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Armstrong v. Hedlund Corporation

September 29, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable James Grogan, Judge Presiding.

Plaintiff Kate Armstrong appeals from an order of the circuit court dismissing her complaint for unpaid commissions against defendants Hedlund Corporation and David Hedlund, with prejudice, based on the running of the five-year statute of limitations for oral contracts pursuant to section 2--619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2--619 (West 1998)). On appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in finding that her cause of action accrued on the last day of her employment, October 18, 1993, as opposed to her next regularly scheduled payday, on October 31, 1993. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

In a letter dated October 15, 1998, plaintiff's counsel demanded that defendants make payment to plaintiff for certain unpaid wages, commissions, and "other related sums" she had earned while employed by defendants. The letter further stated that plaintiff's records showed that Hedlund Corporation owed her $11,152.89, including wages, commissions, and bonuses, but she only demanded that defendants pay $8,230 within three days of their receipt of the letter, as full and final payment, or she would file a lawsuit to collect the full amount plus interest, costs, and attorney fees.

On October 27, 1998, plaintiff filed a two count complaint against defendants, alleging breach of contract (count I) against Hedlund Corporation and a violation of the Wage Payment and Collection Act against Dave Hedlund (count II). In support of her claims, plaintiff alleged that she worked for Hedlund Corporation from October 7, 1990, to October 18, 1993, and that the corporation was involuntarily dissolved on November 1, 1993. Plaintiff further alleged that at the time her employment with the corporation ceased, her contract provided:

"7. *** [Plaintiff's] wages would include a commission of 30% of all placement fees paid by companies for workers she placed with them; a commission of 10% of all placement fees paid by companies that she attracted to accept Hedlund Corporation's placement workers; and a bonus of 5% of her gross yearly commissions.

8. *** Hedlund was to pay [plaintiff] twice per month, once on the fifteenth of each month and once on the last day of each month.

9. At the time [plaintiff's] employment ceased, she was owed $11,152.89."

In her prayer for relief under each count, plaintiff also requested prejudgment interest at five percent per year and attorney fees and costs. Plaintiff attached a copy of her October 15, 1998, letter to the complaint. No other documents were attached as exhibits.

On November 10, 1998, defendants filed a section 2--619 motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, arguing that plaintiff failed to file her action within the five-year statute of limitations applicable to oral contracts. Defendants attached a copy of a complaint filed by plaintiff against them in 1995 as an exhibit to their motion. The 1995 complaint contained a single count alleging that defendants violated the Wage Payment and Collection Act (Wage Act) (820 ILCS 115/1 et seq. (West 1998)) based on the same facts as the complaint filed by plaintiff in the present case in 1998. Also attached as an exhibit to defendants' motion to dismiss was a trial court order, dated December 7, 1995, striking plaintiff's original complaint pursuant to defendants' section 2--615 motion to dismiss, and allowing plaintiff 28 days to file an amended complaint. Defendants further stated in their section 2--619 motion to dismiss that plaintiff's 1995 lawsuit was dismissed for want of prosecution after plaintiff failed to file an amended complaint or to otherwise respond to their counterclaim or discovery requests filed in that case.

In her response to defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiff argued that because defendants were only required to pay her on the fifteenth day and the last day of every month, the fact that her employment with the corporation ended on October 18, 1993, gave defendants the right to deliver her final paycheck by October 31 and that her cause of action, therefore, accrued on November 1, 1993, when defendants failed to make the payment. Plaintiff claimed that a cause of action for breach of contract did not accrue until payment of money under the contract was due and that the filing of her complaint on October 27, 1998, therefore, fell within the applicable five-year statute of limitations.

On February 24, 1999, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss, finding that plaintiff's causes of action arose on October 18, 1993. The order specifically stated:

"Plaintiff's cause of action arose and accrued on October 18, 1993 (the date of her alleged termination) and not a later date that the Defendants could have relied upon under 820 ILCS 115/5 [Wage Act], the cause of action accrues for statute of limitations purposes under 820 ILCS 115/5 and 820 ILCS 115/13 as of the date of the employee's termination, 735 ILCS 5/13-205 applies to bar these claims as they were filed more than five years after termination, therefore, Defendants' joint motion to dismiss is granted with prejudice."

On March 26, 1999, plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider the trial court's February 24, 1999, order. Plaintiff argued that she had specifically pled that the terms of her contract required that she wait until October 31, 1994, for payment from ...

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