Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

The Illinois Appellate Court for the First District has affirmed a judgment that pierced the corporate veil of a closely held corporation and then awarded the plaintiff attorney fees connected to this litigation. The case was reported to be one of first impression in Illinois.

Steiner Electric sold electrical products on credit to Delta Equipment Co., a corporation wholly owned by an individual, Leonard Maniscalco. Although there were many attempts to collect payment, Steiner finally sued Delta and obtained a default judgment for the purchase price plus interest, attorney fees and costs. By the time judgment was entered, Delta no longer existed. Steiner  filed suit against Maniscalco and Sackett Systems Inc., another corporation wholly owned by Maniscalco. That lawsuit sought to pierce Delta’s corporate veil and hold both Maniscalco, individually and Sackett Systems Inc., liable for the default judgment.

Steiner was successful in proving that it was entitled to pierce the veil wherein both Maniscalco and Sackett Systems appealed from that order.

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The Illinois Supreme Court has reversed a decision by a trial judge and the Illinois Appellate Court that dismissed a lawsuit against the East Joliet Fire Protection District regarding the death of Coretta Coleman. Her family claimed that the defendant, East Joliet Fire Protection District and its ENTs, were both negligent and willful and wanton in their conduct for choosing not to respond to a 911 call.

Coleman had called an ambulance by 911 because she was having difficulty breathing. This happened in June 2008. She gave the 911 dispatcher her address and told the person to “hurry.”  The 911 dispatcher asked Coleman to hold and transferred the call from the Will County dispatch to the Orland Central dispatch.

Deviating from written protocol, the Will County dispatch hung up after making a transfer without communicating to Orland Central dispatch the nature of the emergency. When Orland Central dispatch attempted to ask Coleman questions, it received no response and did not know whether the call was dropped or if Coleman was still on the line. The Orland Central dispatch staffer hung up and placed the call in line for an ambulance dispatch.

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A house fire severely injured two individuals, Estella Wofford and Leo Seay. The fire was caused by longstanding electrical problems. The claims made by Wofford and Seay were hampered because the landlord’s insurance company, its investigators and the contractor it hired to remove the fire debris destroyed important evidence, including electrical wires, a fuse box and outlets.

Wofford and Seay filed a lawsuit against the landlord for negligence within two years. However, their spoliation claim was filed more than two years, but less than five years, after the fire and their injuries.

Based on the case of Schusse v. Pace, 334 Ill.App.3d 960 (2002), Wofford and Seay requested that the court apply the five-year deadline that is provided by Section 13-205 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. But the presiding judge decided the case following Babich v. River Oaks Toyota, 377 Ill.App.3d 427 (2007) and dismissed the spoliation claim because it was not filed within the two-year deadline set by Section 13-202 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure.

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The Illinois Supreme Court has affirmed a decision of a trial judge who denied a motion for substitution of judge that is usually a matter of right under 735 ILCS 5/2-1001(a)(2)(ii). In this case, the special administrator of the Estate of Bowman, Connie Bowman, filed a medical negligence case against Dr. Michael V. Ottney. There were pretrial rulings on substantive issues involving discovery disclosures. Bowman at that point voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit with the right to refile within one year without prejudice. The underlying lawsuit was brought by the plaintiff Connie Bowman who was the special administrator of the estate of Char Bowman who sought damages against the defendant Ottney.

The refiled lawsuit was then assigned to the very same judge who presided over the earlier proceedings. Again, Bowman moved for substitution of judge as a matter of right. The circuit court judge denied the motion but certified a question to the Illinois Appellate Court, which concluded that the court had discretion to deny a motion for substitution filed by a plaintiff where the court had ruled on matters of substance in the plaintiff’s previously filed but now dismissed lawsuit.

The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. In doing so, the Supreme Court said Bowman could have moved for substitution of judge as a matter of right during the proceedings on her 2009 complaint, the first lawsuit. She could have done this even after the judge ruled on matters of substance. Bowman could have moved for cause under Section 2-1001(a)(3) in either the 2009 or the 2013 litigation.

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In an Illinois Appellate Court decision of first impression, it was found that a non-guardian spouse cannot challenge a guardian’s petition to seek an order to bring dissolution of marriage action on behalf of the ward in the probate court. Previously in the Illinois Supreme Court case of Karbin v. Karbin, 2012 IL 112815, the high court held that a guardian may seek court permission to bring a marriage dissolution action on behalf of a ward and overruled a contrary rule previously established. The Karbin decision was later codified as an amendment to the Probate Act, by amending 755 ILCS 5/11a-17(e).

