Does The Income Withholding for Support Act Require Strict Compliance?

more+
less-

Our preview of newly petitions for leave to appeal allowed by the Illinois Supreme Court in the closing days of the just-ended May term continues with Schultz v. Performance Lighting, Inc., a decision from the Second District.

The plaintiff in Schultz obtained a divorce in 2009. She was awarded $600 every two weeks in child support from her ex-husband. At the time, the ex-husband was working for the defendant in Schultz.

In Illinois, the Income Withholding for Support Act was enacted in order to provide custodial parents with a method to more easily collect court-ordered support payments from their former spouses. The plaintiff served a notice to withhold income for support on the defendant, personally serving the ex-husband’s attorney at the same time. Section 35 of the Act places a duty on a payor, once served with a notice, to pay over the ordered portion of the obligor’s income to the State Disbursement Unit. According to the Act:

The income withholding notice shall:

* * *

(9) include the Social Security number of the obligor; and

(10) include the date that withholding for current support terminates, which shall be the date of termination of the current support obligation set forth in the order for support; and

(11) contain the signature of the obligor or the printed name and telephone number of the authorized representative of the public office, except that the failure to contain the signature of the obligor or the [identifying information for the public office] shall not affect the validity of the income withholding notice. 750 ILCS 28/20(c)

The plaintiff’s notice contained neither the ex-husband’s Social Security number, nor the termination date for the support obligation. So: does the statute require strict compliance, such that the notice’s shortcomings should be fatal, or is substantial compliance enough?

The defendant made no payments to the State Disbursement Unit on the ex-husband’s account. Subsequently, the defendant sued her ex-husband’s employer, alleging that the defendant had breached a statutory duty to pay, triggering a statutory $100 per day penalty. The trial court held that strict compliance was required by the statute and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint.

The Second District affirmed. Two reasons compelled a finding that strict compliance was required by the statute, according to the Court. First, the Court relied upon a line of authority holding that when a statute uses the word “shall,” and imposes a penalty or consequence for non-compliance, the duty imposed is mandatory and strict compliance is required. Although there was no penalty for failure to include the missing information in the notice, the Court noted that knowing non-compliance with a valid notice to withhold triggered an automatic penalty. Second, the Court invoked expressio unius est exclusio alterius, the ancient legal maxim teaching that an enumerated list is presumptively exclusive. Here, the statute’s statement that non-compliance with the signature requirement doesn’t invalidate the notice implies that non-compliance with the other requirements does invalidate the notice.

Schultz will likely be decided in the first half of 2014.