Naresh Patel v. Home Depot USA, Inc. No. 2012ILApp(1st) 103217
Naresh Patel filed two claims which were heard together by an Arbitrator who awarded him a total of $22,798.54 in TTD, penalties, and attorneys’ fees. The Arbitrator also granted Home Depot certain credits pursuant to Section 8(j) of the Act. The Commission raised the credit to $33,357.47 and found it not subject to 8(j). Despite the credit being larger than the sums awarded, Patel nonetheless demanded payment of the benefits awarded. When Home Depot did not respond, he filed an application for judgment in the circuit court for the benefits awarded as permitted by Section 19(g) of the Act.
Home Depot filed motions to dismiss the application for judgment which were denied by the circuit court which then entered judgment against Home Depot for $22,798.54 plus attorney’s fees of $47,000.00, costs of $5,215.31 and interest of $13,679.08, all pursuant to Section 19(g) of the Act.
The Appellate Court affirmed this award. The court first cited the procedure for Section 19(g) which provides that a party may present a certified copy of the Arbitrator’s award or the decision of the Commission to the circuit court and “the Court shall enter a judgment in accordance therewith.” The section further provides that where the employer refuses to pay compensation according to the final award, the court will tax as costs against the employer reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees in the arbitration proceedings and in the court entering judgment. Home Depot sought dismissal of the application for entry of judgment on the basis that Home Depot owed Patel nothing – the Commission entered an award in favor of Patel, but also granted credit to Home Depot which exceeded the amount of the award. The court disagreed with this analysis.
The court stated that “although Home Depot may ultimately obtain the credit the Arbitrator and the Commission made, it is not entitled to that credit under Section 19(g).” The Court cited an earlier case, Illinois Graphics, wherein the Supreme Court held that an employer cannot use Section 19(g) to collect an overpayment. The court in Illinois Graphics stated that “the plain language of Section 19(g) states that the Commission’s decision, on which any judgment is based, be one ‘providing for the payment of compensation according to this Act.’” The Supreme Court added that the allowance of credit within a decision “merely serves to reduce the total payment of compensation benefits.” Home Depot agreed that an employer cannot collect overpaid benefits under Section 19(g), and merely sought to offset the payments already made against the award.
The court was not moved by this argument stating that an inadvertent overpayment of benefits was “not something for which Section 19(g) provides a remedy.” Home Depot was not entitled to use the credit as an offset against the benefits awarded to Patel under Section 19(g). Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision denying the motion to dismiss and the judgment entered on behalf of Patel for the compensation awarded, attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest.
Having been trained by the esteemed Oliver Graymatter (Frank Wiedner) your editor is loath to utter anything which could be considered as discrediting the Illinois judiciary. Nonetheless, one observes that this may not have been the appellate court’s finest hour. Presuming the court completely misunderstood the employer’s position–Home Depot was not seeking a judgment against Patel, but only to avoid paying twice–it blithely rendered the payment of benefits prior to trial irrelevant.
Section 19(g) provides merely that the Circuit Court “shall enter a judgment in accordance” with the Commission decision. The Commission granted credit for almost $10,000 more than what petitioner was awarded in benefits, which should have made the judgment to be entered nil. The court ignored the credit in the Commission decision and ordered Home Depot to pay the TTD awarded as well as an additional $66,000 in attorneys’ fees, costs and interest for Home Depot’s alleged refusal to pay the sums due under the Commission award. In essence, Home Depot was assessed fees, costs, and interest on an obligation it had satisfied evident by the Commission decision. The court should have paused and considered the maxim that the law does not permit an absurd result before signing off on this decision.
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