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Allen Jayko, A Minor, By and Through His Mother and Next Friend v. Joseph E. Fraczek and John J. Fraczek

March 9, 2012

ALLEN JAYKO, A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND PATRICIA JAYKO; AND PATRICIA JAYKO, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
JOSEPH E. FRACZEK AND JOHN J. FRACZEK,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES
(ST. ALEXIUS MEDICAL CENTER, AS HEALTH CARE LIENHOLDER,
APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 06 L 05219 Honorable Marcia Maras, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE

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

Presiding Justice Epstein and Justice Howse concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 St. Alexius Medical Center, a community health center located near Chicago in Hoffman Estates, Illinois (hereinafter St. Alexius), appeals from an order denying its motion to readjudicate its health care provider's lien against Allen Jayko's personal injury action 16 months after the trial court adjudicated the $11,638 lien to $0. Although St. Alexius used certified mail delivery to notify Jayko of its lien pursuant to section 10(b) of the Health Care Services Lien Act (770 ILCS 23/10(b) (West 2006)) (hereinafter Act), it argued Jayko could not use certified mail to deliver notice of his motion and hearing date to adjudicate the lien. St. Alexius contends it was entitled to be served with summons of process, based on its reading of section 30 of the Act and three rules concerning the service of complaints in Illinois. 770 ILCS 23/30 (West 2006). Alternatively, if the use of certified mail was effective, then St. Alexius, which is one of four hospitals in the Alexian Brothers suburban hospital network, contends that addressing the envelope to Alexian Brothers rendered the notice defective.

¶ 2 Our first consideration is the appropriate standard of review and the issues to be addressed. The trial court rendered a final judgment order when it adjudicated all the health care provider liens to $0. When St. Alexius motioned the trial court to "[v]oid any previously entered order" concerning the lien and adjudicate St. Alexius' rights once more, St. Alexius failed to specify the section of the Code of Civil Procedure that governed its motion. 735 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2006) (hereinafter Code). The motion is properly viewed as a petition for relief from a final judgment order, because it indicates St. Alexius was seeking the court's assistance more than 30 days after the Jaykos' negligence action had been dismissed with prejudice, all health care provider liens had been adjudicated, and all settlement funds had been disbursed. See Illinois Graphics Co. v. Nickum, 159 Ill. 2d 469, 484, 639 N.D.2d 1282, 1289 (1994) (meticulous practice requires proper designation of all motions; when an undesignated motion is reviewed, the court may determine its classification by examining the grounds, the relief requested, and the treatment given in the trial court). A petition for relief from final judgment is governed by section 2-1401 of the Code. 735 ILCS 5/2-1401(e) (West 2006). St. Alexius also apparently considers its motion to have been governed by section 2-1401, because it relies exclusively on White, which addressed a section 2-1401 ruling, for the proposition that we should review the ruling de novo. White v. Ratcliffe, 285 Ill. App. 3d 758, 763, 674 N.E.2d 906, 910 (1996).

