Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Knox County, Illinois No. 96--LM--386 Honorable James B. Stewart Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin
In this case we are essentially presented with one question: Is the plaintiff, Midstate Siding and Window Co., Inc. (Midstate), subject to the Credit Services Organizations Act (Credit Services Act or Act) (815 ILCS 605/1 et seq. (West 1998))? The trial court held that Midstate was governed by the Act and violated it through its dealings with the defendants, Kenneth and Ella Rogers. Pursuant to the following Discussion, we affirm. In so doing, we hold that the plain language of the Act supports coverage for retailers that aid consumers in obtaining extensions of credit as defined by the Act. In addition, we hold that appellate attorney fees are recoverable under the Act.
Midstate contracted with the Rogers to provide aluminum siding for the Rogers' home. In both its briefs and its oral arguments to this court, Midstate admitted that, as part of the contract, it agreed to help the Rogers obtain financing. To that end, the Rogers filled out a customer financing application that Midstate forwarded to several lending institutions. Bank One of Peoria eventually accepted the Rogers' application.
After finance approval, the Rogers refused to accept performance of the contract, so Midstate brought suit to enforce the contract. The Rogers counterclaimed, arguing that Midstate was subject to the Act and that the contract was void under the Act because it did not contain several of the requirements enumerated in sections 6 and 7 thereof, such as the terms and conditions of payment. 815 ILCS 605/6,7 (West 1998).
The trial court heard the cause at a bench trial that was not recorded. Subsequently, through an opinion letter the court held that Midstate's conduct fell under the Act and that Midstate violated the Act with respect to the Rogers' contract. In addition, the court awarded the Rogers $6,157.50 in attorney fees.
On appeal, Midstate confines its argument to the applicability of the Act, contending that retail businesses such as Midstate should not be governed by the Act. The Rogers argue that they should be awarded attorney fees for this appeal.
The Credit Services Organization Act has been in effect for over nine years. Nevertheless, this case presents an issue of first impression, having never been placed before an appellate court in this state.
The judicial role in construing a statute is to ascertain legislative intent and give it effect; to aid in accomplishing this task, the court should attempt to determine the objective the legislature sought to accomplish and the evils it desired to remedy. People v. Scharlau, 141 Ill. 2d 180, 565 N.E.2d 1319 (1990). The most reliable indicator of intent is the statute's language, which should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. In re Estate of Rennick, 181 Ill. 2d 395, 692 N.E.2d 1150 (1998). When a statute defines its own terms, however, those terms must be construed according to the definitions contained therein. Garza v. Navistar International Transportation Corp., 172 Ill. 2d 373, 666 N.E.2d 1198 (1996). If statutory language is clear and unambiguous, a court must enforce it as written and may not resort to other aids for construction. Superior Structures Co. v. City of Sesser, 292 Ill. App. 3d 848, 686 N.E.2d 710 (1997).
When construing a statute, we must presume that the legislature did not intend unjust, absurd or unreasonable consequences. Thomas P. Valenti, P.C. v. Swanson, 294 Ill. App. 3d 492, 690 N.E.2d 1031 (1998). The construction of a statute is a question of law which we review de novo. Branson v. Department of Revenue, 168 Ill. 2d 247, 659 N.E.2d 961 (1995).
According to the Act, its purpose is to provide prospective consumers of credit services companies with the information necessary to make informed decisions and to protect the public from unfair or deceptive business practices. 815 ILCS 605/2 (West 1998). In order to be covered by the Act, a defendant must represent "with respect to the extension of credit by others and in return for the payment of money or other valuable consideration, *** that the [defendant] can or will *** (i) improv[e] a buyer's credit record, history, or rating; (ii) obtain an extension of credit for a buyer; or (iii) provid[e] advice or assistance to a buyer with regard to either subsection (i) or (ii)." 815 ILCS 605/3(d) (West 1998). Under the Act, an "extension of credit" is the right "to defer payment of a debt or to incur a debt and defer its payment offered or granted primarily for personal, family, or household purposes." 815 ILCS 605/3(c) (West 1998).
The Rogers contend that, by agreeing to help them obtain financing, Midstate satisfied the Act's definition of a "credit services organization." We agree. The above-quoted statutory language is clear and unambiguous and plainly supports coverage in this case. Midstate has met the definition contained in subsection (d)(iii) by providing assistance to the Rogers with regard to obtaining an extension of credit. In addition, the agreement was supported by consideration in that the financing assistance was a part of the entire contract. As a consequence, we find that the trial court correctly held Midstate liable under the Act.
In opposition to this holding, Midstate mainly makes the policy argument that, if the Act is interpreted to include Midstate, then all retailers that assist customers in obtaining credit would be subject to the Act. In effect, Midstate contends that such an outcome is absurd. We disagree. Subjecting all retailers that offer to help their patrons obtain financing to the rigors of the Act furthers the policy considerations of the Act to help credit customers make informed decisions and protect them from unfair and deceptive ...