Our Chicago partnership dispute attorneys noted with interest a recent ruling strictly limiting how creditors may hold individual partners liable for the judgment debts of their partnerships. In Sunseri v. Moen, No. 3-07-0468 (Ill. 3rd May 15, 2008), the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that creditor Jack Sunseri and his company, Consolidated Partners Ltd., may not enforce a New York state ruling against Janet Moen, a partner of Macro Cellular Partners. The appeals court said a foreign judgment is unenforceable against an individual partner unless the judgment was against that partner, or the creditor makes a case establishing the partner’s liability.
In the underlying lawsuit, Sunseri successfully claimed that Macro’s general partner took actions designed to deprive Sunseri of partnership distributions. Sunseri was awarded nearly $6 million in damages against Macro in 2005, in New York state court. That court entered judgment against Macro, and later in the same year, an attorney for Sunseri petitioned a Rock Island County court to enter judgment against Moen individually as a partner of Macro. The matter was set for a hearing in early 2006, but on the day before, Moen filed a motion to stay judgment because she was not an individual defendant in the New York case, and because an appeal in that case was pending.
After a series of motions and hearings, a Rock Island County judge ruled that Sunseri could continue discovering the partnership’s assets, but that enforcement against Moen’s personal assets must fail because the original action did not name her as an individual, as required by Johnson v. St. Therese Medical Center, 296 Ill. App. 3d 341, 345 (1998). Sunseri then petitioned for leave to amend his complaint to add Moen as an individual. This was granted, but Moen successfully moved to dismiss it with prejudice under the Illinois statute of limitations. In granting that motion, the court also noted that Sunseri may not, under the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, enforce judgment against Moen individually when the New York judgment named only the partnership. After a motion to reconsider was denied, Sunseri filed the instant appeal.
On appeal, the Third District first considered whether the trial court erred when it stopped Sunseri’s citation proceedings against Moen’s personal assets. The controlling law is the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, the court wrote, which is “unequivocal” about its limited scope. Under the Act, the judgment debtor may only be a party named in the foreign court’s judgment order — and a judgment against a partnership is enforceable only against property actually in the partnership’s name. Sunseri’s counsel improperly expanded the scope of the original judgment when they named Moen as an individual partner, the Third District said, causing confusion in the trial court. In fact, the court wrote, “The record indicates Sunseri … desired to expand the New York decision to reach Moen without judicial approval or further court order.”
Sunseri further argued that his right to collect against Moen is settled under res judicata. It’s undisputed that creditors may use a valid foreign judgment against a partnership to establish individual partners’ liability, the court said — but it is not automatic. Sunseri should have registered the judgment against the partnership rather than Moen, the court said, then sought to establish Moen’s individual liability on the grounds that Macro’s assets were insufficient (because it was insolvent). However, he registered it only against Moen. Thus, not only did the trial court properly vacate the citation against Moen’s individual assets, the appeals court said, but it should have vacated the one against Macro as well.
Finally, the court considered the issue of whether the trial court property dismissed Sunseri’s amended complaint, or should have allowed his motion to reconsider that ruling. The parties brought up issues of statute of limitations, the Third wrote, but these are irrelevant — because, again, there was no foreign judgment against Moen. Illinois law won’t allow creditors to collect on foreign judgment debts that don’t exist, so the trial court acted properly when it dismissed Sunseri’s amended complaint with prejudice. Thus, the Third District upheld that decision and the decision to vacate orders, but also reversed the trial court’s decision to allow the citation against partnership assets.
At Lubin Austermuehle, our Illinois partnership litigation attorneys have the experience and legal knowledge businesses need to avoid unnecessary, protracted litigation over issues like these. We practice in Wisconsin, Illinois and multiple federal courts as well as in Illinois, so we understand how to navigate the laws of different jurisdictions. Our Naperville business litigation lawyers have more than two decades of experience representing business clients in matters including partnership disputes, shareholder litigation, real estate, restrictive covenants and other make-or-break litigation.
If your business is threatened by issues like these and you’re ready to talk to an experienced attorney, Lubin Austermuehle with offices in Chicago and Oakbrook Terrace near Oakbrook, Naperville, Wheaton, Joliet, Waukegan, Joliet and Aurora offers confidential consultations with one of our Chicago and Wheaton trial lawyers to help you get started. To set one up, please contact us through the Internet or call 630-333-0333 today.