orders in the specific context of dissolution of marriage cases. It is not a separation of powers violation for the legislature to remedy abuses of a statutory cause of action by enacting ...

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