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Grams v. Autozone

March 12, 2001

MARY GRAMS, F/K/A MARY DEROO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
AUTOZONE, INC., A FOREIGN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois No. 99--LM--721 Honorable Charles H. Stengel Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin

Plaintiff Mary Grams brought this action against defendant Autozone, Inc., to recover a statutory penalty pursuant to the Income Withholding for Support Act (Act) (750 ILCS 28/35 (West Supp. 1999), for Autozone's failure to timely turn over child support withholdings. The court awarded Mary $20,700, and Autozone appealed. We affirm and hold that section 35 of the Act requires the imposition of a separate penalty of $100 per day against an employer for each consecutive withholding from an employee's paycheck that is not timely forwarded to the recipient.

FACTS

The parties entered a stipulation of facts. They dispute only the method for calculating the penalty due under section 35 of the Act.

Within Mary and Thomas DeRoo's divorce decree, the court entered a child support withholding order, requiring Thomas' employer to withhold $220 each pay period from Thomas' paycheck. The withholding order was served upon Autozone on January 19, 1999.

Thomas was paid every two weeks. The pay periods ended every other Saturday, and he was paid the following Friday. Though Autozone did begin withholding $220 from each of Thomas' paychecks starting with the check he received February 19, 1999, Autozone admits it knowingly failed to turn over the withholdings it collected from that date through April 24, 1999. All later withholdings were turned over in a timely manner. Collectively, Autozone failed to timely turn over six deductions.

The first deduction was mailed 69 days late. The second deduction was mailed 55 days late. The third deduction was mailed 41 days late. The fourth deduction was mailed 27 days late. The fifth deduction was mailed 13 days late. Finally, the sixth deduction was mailed two days late. Thus, while Autozone was out of compliance with section 35 for a total of 72 days straight, the sum of days late for all pay periods totals 207 days.

The trial court determined that the Act is not ambiguous and requires the imposition of a separate series of penalties for each pay period. Thus, the court awarded Mary $20,700: $100 per day multiplied by 207 days. Autozone appeals.

ANALYSIS

The issue for our review is whether the trial court properly calculated the penalty award under the Act.

This appeal concerns a question of statutory interpretation. This court reviews the trial court's interpretation of a statute de novo. In re Marriage of Wiseman, 316 Ill. App. 3d 631, 737 N.E.2d 325 (2000).

Section 35 of the Act provides in pertinent part: "The payor shall pay the amount withheld to the State Disbursement Unit within 7 business days after the date the amount would (but for the duty to withhold income) have been paid or credited to the obligor. If the payor knowingly fails to pay any amount withheld to the State Disbursement Unit within 7 business days after the date the amount would have been paid or credited to the obligor, the payor shall pay a penalty of $100 for each day that the withheld amount is not paid to the State Disbursement Unit after the period of 7 business days has expired. *** For purposes of this Act, a withheld amount shall be considered paid by a payor on the date it is mailed by the payor ***." (Emphasis added). 750 ILCS 28/35 (West Supp. 1999).

Autozone argues that the "withheld amount" language of the Act refers to all withheld amounts from multiple paychecks such that, at most, an employer can be charged only $100 per day for untimely payments no matter how many. Thus, the court should have assessed a penalty of $7,200. Mary contends that the Act requires a new penalty of $100 per day to be assessed for each withheld amount not timely forwarded to the payee. Autozone responds that Mary's construction of section 35 of the Act results in a "windfall" to the payee.

The primary rule of statutory construction, to which all other rules are subordinate, is to ascertain and give effect to the true intent of the legislature. Dunahee v. Chenoa Welding & Fabrication, Inc., 273 Ill. App. 3d 201, 652 N.E.2d 438 (1995). In determining the legislative intent, a court should first consider the statutory language. A court may only look beyond statutory language where it is ambiguous or where a literal interpretation of the statute would lead to an absurd result. Advincula v. United Blood Services, 176 Ill. 2d 1, 678 N.E.2d 1009(1996). When the ...


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