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Foster v. Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 20, 2016

SARA J. FOSTER, Surviving Widow of John C. Foster, Deceased; and JACOB C. FOSTER, NICHOLAS C. FOSTER, CODY J. FOSTER, CHAD L. FOSTER, and IAN A. FOSTER, by Sara J. Foster, Their Mother and Guardian, Petitioners-Appellees,
v.
MITSUBISHI MOTORS NORTH AMERICA, INC., Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 15MR429 Honorable Paul G. Lawrence, Judge Presiding

          JUSTICE POPE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Knecht and Justice Holder White concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          POPE JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (Mitsubishi) appeals the judgment of the trial court in favor of plaintiffs, Sara J. Foster, surviving widow of John C. Foster, and Jacob C. Foster, Nicholas C. Foster, Cody J. Foster, Chad L. Foster, and Ian A. Foster by Sara J. Foster, their mother and guardian (collectively hereinafter Sara), to enforce an arbitration award of death benefits pursuant to section 19(g) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Compensation Act) (820 ILCS 305/19(g) (West 2012)).

         ¶ 2 On appeal, Mitsubishi argues (1) Sara's petition to enforce the 2004 award should have been dismissed because it was barred by the statute of limitations. In the alternative, Mitsubishi contends (2) the judgment should be limited to the maximum allowable death benefit recoverable in 2004, i.e., $1012.01 per week, and (3) any interest should be calculated from the date of the trial court's judgment and not from the date of the arbitration award. We affirm.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 On October 23, 2003, John C. Foster died from injuries sustained during the course of his employment with Mitsubishi. John was survived by his spouse, Sara, and five dependent children.

         ¶ 5 On January 12, 2004, an arbitrator awarded Sara $1304.78 per week in death benefits. Thereafter, the Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) approved and adopted the arbitrator's decision, and Mitsubishi began making payments. Pursuant to the Compensation Act, death benefit awards are subject to a maximum rate. See 820 ILCS 305/7, 8(b) (West 2004). At the time of the arbitrator's decision, the statutory maximum death benefit rate was $1012.01 per week. See Illinois Workers' Compensation Benefit Rates January 15, 2000, through January 14, 2005, http://www.iwcc.il.gov/RATES00-05.htm (last visited December 7, 2016). While the parties agree this was the maximum rate in 2004, neither party sought to correct or appeal the Commission's award at the time it issued. Mitsubishi paid Sara $2024.02 every two weeks, i.e., $1012.01 per week.

         ¶ 6 On May 26, 2015, Sara filed an application for judgment pursuant to section 19(g) of the Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/19(g) (West 2012)) seeking to enforce the 2004 award of $1304.78 per week. Sara also argued under section 2-1303 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Procedure Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-1303 (West 2012)) she was entitled to 9% interest on the balance of the unpaid amounts dating back to the entry of the 2004 award.

         ¶ 7 On June 2, 2015, Mitsubishi filed a motion to dismiss Sara's application, arguing her section 19(g) claim was barred by the five-year statute of limitations found in section 13-205 of the Procedure Code (735 ILCS 5/13-205 (West 2012)). In the alternative, Mitsubishi argued any enforcement of the award should be limited to $1012.01, i.e., the maximum statutory amount recoverable in 2004, because an award in excess of the statutory maximum is void and violates public policy. Mitsubishi also maintained any interest Sara would be entitled to could only be recovered pursuant to section 19(n) of the Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/19(n) (West 2012)), which provides a lower interest rate, because section 2-1303 interest applies only to a trial court's judgment and not a decision by the Commission.

         ¶ 8 On October 16, 2015, the trial court entered a preliminary order in favor of Sara in the amount of $101, 420.98. The court found the statute of limitations barred any claimed deficiency of benefits paid to Sara prior to May 26, 2010, i.e., five years prior to the filing of her application. However, the court found the statute of limitations did not bar Sara's claim with respect to benefits due on or after that date. The court also found the $1304.78 weekly arbitration award was not void and did not violate public policy. The court reasoned Mitsubishi's $1012.01 weekly payments created a weekly deficiency of $292.77. The court then calculated the deficiency period beginning on May 26, 2010, and running through September 30, 2015, i.e., 279 weeks. As a result, the total arrearage was calculated to be $81, 682.83. The court, citing section 2-1303, also found Sara was entitled to an additional 9% interest on the deficient payments through September 30, 2015, for a total of $19, 738.15. The court further found all future benefits from October 1, 2015, on were to be paid at the $1304.78 per week rate. Finally, the court noted its order was not final and appealable because it was reserving the issue of attorney fees and costs for a later determination.

         ¶ 9 On March 3, 2016, the trial court entered a second written order incorporating its October 2015 ruling and disposing of the remaining issues, thus making it final for purposes of appeal.

         ¶ 10 This appeal followed.

         ¶ 11 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 12 On appeal, Mitsubishi argues (1) Sara's petition to enforce the 2004 award should have been dismissed because it was barred by the statute of limitations. In the alternative, Mitsubishi contends (2) the judgment should be limited to the maximum allowable death benefit recoverable in 2004, i.e., $1012.01 per week, and (3) any interest should be ...


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