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Jennifer Schultz v. Performance Lighting

February 5, 2013

JENNIFER SCHULTZ,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PERFORMANCE LIGHTING, INC.,
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 11-L-894 Honorable Margaret J. Mullen, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Birkett

JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Zenoff and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Jennifer Schultz, appeals the judgment of the circuit court of Lake County, which dismissed her complaint seeking to recover from defendant, Performance Lighting, Inc., child support amounts that defendant allegedly should have withheld from her ex-husband's paychecks pursuant to section 35 of the Income Withholding for Support Act (Act) (750 ILCS 28/35 (West 2010)). The trial court held that plaintiff's notice of withholding to defendant was not strictly compliant with the provisions of the Act (see 750 ILCS 28/20(c) (West 2010)). On appeal, plaintiff contends that she substantially complied with the notice provisions, at least sufficiently to trigger defendant's obligation to withhold funds from the ex-husband's paychecks. Plaintiff urges that, because her notice was sufficient in fact to notify defendant of its withholding obligation, the trial court erred in dismissing her complaint for failing to state a claim. We disagree with plaintiff and affirm the trial court's judgment.

¶ 2 We begin by summarizing the pertinent facts of record. In 2009, plaintiff sought a divorce from her now ex-husband. On November 19, 2009, the circuit court of Lake County entered an order that required the ex-husband to pay support to plaintiff in the amount of $600 every two weeks. Plaintiff sought to acquire the support by withholding from the ex-husband's wages. At the time of the entry of the order, the ex-husband worked for defendant.

¶ 3 The record indicates that plaintiff personally served her notice to withhold income for support on defendant. Plaintiff attached the notice she served on defendant to her complaint. The notice given defendant did not include the ex-husband's social security number or the termination date of defendant's income-withholding obligation. Notwithstanding the lack of a social security number, the notice contained sufficient information from which defendant could infer the termination date of its withholding obligation, such as the birth dates of the couple's children and a definition section that stated that child support terminated upon the later-occurring of the younger child's eighteenth birthday or graduation from high school. Plaintiff also personally served the ex-husband's attorney in court. (The Act states that the obligor (i.e., the ex-husband) is to be served notice via ordinary mail to his last known address. 750 ILCS 28/20(g) (West 2010).)

¶ 4 The record shows that, through May 2010, plaintiff's ex-husband continued to work for defendant. Plaintiff never received any support payments deriving from her ex-husband's employment with defendant. On November 10, 2011, plaintiff filed the instant complaint, alleging that defendant knowingly failed to pay over to the State Disbursement Unit the amounts ordered to be withheld from her ex-husband's paychecks. Plaintiff further alleged that defendant had a statutory duty to withhold and pay over to the State Disbursement Unit the ordered amounts from her exhusband's paychecks within seven days after the pay would have been given to her ex-husband. Plaintiff alleged that defendant, pursuant to section 35 of the Act (750 ILCS 28/35 (West 2010)), owed a duty to plaintiff to comply with the notice of withholding. Plaintiff alleged that defendant breached its statutory duty to her, thereby triggering a penalty of $100 for each day defendant failed to pay over to the State Disbursement Unit the ordered amounts.

¶ 5 On January 24, 2012, defendant filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)). Defendant argued that plaintiff's notice of withholding did not comply with the statutory requisites of section 20(c) of the Act (750 ILCS 28/20(c) (West 2010)) and that plaintiff did not properly effect service on her ex-husband under section 20(g) of the Act (750 ILCS 28/20(g) (West 2010)). Defendant contended that, because plaintiff's notice of withholding did not comply with the statute, defendant's duty to withhold and pay over a portion of her ex-husband's paychecks was never triggered.

¶ 6 The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss. It accepted defendant's contention that the notice provisions in the Act required strict compliance. The trial court dismissed with prejudice plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff timely appeals.

¶ 7 Plaintiff contends that the defects in her notice of withholding and in her service of the notice were matters of form rather than substance. Plaintiff argues that her notice of withholding was sufficient to apprise defendant of its obligation to withhold and pay over monies from her exhusband's paychecks and that any omissions were so minor that she substantially complied with the statutory requirements. Plaintiff concludes that, as a result, the trial court erred in dismissing her complaint.

¶ 8 The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether plaintiff's notice of withholding was sufficient. We can determine the sufficiency of the notice of withholding only by reference to the terms of the Act. In other words, we must interpret the provisions of the Act in order to determine whether plaintiff's notice of withholding was sufficient to trigger defendant's duty to withhold the ordered sums from her ex-husband's paychecks.

¶ 9 The cardinal goal of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. In re Estate of McFadden, 2011 IL App (2d) 101157, ¶ 17. The best indication of the legislative intent is the language used in the provision, given its plain and ordinary meaning. Id. Where the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we must apply it as it is written, and we will not read into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions that are absent from the statutory language. Id. Further, penal statutes are strictly construed and will not be extended beyond their terms. Croissant v. Joliet Park District, 141 Ill. 2d 449, 455 (1990). When reviewing a question of statutory interpretation, we apply a de novo standard of review. Blum v. Koster, 235 Ill. 2d 21, 29 (2009).

¶ 10 The Act provides a means for the custodial parent to collect child support payments directly from the non-custodial parent's employer. 750 ILCS 28/35 (West 2010). The legislature created the Act to coordinate with income-withholding support provisions found in other statutes, such as the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/706.1 (West 2010)), the Non-Support of Spouse and Children Act (750 ILCS 15/4.1 (repealed 1999)), the Illinois Public Aid Code (305 ILCS 5/10-16.2 (West 2010)), and the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984 (750 ILCS 45/20 (West 2010)). See 750 ILCS 28/5 (West 2010).

ΒΆ 11 Specifically, section 35 of the Act places a duty on the payor who has been served with notice to pay over to the State Disbursement Unit the ordered portion of the obligor's income. 750 ILCS 28/35(a) (West 2010). Section 20(c) of the Act provides the information to ...


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