¶ 3 Generally, a petition for relief from a final judgment order must meet the criteria specified in section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2006) (Code of Civil Procedure) and is subject to the sound discretion of the trial court, and a section 2-1401 ruling is reviewed for an abuse of discretion only, which is a deferential standard of review. White, 285 Ill. App. 3d at 763, 674 N.E.2d at 910. St. Alexius argues this appeal presents an exception to that general rule and is subject to the de novo standard. St. Alexius points out that its section 2-1401 petition challenged the authority of the trial court to adjudicate the lien on grounds that St. Alexius was entitled to service of process (meaning personal service by a sheriff's deputy or a specially appointed process server; or with the court's approval a combination of publication and mailing). Proper service is a prerequisite for a court to acquire personal jurisdiction over a party, a dispute over personal jurisdiction presents a question of law, and rulings as to questions of law are considered de novo. White, 285 Ill. App. 3d at 763-4, 674 N.E.2d at 910; Cameron v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 296 Ill. App. 3d 978, 983, 695 N.E.2d 572, 576 (1998). Under the de novo standard, we give little or no deference to the decision maker's ruling. Branson v. Department of Revenue, 168 Ill. 2d 247, 265, 659 N.E.2d 961, 970 (1995). None of the appellees have responded to St. Alexius' appeal or requested additional time to do so. Accordingly, we ordered that the case be resolved on the basis of the record and St. Alexius' brief only. Ill. S. Ct. R. 343(a) (eff. July 1, 2008); Stewart v. Lathan, 401 Ill. App. 3d 623, 624, 929 N.E.2d 1238, 1240 (2010). We now find that the de novo standard is controlling. In addition, St. Alexius' specific arguments require us to interpret and give effect to section 30 of the Act, and questions of statutory construction are also questions of law and thus reviewed de novo. County of Du Page v. Illinois Labor Relations Board, 231 Ill. 2d 593, 603, 900 N.E.2d 1095, 1102 (2008). Furthermore, when proper service is lacking and the court does not acquire personal jurisdiction, the judgment entered is considered void ab initio. White, 285 Ill. App. 3d at 911, 674 N.E.2d at 911. We point this out because a party seeking relief from a void judgment does not need to comply with the terms of section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure, and does not need to make the usual allegations of a meritorious defense to the action, due diligence in presenting that defense to the trial court, and due diligence in bringing the petition. 735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2006); LaMotte v. Constantine, 92 Ill. App. 3d 216, 218, 416 N.E.2d 23, 25 (1980) (indicating relief from a void judgment is not limited by section 72 of the Civil Practice Act, Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 72); Krain v. Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, 295 Ill. App. 3d 577, 580, 696 N.E.2d 692, 693 (1998) (indicating section 72 of the Civil Practice Act is now known as section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure). Therefore, our de novo analysis will be limited to whether the certified mail delivery accomplished its purpose.

¶ 4 In 2004, when he was 11, Allen was riding a bicycle near his home in Streamwood, Illinois, when he was struck by a car being driven by his 17-year-old neighbor Joseph E. Fraczek. Allen's left ankle was broken and he suffered other minor injuries. He spent the night in the hospital and the next few weeks with a cast and crutches and incurred medical bills totaling $22,279, of which $14,638 was for his hospital care. The hospital's bill dated October 13, 2004, was printed on letterhead which most prominently displayed what appears to be the crest of the Alexian Brothers Catholic order. Next to the crest, in a large, stylized font were the most conspicuous words on the page, "Alexian Brothers," and just below that in a smaller version of the font, "St. Alexius Medical Center." This section was followed by contact information:

"1555 Barrington Road

Hoffman Estates, Illinois 60194 Main Hospital: (847) 843-2000 Business Office: (847) 843-4040 www.stalexius.org"

Below this letterhead, the invoice was addressed to Allen, in care of his father, Lawrence Jayko, and in the middle portion of the page were about 30 itemized charges for the boy's care on October 7 and 8, 2004. In the bottom left corner of the page, in the smallest font on the page, were the words:

"Remit Payment to:

St. Alexius Medical Center 21219 Network Place Chicago, IL 60673-1212 This bill contains charges for hospital services only. Charges for physician services related to your care will be billed separately."

The second page of the invoice was identical to the first, with the exception of the middle portion, which contained a few more itemized entries, subtotals, and the total amount due. The hospital attached its two-page invoice to a "Past Due" letter addressed to Allen's father on May 22, 2008. The cover letter included the same prominent crest and typeface for "Alexian Brothers" and less prominent typeface for "St. Alexius Medical Center" at the top of the page. The contact information was shifted to the top, right corner of the page, and again consisted of the "Main Hospital" telephone number and the street address in Hoffman Estates, although the ZIP code was changed from "60194" to "60619." The hospital indicated "a third-party liability carrier" never responded to the invoice, asked for the Jaykos' "assistance in resolving this claim," and then stated:

"Payment can be made via the following options:

1. Contact our office to pay by credit card today.

2. Mail payment to the address below. (Be sure to attach the bottom section with your payment.)

3. Contact our office to establish financial arrangements immediately."

The letter concluded with the words "Thank you for your assistance, St. Alexius Medical Center (847) 843-4040," which was the telephone number previously stated as the "Business Office." A dark horizontal line separated this ...


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