Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rejects Hyland Illinois Prejudgment Interest Ruling

Judge Marcia Maras ruled in May 2022 that the prejudgment interest statute passed by the Illinois legislature was unconstitutional. However, another law division judge gave notice on July 20, 2022, stating that the motions on constitutional issues can and should be decided by the trial judge. In a written order of Aug. 5, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Maura Slattery Boyle granted prejudgment interest to a plaintiff in a negligence action.

Judge Boyle denied the defendants’ motion to declare the Prejudgment Interest Act unconstitutional, rejecting all of the arguments made including the applicability of Judge Maras’s ruling in Hyland, etc. v. Advocate Health & Hospitals Corp., et al., No. 17 L 3541.

The act allows plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits to collect interest against defendants from the time the lawsuit is filed should the plaintiff prevail to judgment, rather than from the time judgment is entered. The effective date of this act is July 1, 2021. The law provides recovery of 6% prejudgment interest in addition to the 9% post-judgment interest already enshrined in the law.

In the May 27, 2022 order in the Hyland case, Judge Maras held that the Prejudgment Interest Act is unconstitutional and invalid based on the right to trial by jury and the prohibition against special legislation.

In the Cook County case holding otherwise, Ahearn v. Heliotis, No. 2018 L 003552, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant Heliotis hit her with a car while she was walking through an alley. After a jury trial, the plaintiff Ahearn received a $418,625 jury verdict in her favor.  She then sought prejudgment interest accruing between the date the statute became effective, July 1, 2021, and the date the judgment in her case was entered — Jan. 13, 2022.

The ruling in Ahearn is the first in Cook County since Judge Maras’s May 2022 order.

The Law Division notice published July 20, 2022 set clear provisions for certain motions on the act, including attempts to stay the application of the act; toll requirement(s) of the act; declare the act unconstitutional; and apply the finding of unconstitutionality in Hyland to any case prior to trial.

“All such motions may be filed in all applicable cases and shall remain pending and continued generally, with all issues preserved, until such time as all avenues of appellate review on the constitutionality of the Judgment Interest Act Amendment have been exhausted and a final order from the Illinois Supreme Court is issued.”

Judge Flannery wrote that the notice was crafted after “having conferred with representatives from plaintiffs’ and defendants’ bar associations on the protocol for processing the multitude of motions requesting relief from the Judgment Interest Act Amendment.”

In the Ahearn case, Judge Boyle wrote, “It is well-settled in Illinois that ‘the decisions of circuit courts have no precedential value,” citing Delgado v. Bd. Of Election Comm’rs, 224 Ill.2d 481, 488 (2007).

In Delgado, Judge Boyle said, the state Illinois Supreme Court held that circuit court rulings as to the constitutionality of a statute are not binding on circuit court judges in other cases. The defendant Heliotis advanced arguments like those in the Hyland prejudgment interest dispute, including that the statute violates the right to trial by jury, separation of powers and special legislation clause. Judge Boyle said Heliotis’s argument improperly conflates interest with damages.  “It cannot be said that the jury’s award of damages is implicated in any way by a subsequent calculation of interest that occurs only after a jury has completed its task of rendering a verdict,” Judge Boyle wrote.

Heliotis had argued that the Illinois General Assembly did not comply with the three-readings rule, which requires an unaltered bill to be read three times before it is signed into law, and the single subject rule, a requirement that all bills signed into law address only one subject.

Judge Boyle rejected the three-readings rule argument, noting the First District Appellate Court recently reiterated the Supreme Court’s holding that the enrolled bill doctrine precludes judicial review of statutes on the basis that the legislature failed to adhere to procedural requirements, citing Doe v. Lyft, Inc., 2020 IL App (1st) 191328.

Chicago attorney Bruce Pfaff has defended the constitutionality of the prejudgment interest act. The Ahern ruling was the ninth state-wide finding of constitutionality of the prejudgment interest act. Pfaff stated, “The trial judges are to decide the cases on their own without resorting or without thinking that their decisions are bound by the Hyland ruling.” There will be more to come on this act. Prejudgment interest is not a novel concept. There are several states that have enacted and enforced similar acts for many years.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice lawsuits, wrongful death cases, birth trauma lawsuits, and catastrophic injury lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 45 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Wheaton, Libertyville, Alsip, South Holland, Arlington Heights, Rosemont, Bridgeview, Palatine, Chicago (Rodgers Park, South Shore, East Side, River North, Portage Park, Bronzeville), Mount Prospect, Wilmette, and Skokie, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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