The Karbin opinion and the Act set out certain procedural and substantive safeguards to protect the ward. Among those safeguards is the requirement that a circuit court considering a petition to file for dissolution of marriage hold a hearing to determine whether dissolution is in ward’s best interest. This case was one of first impression because it was a non-guardian spouse who attempted to challenge whether it was in the best interest of the ward to file a complaint for dissolution of marriage. The issue was whether the non-guardian spouse has standing in the “best interests of the ward” hearing.

George F. Warga, the ward, was 91 years old. When his first wife became ill, he hired a nurse, Laima Bacanskas, to help with her care. His first wife died in 2000. Warga continued to retain Bacanskas to help with household duties. In 2006, the two married. They had no children.

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Mark Harreld brought a personal-injury lawsuit against Lou Butler and DVBC Inc., but on Sept. 16, 2013 a Kane County Circuit Court judge granted the city of Elgin‘s motion to dismiss DVBC’s third-party contribution complaint against the city.

That order did not include the special language, “There is no just reason for delaying the enforcement or appeal of this order” that would have made the order immediately appealable under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a).

Even still, DVBC filed a notice of appeal on Oct. 10, 2013 and eventually noticed its appeal was premature because of the lack of the appeals language in the Sept. 16, 2013 order. However, DVBC used the wrong court procedure for correcting the misstep.

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In a recent Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article, retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge Hon. Dennis Dohm wrote that the clear language found in Illinois’ 1970 Constitution, Section 13 titled “Trial by Jury,” of Article I’s Bill of Rights states that “the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate.”

Judge Dohm compared that language of the 1970 Illinois Constitution to the State’s 1870 Constitution on jury trials, which stated, “The right of trial by jury as heretofore shall remain inviolate [but the trial of civil cases before justices of the peace by a jury of less than 12 men may be authorized by law].” The 1970 Constitution language as shown above includes none of that language that is shown in brackets. Justices of the peace were abolished by the 1962 Judicial Article to the 1870 Illinois Constitution.

It may be of historical note that in 1818 and 1848, Illinois had enacted constitutions that likewise stated that the right of trial by a jury was mandated by similar language as found in the 1870 and 1970 constitutions.

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√On Nov. 4, 2008, Ulrika Bjorkstam and Joseph Daniel Dray were injured in a plane crash in Mexico City.

On Nov. 3, 2009, the two injured parties filed a lawsuit against MPC Products Corp and Woodward Inc., which manufactured the horizontal stabilizer actuator that the plaintiffs alleged was faulty in the plane in which they were traveling.

MPC and Woodward’s principal place of business was in Illinois. However, the companies moved for a dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens, arguing that Harris County, Texas, was the more appropriate forum for this case. Forum non conveniens is Latin term used in the law that pertains to the place that is considered most convenient for the parties, discovery of the facts of the case and the eventual trial. In Illinois, the legal concept of forum non conveniens is discretionary with the judge presiding. The factors of the place of the controversy, the witnesses’ location, the residence of the defendant, the location of the place where a contract was made and other similar issues are weighed by the court if the venue of the case is challenged.

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For more than 20 years, the law under Illinois Code of Civil Procedure §2-1001(a)(2) has been that a party may move for substitution of judge one time without cause as a matter of right.  735 ILCS 5/2-1001(a)(2)

Before 1993, the Code of Civil Procedure required that a petition be filed expressly alleging that the trial judge was prejudicial for some specific reason in that particular case.  In 1993, an amendment to the statute was made that stated “one substitution of judge without cause as a matter of right” if the motion “is presented before trial or hearing begins and before the judge to whom it is presented has ruled on any substantial issue in the case, or if it is presented by consent of the parties.”

The case centered on a dispute between four siblings about the ownership of a family farm in Pike County, Ill.  The validity of a §2-1001(a)(2) motion was contested.  In this case, John Schnepf, one of the parties, filed a 2-1001(a)(2) motion before the trial started and before the judge ruled on any substantial issue.  But the judge presiding concluded that her comments during arguments on other matters “certainly indicated some issues that I have problems with” and that “the parties had an opportunity to test the waters” and thus, Schnepf’s motion to substitute judges was denied.

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The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the mailbox rule applies when filing a notice of appeal. That means that if an appellant seeks an appeal to a higher court, the notice of appeal time is satisfied as long as the notice is mailed to the Clerk of the Circuit Court before the 30-day deadline expires. That is the case no matter when the notice of appeal is actually received and stamped as filed. The appellate court has also decided that the same principles of the mailbox rule apply to filing initial complaints or seeking post-judgment relief under §2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure.

The question for the Illinois Supreme Court was whether the mailbox rule applied to Mark Gruszeczka’s request for judicial review of a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Gruszeczka alleged that he was injured while working for Alliance Contractors. He claimed  he was entitled to benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. An arbitrator ruled against him, and there was no dispute that the mailbox rule applied when he asked the commission to review that decision.

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