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People v. Rodriguez

June 20, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
EDWARD RODRIGUEZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 01--DT--916 Honorable Michael J. Burke, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gilleran Johnson

PUBLISHED

The defendant, Edward Rodriguez, appeals from the October 11, 2001, order of the circuit court of Du Page County granting the State's motion to strike his petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension of his driver's license. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred in determining that his petition to rescind was untimely. We affirm.

On February 25, 2001, the defendant was arrested and subsequently charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in violation of section 11--501 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (the Vehicle Code) (625 ILCS 5/11--501 (West 2000)). The defendant was stopped after a police officer observed him driving erratically. Because he refused to submit to chemical testing, the defendant's driver's license was summarily suspended for at least six months pursuant to section 11--501.1 of the Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11--501.1 (West 2000)). On March 2, 2001, the defendant filed a timely petition to rescind the summary suspension. See 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1 (West 2000). However, the defendant voluntarily dismissed his petition on May 2, 2001. On September 18, 2001, the defendant refiled his petition to rescind the summary suspension. The State filed a motion to strike the defendant's petition, arguing that it was untimely because it had not been brought within 90 days of his summary suspension as was required by section 2--118.1 of the Vehicle Code. In response, the defendant argued that section 13--217 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Civil Code) (735 ILCS 5/13--217 (West 2000)) allowed him one year from the date of the voluntary dismissal to refile his petition. Following a hearing, the trial court rejected the defendant's argument and granted the State's motion to strike his petition. The defendant thereafter filed a timely notice of appeal.

The issue presented in this case is whether the defendant is permitted to refile his petition to rescind his summary suspension beyond the 90-day period prescribed by section 2--118.1(b) of the Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000)). As this issue involves a purely legal question, we review the trial court's decision de novo. Clay v. Kuhl, 297 Ill. App. 3d 15, 20 (1998).

Section 11--501.1 of the Vehicle Code (625 5/11--501.1 (West 2000)) authorizes the Secretary of State to summarily suspend the driving privileges of a person arrested for DUI. Due to the fact that it often takes a long time for the State to prosecute impaired drivers and to remove their drivers' licenses, the legislature has enacted a system separate from the criminal proceeding wherein a defendant may petition to rescind his summary suspension. See People v. Moore, 138 Ill. 2d 162, 166 (1990). The hearing on such a petition is of a rather unique nature. See People v. Williams, 206 Ill. App. 3d 1071, 1073 (1990). Although this hearing originates from a criminal proceeding, it is civil in nature. See Moore, 138 Ill. 2d at 167. However, this hearing differs from other civil proceedings. See, e.g., Moore, 138 Ill. 2d at 167 (a verdict in the defendant's favor cannot have a collateral estoppel effect on the underlying criminal proceeding); People v. Farrell, 158 Ill. App. 3d 690, 692 (1987) (although rules of civil procedure permit amendment of pleadings, the State is not permitted in a rescission hearing to amend at the hearing and include the sworn officer's report that is required by statute).

The right of a driver to request a hearing to challenge the summary suspension of his driving privileges is established through section 2--118.1(b) of the Vehicle Code. This section provides in pertinent part:

"Within 90 days after the notice of statutory summary suspension [is] served ***, the person may make a written request for a judicial hearing in the circuit court of venue." 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000).

Section 2--118.1 is silent as to whether a defendant may refile a petition that he or she has voluntarily dismissed, and if so, how long he or she has to refile the petition. However, section 2--118.1(b) provides that the "hearings shall proceed in the court in the same manner as in other civil proceedings." 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000). Generally, in other civil proceedings, a party has the right to refile within one year a claim that he has voluntarily dismissed. See 735 ILCS 5/13--217 (West 2000). Thus, the issue becomes whether this right to refile also extends to one's right to challenge his summary suspension pursuant to section 2--118.1(b) of the Vehicle Code.

