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In re Marriage of Arjmand

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

March 29, 2017

In re MARRIAGE OF MASUD M. ARJMAND, Petitioner-Appellant, and MUNEEZA R. ARJMAND, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, No. 09-D-1168 Honorable Timothy J. McJoynt, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Jorgensen and Spence concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SCHOSTOK, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The petitioner, Masud Arjmand, appeals from orders entered by the circuit court of Du Page County on October 9, 2014, April 22, 2016, and August 4, 2016. The first two orders awarded the respondent, Muneeza Arjmand, interim attorney fees pursuant to section 501(c-1) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act) (750 ILCS 5/501(c-1) (West 2012)). In the final order being appealed, the trial court denied Masud's motion to quash garnishment proceedings instituted by Muneeza in order to collect the interim attorney fees and ordered the turnover of funds to pay those fees. Because we lack jurisdiction to review any of these orders, we dismiss the appeal.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 We begin with the relevant procedural history. In 2009, Masud filed a petition for dissolution of his marriage to Muneeza. A short time later, the parties entered into a marital settlement agreement, which was incorporated into the judgment for dissolution entered in July 2009. However, in 2011, Muneeza filed a petition under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2010)), seeking to vacate the judgment for dissolution on the basis that it was unconscionable. The trial court granted the petition, vacating everything except the legal dissolution of the parties' marriage. Masud appealed this order. In 2013, we affirmed the trial court's vacation of most of the prior judgment of dissolution. In re Marriage of Arjmand, 2013 IL App (2d) 120639. The case returned to the trial court for further proceedings. Although those proceedings have been going on for some years, a trial of the issues remaining in the dissolution has yet to occur.

         ¶ 4 On August 14, 2014, Muneeza petitioned for interim attorney fees pursuant to sections 501(c-1) and 508(a) of the Act (750 ILCS 5/501(c-1), 508(a) (West 2012)). In her petition, Muneeza detailed the numerous matters litigated by the parties, which had resulted in significant attorney fees. She asserted that she was in need of assistance to pay her attorney fees, that Masud had income of over $1 million per year, and that the marital estate had substantial liquid assets from which attorney fees could be paid. She sought $303, 590 in past fees due and owing; $100, 000 in anticipation of future fees reasonably necessary to prepare for trial, and $87, 000 for anticipated expenses for expert witnesses, for a total of about $490, 000. Masud filed a response disputing her assertions and objecting to any interim award of attorney fees.

         ¶ 5 On October 9, 2014, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the petition for interim attorney fees. Masud sought to present several witnesses, including accountants and real estate appraisers. He argued that, in order to decide Muneeza's petition, the trial court was required to determine the value of the marital estate (which included almost a dozen residential and commercial properties) as well as the marital or nonmarital nature of all of the parties' assets. The trial court rejected this argument, stating that the resolution of the interim fee petition did not require it to make a determination on those issues, which would more properly be addressed at the eventual trial:

"[T]he purpose of today's hearing is to level the playing field. The legislative intent is clear. It's supposed to be an expeditious, quick way to resolve the issue and to level the playing field with minimal evidence to be presented to the Court. If you allow either party to get in too deeply into the economic aspects of the case, it defeats the whole purpose. The purpose of the statute is to make sure that each party has sufficient funds to retain attorneys and retain expert witnesses to litigate this case."

         The trial court therefore limited the parties to presenting evidence of their current economic circumstances, including their assets, incomes, and expenditures. The evidence presented included a September 2014 financial disclosure statement by Masud, which reflected appraisals that had valued his real estate holdings as of July 2009 (the date of dissolution). The statement listed the properties' total net value as about $5.5 million; Masud also had various investments and accounts worth about $6.5 million, although $6.2 million of these assets were "founder's shares" of Accenture, which were subject to restrictions on liquidation. Masud testified that his access to funds was extremely limited, due in part to a restraining order entered earlier in the dissolution case, and he argued that most of the shares in his accounts were nonmarital anyway. As to income, the statement showed that Masud was self-employed and had a gross annual income of over $224, 000 (primarily from investments and businesses), although it also stated that his gross income was reduced by: (1) about $102, 000 in taxes and court-ordered support for Muneeza, and (2) over $173, 000 in unspecified business expenses. Muneeza testified that she had no access to any marital assets. She had a net income of about $50, 000 per year.

         ¶ 6 At the close of the hearing, the trial court entered an order granting Muneeza's petition in an amount significantly lower than her request: $130, 000 ($110, 000 in attorney fees and $20, 000 for expenses for expert witnesses). The order required Masud to sell some of the founder's shares of Accenture in order to pay the award.

         ¶ 7 Both parties filed motions to reconsider the October 2014 award of interim attorney fees. Muneeza argued that Masud's filings and testimony at the evidentiary hearing understated two of the relevant factors in determining interim attorney fees: his current assets and liabilities, and the amount he had paid his own attorneys and expert witnesses. Muneeza asked that Masud be required to file corrected affidavits and that the trial court increase its award. Further, Muneeza asserted that Masud had made no effort to sell his founder's shares as ordered and had not responded to her attorney's requests for information. Finally, Muneeza asked the trial court to clarify that its award of interim attorney fees was an enforceable judgment pursuant to section 508(a) of the Act. See 750 ILCS 5/508(a) (West 2014) ("The court may order that the award of attorney's fees and costs (including an interim or contribution award) shall be paid directly to the attorney, who may enforce the order in his or her name, or that it shall be paid to the appropriate party, " and ["j]udgment may be entered and enforcement had accordingly"). It does not appear that Masud filed any written response to this motion. However, Masud later agreed that he had understated his attorney fees during the October 2014 hearing.

         ¶ 8 Masud's motion to reconsider, filed on November 13, 2014, argued that the trial court had improperly refused to consider expert witness testimony regarding the nonmarital nature of the founder's shares and the overall value of the marital estate, which Masud contended was essentially zero. Masud sought, as alternatives: (1) a reconsideration and denial of any interim attorney fees; (2) a vacation of the October 2014 fee award and a new hearing on interim attorney fees, at which the value of the marital estate as a whole could be litigated; (3) the entry of a finding of immediate appealability pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010); or (4) a finding of "friendly contempt" against Masud, imposing a nominal sanction that would permit him to appeal the fee award.

         ¶ 9 Muneeza's response noted that Masud's motion for reconsideration was untimely. She also asserted that, despite the barring of Masud's proffered experts, there was ample evidence in the record supporting the trial court's determination that the marital estate was sufficiently large to support the advance of interim attorney fees. Finally, she argued that Illinois law clearly established that interim-attorney-fee awards are not final or appealable orders and that Masud's efforts to circumvent this law should be denied as improper, both on policy grounds and because she had not sought to have him held in contempt.

         ¶ 10 Over the next year and a half, Masud filed four appeals from various interlocutory orders entered by the trial court, all of which were dismissed by this court because we lacked jurisdiction to hear them. See In re Marriage of Arjmand, 2015 IL App (2d) 150115-U; In re Marriage of Arjmand, 2015 IL App (2d) 150274-U; In re ...


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