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Jodi Ann Schneider v. Earl M. Schneider

March 15, 2011

JODI ANN SCHNEIDER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
EARL M. SCHNEIDER,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 06 CH 6157 Honorable Barbara Riley, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harris

JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Cunningham and Justice Connors concurred in the judgment.

OPINION

This appeal concerns a single issue: whether the trial court erred in granting sanctions against the appellant, Earl Schneider. Earl and Jodi Schneider were married in a Jewish ceremony in 1985 and received a civil dissolution of their marriage in 2002. However, the two remained married in the eyes of Orthodox Jewish law because Earl would not give Jodi a get*fn1 which would release her from their Jewish marriage and allow her to marry another Jew. After pursuing non-legal remedies, Jodi filed an action against Earl on March 28, 2006, seeking specific performance of a ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, that the two had signed at their wedding and which she argued compelled Earl to grant her a get in the event their marriage ended. The parties filed numerous pleadings and motions before the trial court and, in nearly every filing, Earl repeated the same arguments about the inapplicability of In re Marriage of Goldman, 196 Ill. App. 3d 785 (1990), a case upon which Jodi relied. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Jodi on September 19, 2008, and that judgment included an award for attorney fees and costs, after which Jodi filed a petition for fees pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137 (eff. Feb 1, 1994). Earl then proceeded to file objections to Jodi's petition and subsequent amendments, all of which repeated his earlier failed arguments about the inapplicability of Goldman. The trial court specifically granted Jodi attorney fees as a sanction pursuant to Rule 137 on June 3, 2009. Earl filed a motion to reconsider, in which he again repeated his Goldman argument and which the trial court denied on July 13, 2009. He then filed the instant appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in granting Rule 137 sanctions. For the following reasons, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Jodi attorney fees as a sanction pursuant to Rule 137.

JURISDICTION

The trial court entered a final judgment in the instant case on July 13, 2009, and respondent filed his notice of appeal on July 28, 2009. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rules 301 and 303 governing appeals from final judgments entered below. Ill. S. Ct. R. 301 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994); R. 303 (eff. May 30, 2008).

BACKGROUND

On March 28, 2006, plaintiff Jodi Ann Schneider sued her ex-husband, Earl Schneider, for specific performance in the chancery division of the circuit court of Cook County, alleging that Earl had a contractual obligation to give her a "get." Jodi and Earl had married on August 25, 1985, and signed a ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, as part of their wedding ceremony. Jodi attached a copy of the ketubah to her complaint. The ketubah consists of a two-page document, one page written in Aramaic and the other an English translation. The ketubah provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

"The said Bridegroom made the following declaration to his bride:

Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel. I faithfully promise that I will be a true husband unto thee; I will honor and cherish thee; I will work for thee; I will protect and support thee and will provide all that is necessary for thy due sustenance as it beseemeth a Jewish husband to do. I also take upon myself all such further obligations for thy maintenance, as are prescribed by our religious statute.

And the said Bride has plighted her troth unto him in affection and sincerity and has thus taken upon herself the fulfillment of all the duties incumbent on a Jewish wife.

The covenant of marriage was duly executed and witnessed this day, according to the usage of Israel."

Earl filed to dissolve the marriage under Illinois law on September 15, 2000, and the circuit court of Lake County entered a judgment for dissolution of marriage on March 4, 2002. Although Jodi and Earl were divorced in the eyes of the State of Illinois, they remained married under Orthodox Jewish law. In this tradition, only a husband can divorce his wife and he does so by petitioning a rabbinical court (Beit Din) to issue the get, which the wife must then physically accept in order for the divorce to be complete. If a husband refuses to give his wife a get, the wife becomes known as "agunah," or "chained." If an agunah were to marry again, this second marriage would not be recognized under Jewish law and tradition and the wife would be seen as adulterous. Any children of the second marriage would be considered "mamzerim," or illegitimate.

In her complaint, Jodi alleged that Earl was engaged to and cohabitating with another woman and refused to give Jodi a get in order to harass her and deny her the right to be remarried under Jewish law. She further alleged that, pursuant to In re Marriage of Goldman, 196 Ill. App. 3d 785 (1990), the ketubah that she and Earl had signed during their marriage ceremony formed a binding contract that required Earl to give her a get in the event that their civil marriage was dissolved. Jodi finally alleged that her only recourse against Earl was the filing of a suit for specific performance and asked that the court order Earl to give her a get and that the court order Earl to pay Jodi's attorney fees and costs in the specific performance action.

On April 27, 2006, Earl filed a motion to dismiss Jodi's complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2006)). In his motion, Earl alleged that the language of the ketubah did not require Earl to give Jodi a get. In addition, Earl alleged that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the action because of the separation of church and state. Earl also acknowledged that the Goldman decision involved the same ketubah language as the instant case but argued that the decision was distinguishable because of the following factual differences: (1) the wife in Goldman had included a count for specific performance in her divorce petition; (2) in Goldman, the ketubah issue arose prior to the entry of a judgment of dissolution of divorce; and (3) an evidentiary hearing was held in Goldman, in which rabbis testified that because the husband was using his refusal to give a get as a means of extorting concessions from his wife and because the husband had abandoned his wife, the get did not need to be voluntarily given. Earl's motion to dismiss did not include any citations to authority.

On July 12, 2006, the presiding judge of the chancery division transferred the instant case to the domestic relations division of the circuit court of Cook County. On February 28, 2008, Jodi submitted interrogatories to Earl. Earl never responded.

On May 5, 2008, the trial court ordered Earl to give Jodi a get. The court's handwritten order provided as follows:

"This cause coming on before this Court on Petition of the Petitioner 'Complaint for Specific Performance,' and being set for hearing this day on Petitioner's Petition; and the court being advised that the Petitioner's attorney has received a motion to substitute attorney and motion to [illegible] and dismiss set for 5/15/08, but not appearing on the Judge's Book, and no one appearing for the Respondent, and the Court being advised and being presented all papers tendered to the Petitioner's attorney and being further advised,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

1. That the Petitioner's Petition for Specific Performance is granted.

2. The Respondent is hereby ordered to sign a form which grants the Petitioner a Jewish Divorce, and allows a Rabbi to stand in his place at the proceeding.

3. The Respondent shall sign the form instanter, upon presentation to him.

4. No cost for the 'get' will be [illegible] against the Respondent and the Petitioner shall pay the fees association ...


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