April 24, 2010

Two-Part Standard Of Review For Suppression Of Evidence In Entry And Detainer Case

Michael Head, a resident at a public housing apartment in Chicago, was arrested for possession of marijuana. His apartment lease prohibited him from participating in illegal drug-related activity. The Chicago Housing Authority was allowed to terminate the lease if Head was in violation.

The police took the evidence against Head illegally, so the State eventually dropped the charge. But the property management company filed suit against Head for possession of the apartment under the Illinois Forcible Entry and Detainer Act. Head countered by asking the court to suppress the evidence of his alleged crime under the exclusionary rule [illegally obtained evidence can’t be used]. He also asked the trial court to dismiss the property manager’s case.

The trial court agreed with Head. The court suppressed the illegally obtained evidence. Without that evidence, the management company could not prove its case, so the court dismissed.

The management company appealed, and argued that the evidence should not have been suppressed. The court identified the standard of review for suppression of evidence.

In reviewing an appeal from a circuit court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we apply a two-part standard of review … First, the circuit court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error and will only be reversed if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence … Second, the circuit court's ultimate decision as to whether suppression is warranted is reviewed de novo … In this case, neither party challenges any of the circuit court's factual determinations. Accordingly, the sole issue before this court is plaintiff's legal challenge to the circuit court's application of the exclusionary rule, which we review de novo.

These kinds of definitions are confusing. The first part of the test is for “clear error” only to be reversed if against the manifest weight of the evidence. So which is it? Clear error or manifest weight?

In either event, the First District Illinois Court of Appeals in this case ruled the evidence should not have been suppressed, and the case should not have been dismissed. Read the whole case, U.S. Residential Management and Development v. Head, No. 1-08-3531 (12/18/09), by clicking here.

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April 20, 2010

Dead Man’s Act Testimony Reviewed For Abuse Of Discretion

Howard Agins died of cancer. His estate sued his doctor for failure to evaluate, diagnose, and treat the condition. During trial, the circuit court ruled the Estate waived its right to bar certain of the doctor’s testimony under the Illinois Dead Man’s Act, which ordinarily would prohibit the doctor from testifying about conversations he had with Agins. After a jury returned a verdict in favor of the doctor, the Estate appealed the waiver rulings.

The parties fought over the standard of review. The Estate argued for de novo review because “the appeal involves application of a statute.” The doctor argued for a tougher “abuse of discretion” standard, claiming these were typical evidentiary rulings.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court ruled in favor of the doctor. The “abuse of discretion” standard applied because the “issues on appeal involve the admissibility of conversations between decedent [Agins] and [Defendant] Dr. Schonberg and do not involve statutory construction.”

In the end, the doctor’s verdict was affirmed. Read the whole case, Agins v. Schonberg, No. 1-08-3207 (12/23/09), bny clicking here.

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April 19, 2010

Contractor’s Statutory Compliance Reviewed De Novo

A construction contractor sued a homeowner for labor and materials used in remodeling work. The homeowner defended by claiming the contractor did not comply with the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act: there was not a signed contract; the contractor did not give the homeowner the required consumer-rights brochure. Those facts were not disputed.

The contractor won a bench trial. The substantive question on appeal was whether the contractor substantially complied with the Act. The Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court used a de novo standard of review. Because the facts were not disputed, the court had to decide only whether the contractor’s actions amounted to substantial compliance with the Act. And “[w]hether there is substantial compliance with a statutory provision is a question of law, and our standard of review is de novo.

The appellate court ultimately ruled that the contractor did substantially comply with the Act. Read the whole case, Behl v. Gingerich, No. 4-08-0974 (12/21/09), by clicking here.

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April 19, 2010

De Novo Review Standard For Validity of Trust Document

Back from the DL. Let’s catch up.

Answering a question of first impression, the Illinois Supreme Court established the standard of review “on the question of whether a provision in a trust document or will is void as a matter of public policy.” The court ruled that a de novo standard applied.

“It is clear, however, that such findings are subject to de novo review, because public policy is necessarily a question of law … This conclusion is consistent with the well-established principle that whether a provision in a contract, insurance policy, or other agreement is invalid because it violates public policy is a question of law, which we review de novo.”

The whole case, Estate of Feinberg, No. 105982 (9/24/09), is available right here.

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