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Pre-Judgment Interest Unconstitutional?  Cook County Judge Fires a Shot Across the Bow.

June 2, 2022

A recent memorandum issued by Judge Marcia Maras in the Circuit Court of Cook County is causing a stir in the pre-judgment interest (PJI) debate.  In her memo, Judge Maras found Illinois’ recently enacted prejudgment interest statute unconstitutional.  She also found that the legislation violated both the right of trial by jury and the prohibition against special legislation.  Johnson & Bell has written extensively about the amendments to 735 ILCS 5/2-1303, which became effective July 1, 2021.

In Judge Maras’s ruling, she found that Section 2-1303(c) violates defendants’ rights to trial by jury by infringing on the right of the jury to determine damages, which is an “inviolable right” and “not an issue for the Legislature.” The amended PJI statute “strips the function and role of the jury in assessing all issues, including damages, and instead requires an award of prejudgment interest.” In response to the plaintiff’s argument that PJI was necessary to counter a defense litigation strategy of refusing to engage in settlement negotiations, which delays trials and “erodes the real value of a plaintiff’s award,” Judge Maras pointed to research showing that Illinois juries already provide larger awards to longer delayed cases.

The order further found that the PJI amendment violates the Illinois Constitution’s prohibition against special legislation, which is defined as “arbitrary legislative classifications that discriminate in favor of a select group without a sound, reasonable basis.” Here, Judge Maras found both plaintiffs and defendants faced arbitrary classifications. Her order notes that the Amendment not only “discriminates in favor of personal injury and wrongful death plaintiffs by granting a substantial benefit on them while excluding all similarly situated tort plaintiffs,” but also discriminates against “personal injury and wrongful death defendants as being the only defendants paying PJI, as against all other tort defendants.” These classifications were found to be arbitrary and a violation of the ban on special legislation.

Judge Maras’ ruling does not apply statewide.  However, it may provide needed momentum to efforts to further amend or overturn the PJI statute.  Nonetheless, defendants should continue to follow the Act's requirements and pay any required PJI under objection and into an escrow account until the issue is resolved by courts of review. Johnson & Bell will continue to monitor this development. If you have any questions about this development, please contact Joseph F. Spitzzeri or Garrett L. Boehm, Jr., at Johnson & Bell.

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