The principles governing statutory interpretation are well settled. The fundamental principle of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Lieb v. Judges' Retirement System, 314 Ill. App. 3d 87, 92 (2000). We must first look to the words of the statute as the best indication of legislative intent. However, if the words used in a statute are ambiguous or if the meaning is unclear, the court may consider the legislative history as an aid to construction. Armstrong v. Hedlund Corp., 316 Ill. App. 3d 1097, 1106 (2000). A statute is ambiguous if it is capable of two reasonable and conflicting interpretations. Paciga v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 322 Ill. App. 3d 157, 161 (2001). Our supreme court further instructs courts that, "[i]f the language of a statute is susceptible to two constructions, one of which will carry out its purpose and another which will defeat it, the statute will receive the former construction." Harvel v. City of Johnston City, 146 Ill. 2d 277, 284 (1992). A court should not construe a statute in a manner that would lead to consequences that are absurd, inconvenient, or unjust. McMahan v. Industrial Comm'n, 183 Ill. 2d 499, 513-14 (1998). Further, a court should avoid an interpretation of a statute that would render any portion of it meaningless or void. Paciga, 322 Ill. App. 3d at 161.

Moreover, when the legislature enacts legislation to remedy an imperfection in the law, such remedial legislation should be construed liberally to effectuate its purposes. See Town of Benton v. City of Zion, 195 Ill. App. 3d 71, 76 (1990). A court must consider a statute in its entirety and note the subject that it addresses and the legislature's apparent objective in enacting it. Town of Benton, 195 Ill. App. 3d at 76.

Applying these principles, we conclude that section 2--118.1 of the Vehicle Code is ambiguous because it is susceptible to two conflicting interpretations. First, section 2--118.1 could be interpreted such that one cannot refile a petition to challenge a summary suspension after the 90 days have lapsed from when he received notice of the summary suspension. From reading section 2--118.1 of the Vehicle Code in its entirety, as we are required (see Town of Benton, 195 Ill. App. 3d at 76), it is apparent that the legislature intended rescission hearings to be resolved in an expeditious manner. See People v. Moore, 138 Ill. 2d 162, 169 (1990) (noting that the legislature has specifically directed that license suspension proceedings are to be swift and of limited scope). As noted above, if a defendant wishes to challenge his summary suspension, he must do so within 90 days after receiving notice of the summary suspension. 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000). If the defendant files a timely petition, the trial court must then conduct a hearing on this petition within 30 days. 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000). This hearing is limited to only four specific issues. See 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000). The statute further provides that at the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court "shall sustain or rescind the statutory summary suspension and immediately notify the Secretary of State." 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000). These rescission proceedings are conducted expeditiously to ensure that the interests of the State and the rights of the defendant are protected. See Moore, 138 Ill. 2d at 169. By ensuring that the hearing is conducted promptly, the State can be assured that impaired drivers will be quickly removed from the road. See Moore, 138 Ill. 2d at 169. Moreover, through expeditious proceedings, the defendant is afforded due process rights and the opportunity to possibly regain his driving privileges. Moore, 138 Ill. 2d at 166-67.

Based on the plain language of the statute, it appears that a defendant could not delay or postpone the rescission hearing for potentially one year by refiling a petition after previously dismissing it. If the defendant could, it would seem to undermine and frustrate the legislative intent of section 2--118.1 of the Vehicle Code that the proceedings be resolved in an expeditious manner. See Moore, 138 Ill. 2d at 169.

Nonetheless, we also believe that one could interpret section 2--118.1(b) of the Vehicle Code as allowing one to refile a petition to challenge his summary suspension even though 90 days have lapsed from when he received notice of the summary suspension. As noted above, section 2--118.1(b) of the Vehicle Code also provides that "hearings shall proceed in the court in the same manner as in other civil proceedings." 625 ILCS 5/2--118.1(b) (West 2000). Generally, in other civil proceedings, after a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses an action, he may commence a new action within one year or within the period of limitation, whichever is greater. See 735 ILCS 5/13--217 (West 2000). By its terms, section 13--217 of the Civil Code itself has broad scope, applying to "any *** act *** where the time for commencing an action is limited." 735 ILCS 5/13--217 (West 2000); see also Portwood v. Ford Motor Co., 292 Ill. App. 3d 478, 486 (1997) ("[T]he plain language of section 13--217 indicates that it is a general, catch-all saving provision; ...


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