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Manago v. County of Cook

Supreme Court of Illinois

September 21, 2017

AKEEM MANAGO, a Deceased Minor By and Through April Pritchett, Mother and Next Friend, Appellee,

          JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and This concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 The minor plaintiff in this case was injured while riding on the roof of an elevator owned by the Chicago Housing Authority. The public hospital that treated the minor obtained a health care lien on any damage recovery pursuant to the Health Care Services Lien Act (Lien Act) (770 ILCS 23/1 et seq. (West 2012)). On the minor's motion, the trial court extinguished the hospital's lien. Cook County appealed on behalf of the hospital. The appellate court ultimately affirmed the trial court's ruling, and Cook County (the County) filed the instant appeal. After applying our rules of statutory construction and examining the Lien Act in light of the Rights of Married Persons Act (Family Expense Act) (750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2012)), we reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Akeem Manago was 12 years old when he was treated at John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County in 2005 for injuries sustained while he was "elevator surfing" on the roof of an elevator owned and operated by the Chicago Housing Authority. Through his mother and next friend, April Pritchett, the minor filed a negligence claim in the Cook County circuit court against the Chicago Housing Authority, H.J. Russell & Company, and A.N.B. Elevator Services, Inc. The complaint that appears to have been litigated and is currently before this court, however, is the minor's second amended complaint. That complaint sought damages for the minor's personal injuries and included an allegation that his mother had "expended and incurred obligations for medical expenses and care and will in the future expend and incur such further obligations" but did not include a claim for those expenses. During the pendency of the case, the minor turned 18, and the court granted the defendants' motion to amend the case caption to show the plaintiffs as "Akeem Manago and April Pritchett." No changes were made to the second amended complaint, however.[1] The County filed a notice of lien pursuant to the Lien Act (770 ILCS 23/1 et seq. (West 2012)) in 2009 on behalf of the hospital for the minor's unpaid medical bills, totaling $79, 572.53.

         ¶ 4 Following a bench trial in 2011, the trial court declined to award any medical expenses, citing Pritchett's failure to prove she was obliged to pay the hospital bill. The plaintiff was awarded $400, 000: $250, 000 for scarring, $75, 000 for pain and suffering, and $75, 000 for loss of normal life. His award was reduced to $250, 000 after he was found 50% liable. Later, the trial court corrected its arithmetic error, making the final award $200, 000. After trial, the trial court granted the plaintiff's motion to strike, dismiss, and extinguish the hospital's lien, and the County filed a timely notice of appeal from that ruling. The plaintiff did not, however, appeal the trial court's failure to award damages for his medical expenses or file a timely appellate brief before the appellate court's initial judgment was entered in the County's appeal (Manago I).

         ¶ 5 In Manago I, a majority of the appellate court found the cases cited by the plaintiff in the circuit court were inapposite because they either rejected insurers' subrogation liens against minors or merely held parents liable for their children's medical expenses under section 15 of the Family Expense Act (750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2012)). Instead, the majority decided to reinstate the hospital's lien and remand for further proceedings based on Cooper, 125 Ill.2d 363 (1988), and In re Estate of Enloe, 109 Ill.App.3d 1089 (1982). Justice Gordon filed a dissent arguing that the opinion conflicted with established Illinois case law and public policy.

         ¶ 6 The plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration and, for the first time, submitted written briefs.[2] The appellate court granted the motion, set a supplemental briefing schedule, and heard oral argument. Later, the court withdrew its prior opinion and reversed course in Manago II (2016 IL App (1st) 121365), affirming the trial court's decision to strike, dismiss, and extinguish the hospital's statutory lien. The majority concluded the lien was invalid because (1) Pritchett did not assign her cause of action for medical expenses to her son even though, pursuant to the Family Expense Act, that action belonged solely to the minor's parents, and (2) under the Lien Act, liens may attach only to recoveries for medical expenses, and here no medical expenses were awarded. The opinion also noted the "tension" between the Lien Act and the Family Expense Act because, despite sharing the common purpose of protecting creditors, they offered widely differing remedies. 2016 IL App (1st) 121365, ¶ 37. The appellate court also distinguished Enloe, a case it relied on in Manago I, and instead applied case law it had previously rejected. 2016 IL App (1st) 121365, ¶¶ 33-37, 47.

