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In re Marriage of Reidy

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

July 31, 2018

In re MARRIAGE OF ELLEN JORDAN REIDY, Petitioner-Appellee, and JOHN P. REIDY, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 13 D 8084 Honorable Debra B. Walker and James P. Flannery, Judges Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Pucinski and Walker concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 This case arises out of the dissolution of petitioner-appellee Ellen Jordan Reidy and respondent-appellant John P. Reidy's 26-year marriage. Ellen filed a petition for dissolution in September 2013. Over two years later and after the dissolution petition had been set for trial, John filed a counterpetition for legal separation in the domestic relations division of the circuit court of Cook County along with a complaint in the law division against Ellen (among others) alleging that the defendants schemed to divest John of his interest in certain marital property by placing the property into two trusts. John's motion to consolidate his law division complaint into Ellen's dissolution petition was denied, as was his motion to stay the dissolution proceedings until the law division suit was resolved or, alternatively, to amend his counterpetition for legal separation to include his law division claims.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, John challenges the rulings on his motions to consolidate and to amend and also argues that the trial court erred in granting the petition for dissolution without apportioning the allegedly misappropriated marital property. John further argues that the trial court erred in crediting Ellen for amounts John incurred in attorney fees in excess of the fees Ellen incurred. Finding no error, we affirm.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 John and Ellen were married in 1986 and had three adult emancipated children at the time Ellen petitioned for dissolution of their marriage on September 11, 2013. At the time the petition was filed, Ellen was 55 years old and John was 70. During their almost 30-year marriage, John was a public school teacher in Chicago, while Ellen founded American Food Technologies, Inc. (Amfotek), a manufacturer of sugar-based blended beverages for convenience stores and quick-service retailers. Ellen also formed Mariah Partners, LLC (Mariah Partners), the owner of a mixed-use office and industrial building in Tinley Park, Illinois, where Amfotek is headquartered.

         ¶ 5 On December 15, 2015, following over two years of discovery, the court set the matter for trial over several dates in July 2016 and ordered that discovery be closed on May 13, 2016. On February 26, 2016, John filed a counterpetition for legal separation. (As a Roman Catholic, John was opposed to divorce.) One week later, on March 4, 2016, John filed a complaint in the law division seeking millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages from Ellen and eight additional defendants. The complaint, in six causes of action, generally alleged a conspiracy between Ellen and the defendants to illegally transfer marital property into the John P. Reidy Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) and the Ellen J. Reidy Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT), both created in 2012, before Ellen filed her petition for dissolution. According to John, the creation of the trusts reduced the marital estate and ultimately would give him a smaller property distribution and maintenance award in the dissolution proceedings.

         ¶ 6 The corpus of the QPRT was a Naples, Florida, condominium that John and Ellen purchased in 2006. The buyer named on the deed and in the purchase documents was John P. Reidy, as trustee of the John P. Reidy Trust, Amended and Restated, January 26, 2006. According to John's complaint, the QPRT stripped him of ownership of the condo and left him with a 10-year life estate at the age of 69. Upon expiration of the 10-year term, the property would pass to Ellen and their three children. The final draft of the QPRT, which John alleged he was "tricked" into signing in December 2012, also contained a provision that Ellen would remain a beneficiary of the trust in the event she and John divorced. The GRAT contained 30% of Ellen's interest in Amfotek and 39% of her interest in Mariah Partners. John alleged that he first learned of the existence of the GRAT during discovery in the dissolution proceedings.

         ¶ 7 On April 13, 2016, the court granted John's petition for interim and prospective attorney fees and costs, ordering Ellen to pay John's past due and prospective attorney fees until further order. The court's order also provided that all such payments would be deemed advances from the marital estate. Finally, the court concluded that the assessment of the interim fee award was "without prejudice to any final allocation and without prejudice to any claim or right of either party or counsel."

         ¶ 8 On April 28, 2016, less than two months before trial was set to begin, John filed a motion to consolidate his law division complaint into the petition for dissolution, arguing that consolidation would further judicial economy and avoid possibly conflicting results. According to John, he filed the motion to consolidate in both the law division and the domestic relations division of the circuit court, but the notice of motion appears only in the electronic docket of the law division case, not the docket in the dissolution case pending in the domestic relations division. The motion itself only bears the stamp of the law division.

         ¶ 9 Pursuant to Cook County Circuit Court General Order No. 12.1, the motion was heard by the law division's assignment judge, who hears motions for consolidation pending in different divisions of the trial court. Cook County Cir. Ct. G.O. 12.1 (Feb. 1, 1964). Ellen and several codefendants in the law division case opposed the motion on the basis that they would be prejudiced by the addition of new claims in the dissolution proceedings and the attendant delay that would follow in a case that had already been pending for 2½ years. The court agreed and denied John's motion on June 23, 2016. The order denying the motion for consolidation, while including the caption for the domestic relations case, appears only in the electronic docket of the law division case.

         ¶ 10 The next day, on June 24, 2016, John changed his strategy and filed a motion in the domestic relations division to stay the dissolution proceedings pending resolution of the law division complaint or, alternatively, for leave to amend his counter petition for legal separation to add the claims asserted in his law division complaint. Again, John cited reasons of judicial economy and the prevention of conflicting results as the basis for his motion, while Ellen argued she would be prejudiced by a delay in the dissolution proceedings. The court denied John's motion, finding that John could have sought leave to amend his counterpetition earlier and that Ellen was entitled to dissolution of their marriage without further delay.

         ¶ 11 Ellen also filed a motion in limine asking the court to bar John from introducing allegations contained in the law division complaint at trial. John, through counsel, joined in that motion and asked for an agreed order that prohibited both parties from eliciting evidence or testimony ...

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