Turnover Order Against Debtor’s Wife’s Company Upheld – IL First District

While the amount of the turnover order – less than $6,000 – challenged in Xcel Supply, LLC v. Horowitz, 2018 IL App (1st) 162986 was but a fraction of the underlying judgment – over $600,000 – the case provides a useful discussion of the interplay between Section 2-1402 and Rule 277 – Illinois’s twin supplementary (post-judgment) proceedings authorities – and when a third-party citation respondent is entitled to an evidentiary hearing.

About a month after a trial court entered a money judgment against defendant, his wife – through her company – wrote six checks to the defendant/ judgment debtor over a three-month span totaling $5,220.

On the creditor’s turnover motion, the trial court ordered the debtor’s wife and third-party citation respondent (the Respondent) to turn over $5,220 to plaintiff’s counsel (defendant’s wife’s company). The Respondent appealed.

Affirming, the Court examined Code Section 2-1402 and Rule 277 to assess whether the turnover order was supported by competent proof.

Code Section 2-1402(a) permits a judgment creditor to prosecute supplementary proceedings to discover assets or income of the debtor and apply assets or income discovered toward the payment of the judgment.

The creditor can initiate post-judgment proceedings against the debtor or any other third party who may have information concerning income or assets belonging to the judgment debtor.

Code Section 2-1402 vests the Court with broad powers to compel any person to deliver assets to be applied towards satisfaction of the judgment in situations where the judgment debtor can recover those assets. An order compelling a third-party to deliver assets in full or partial satisfaction of the judgment is called a turnover order. A court can enter judgement against someone who violates a citation’s restraining provision in the amount of the property transferred or up to the judgment amount. 2-1402(f)(1); ⁋⁋ 40-41.

Rule 277 works in tandem with Section 2-1402 and specifies how supplementary proceedings are conducted. Among other things, the Rule allows “any interested party” to subpoena witnesses and adduce evidence in the same manner it could at a civil trial.

Where a judgment creditor and third-party citation respondent each claim superior rights to the same debtor assets, the trial court should conduct an evidentiary hearing. However, where only the judgment creditor is claiming rights in the debtor’s assets, the trial court can decide the post-judgment proceeding without an evidentiary hearing.

Here, because the Respondent was the debtor’s wife – the Court viewed her as an illusory citation respondent. That is, the debtor and Respondent acted as a united front. Because this was not the prototypical “tug-of-war” between a judgment creditor and third-party citation respondent, the trial court was able to rule on the respondent’s argument without an evidentiary hearing.

The Court also rejected the respondent’s argument that the turnover order lacked an evidentiary basis. The Court noted that the judgment debtor admitted in his affidavit to cashing all six checks from the Respondent’s company and that Respondent did nothing to stop him from cashing the checks.

Since the Respondent never challenged the debtor’s right to cash the checks, the Court viewed it as strong proof that the checks were the debtor’s property to spend as he pleased.

Finally, the Court rejected Respondent’s argument that the money sent to the debtor wasn’t really his money as the funds were earmarked for their children’s expenses. According to the court, since both the debtor and Respondent had equal parental obligations to pay their children’s expenses, whether or not the money was for child expenses didn’t negate the trial court’s finding that the checks were defendant’s property and Respondent violated the citation by transferring the checks to the defendant after the date of the money judgment.

Afterwords: This case shows that citation restraining provisions which bar a third-party citation respondent from transferring money or property belonging to or to become due a judgment debtor have teeth.

While an evidentiary hearing is normally required where there are competing claimants to the same pool of assets, this rule is relaxed where the citation respondent is aligned (here, through marriage) with the debtor. In such a case, the court will look beyond the legal nomenclature and assess the reality of the parties’ relationship. Where the third-party citation respondent doesn’t have a meaningful claim to transferred debtor assets, the Court can decide a turnover motion without hearing live witness testimony.

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.