         ¶ 7 Justice Gordon filed a special concurrence that acknowledged a conflict between the majority's reading of the Lien Act and its plain statutory language. 2016 IL App (1st) 121365, ¶¶ 54-60 (Gordon, J., specially concurring). Justice Lampkin dissented, arguing that both the breadth of the legislature's plain and unambiguous language and the absence of any express limitation in the Lien Act in cases involving minors necessarily lead to the conclusion that the Lien Act and the Family Expense Act provided alternative, not conflicting, remedies to hospitals seeking reimbursement for unpaid medical expenses. 2016 IL App (1st) 121365, ¶¶ 70-74 (Lampkin, J., dissenting).

         ¶ 8 This court allowed the County's petition for leave to appeal on behalf of the hospital pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 2015) and permitted Southern Illinois Hospital Services and the Illinois State Medical Society to file amicus curiae briefs in support of the County (Ill. S.Ct. R. 345 (eff. Sept. 20, 2010)).

         ¶ 9 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 The disposition of this appeal hinges on our construction of the Health Care Services Lien Act (770 ILCS 23/1 et seq. (West 2012)) in light of the Family Expense Act (750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2012)). Because the construction of a statute presents a question of law, we review the underlying judgment de novo. In construing a statute, our goal is to effectuate the intent of the legislature, with the plain and unambiguous language enacted providing the most reliable indicator of that intent. Whenever possible, courts must enforce clear and unambiguous statutory language as written, without reading in unstated exceptions, conditions, or limitations. People ex rel. Glasgow v. Carlson, 2016 IL 120544, ¶¶ 16-17. Before we construe the statutes at issue here, however, we first consider a claim that is referenced throughout the plaintiff's argument.

         ¶ 11 The plaintiff asserts that this court must consider the "competing and conflicting public policies involved in the resolution of this case." The essence of his contention is the alleged unfairness of subjecting a minor's tort recovery to a health care provider's lien for the minor's medical expenses even though the minor is barred from obtaining those damages from the tortfeasor. He also contends that allowing the lien in this case would undermine courts' duties to protect the interests of minors and to provide full and fair compensation for tortious injuries. An examination of the merits of those arguments requires us to identify and weigh the public policies behind both the Lien Act and the Family Expense Act.

         ¶ 12 We have long recognized that the Lien Act was enacted "to promote the health, safety, comfort, or well-being of the community" by providing medical care for the poor, thus reducing the financial burden on hospitals treating accident victims unable to pay for their own care and treatment. In re Estate of Cooper, 125 Ill.2d at 368-69. In contrast, the Family Expense Act codifies the common-law rule making parents liable for the expenses of their minor children. Clark v. Children's Memorial Hospital, 2011 IL 108656, ¶ 51. Although, as the plaintiff contends, both statutes undoubtedly inure to the benefit of creditors, their underlying public policy objectives are plainly quite distinct.

         ¶ 13 The legislative concerns that led to the enactment of the Lien Act and the Family Expenses Act are long-standing and diverse. This court is not tasked with evaluating and setting public policy, however (Clark, 2011 IL 108656, ¶ 79); that job is reserved for our duly elected legislature (Blumenthal v. Brewer, 2016 IL 118781, ¶ 80). Indeed, we lack any objective standards or procedures to assist us in weighing the relative merits of such widely divergent public policy interests. The legislature alone possesses the necessary investigative and fact-finding abilities. Blumenthal, 2016 IL 118781, ¶ 77.

         ¶ 14 Our duty in this case is properly limited to determining the intent of the legislature based on the plain and unambiguous statutory language and construing the relevant statutes consistent with that intent. Carlson, 2016 ...

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