Articles Posted in Standard of Review

Warren County Soil is important to Illinois appellate practitioners because it clears the confusion over the standard of review in appeals from orders growing from 2-1401 disputes. (Illinois Civil Procedure Code § 1401 allows relief from judgments that are more than two years old.) This is what the Illinois Supreme Court said:

[W]e hold that when a section 2-1401 petition presents a fact-dependent challenge to a final judgment or order … the petitioner must set forth specific factual allegations supporting each of the following elements: (1) the existence of a meritorious defense; (2) due diligence in presenting this defense; and (3) due diligence in filing the section 2-1401 petition for relief … The quantum of proof necessary to sustain a section 2-1401 petition is a preponderance of the evidence, and the circuit court’s ultimate decision on the petition is reviewed for an abuse of discretion … In addition, when the facts supporting the section 2-1401 petition are challenged by the respondent, a full and fair evidentiary hearing should be held … Relevant to this appeal, the trial court may also consider equitable considerations to relax the applicable due diligence standards under the appropriate limited circumstances …‍

But when the fight concerns only a question of law — e.g., a claim that the judgment was void — then there is a de novo standard of review (no discretion given to the circuit court).

Lake Environmental was doing asbestos removal at Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois. The State, claiming that Lake had violated regulations, persuaded the Department of Public Health to revoke Lake’s asbestos removal license. Lake asked the trial court to review the department’s decision. But while that review was still pending, the State filed another complaint in the Department that asked for penalties and an injunction.

The trial court reversed the Department’s decision to revoke the license. Lake then asked the court to sanction the State. The trial court denied the sanction request, but did not say why. So Lake appealed the denial of sanctions to the Illinois Fifth District Court of Appeals.

The appellate court ruled that it had no basis to affirm the denial of sanctions because the trial court’s terse denial did not meet the requirement that a court must provide a reasoned analysis for its sanctions ruling.

Poolman of Wisconsin services and sells swimming pools, hot tubs, and fireplaces. Through a third-party, the company faxed an unsolicited advertisement to UESCO Industries, a company that manufactures cranes. Angered at Poolman‘s advertising method, UESCO sued Poolman under a federal law that prohibits unsolicited fax advertisements.UESCO asked for class action certification, claiming it could adequately represent all parties that received Poolman’s fax advertisement.

An Illinois trial court granted UESCO’s request for class action status. Poolman appealed.

UESCO and Poolman argued for opposite appellate standards of review. Poolman asserted the appellate court should review the matter de novo (no discretion given to the trial court) “because the issues presented on appeal are ‘purely legal.’” UESCO argued that the trial court should be reversed only if it abused its discretion. The First District Illinois Appellate Court sided with UESCO, and ruled that the trial court gets discretion with one condition.

Carolyn Mahoney sued her former husband, Billy J. Cox, and his lawyer, Marc Gummerson, for plotting to kill her. Cox was in jail, so Mahoney served the Illinois Department of Corrections with a subpoena to find out information about the plot. The DOC asked the trial court to quash the subpoena because the documents Mahoney wanted contained the name of a confidential informant. The DOC argued the informant’s safety could be at risk if his identity were disclosed.

Trial court refused quash the subpoena, and instead compelled the DOC to produce the records. The DOC then asked for an immediate appeal of whether the informant’s identity was privileged under an Illinois statute.

The appeal was allowed, and a question about whether the statute made the informant’s identity confidential was certified. The DOC filed its brief, but neither Mahoney, Cox, nor Gummerson responded. So the issue was how the appellate court should treat an appeal that no one opposed.

While still married to John, Betsy D’Attomo began developing a bakery. John and Betsy financed the bakery partly with money from a home equity loan. The couple decided to divorce. At the divorce trial, John claimed the money from the home equity loan was a loan to the bakery that must be paid back. Betsy testified that the money was an equity investment. The circuit court sided with Betsy, and ruled that the advance was an investment, not a loan.

John appealed. But other than his own testimony, John did not have any evidence to prove the advance was a loan. He argued that the loan contract was implied in fact. He also argued that the existence of an implied-in-fact contract was a question of law, which the appellate court should review de novo. [No discretion for the trial court decision.]

The First District Illinois Appellate Court disagreed with John on the standard of review. Implied-in-fact contracts are reviewed under a de novo standard if they arise out of a written document. But John did not have a written loan agreement. So the appellate court ruled that the more deferential manifest-weight-of-the-evidence standard applied because “the trial court is in a better position to weigh the testimony adduced at trial.”

Here is a nice, concise statement of how the Illinois Appellate Court reviews the personal jurisdiction of the trial court.

When the trial court decides a jurisdictional question solely on the basis of documentary evidence and without an evidentiary hearing, as it did here, then the question is reviewed de novo on appeal. Rosier v. Cascade Mountain, Inc., 367 Ill.App.3d 559, 561, 305 Ill.Dec. 352, 855 N.E.2d 243 (2006). On appeal, any conflicts in the pleadings and affidavits must be resolved in the plaintiff’s favor. MacNeil v. Trambert, 401 Ill.App.3d 1077, 1080, 342 Ill.Dec. 314, 932 N.E.2d 441 (2010). “However, well-alleged facts within affidavits presented by the defendant must be taken as true notwithstanding the existence of contrary averments in the plaintiff’s pleadings unless the defendant’s affidavits are contradicted by affidavits presented by the plaintiff, in which case the facts in the plaintiff’s affidavits prevail.” Keller v. Henderson, 359 Ill.App.3d 605, 611, 296 Ill.Dec. 125, 834 N.E.2d 930 (2005). If we determine that plaintiff has made a prima facie case for jurisdiction, we must then determine if there exist any material evidentiary conflicts. Id. If a material evidentiary conflict exists, we must remand the cause for an evidentiary hearing. Id.

Click here for the whole case, Soria v. Chrysler Canada, 2011 IL App (2d) 10123.

Center Partners v. Growth Head grew out of a complex asset purchase agreement. The question in this opinion concerned whether Westfield, one of the parties involved in the agreement, had waived the attorney-client privilege during negotiations and had to produce documents in connection with the waived subject.

The trial court ruled that Westfield had waived the privilege and had to produce some 1,500 documents that otherwise were subject to the attorney-client privilege. Westfield refused to produce the records, so the trial court held Westfield in contempt.

Westfield appealed the contempt order. The first question was the proper standard of review. Contempt orders generally are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. But the First District Illinois Appellate Court applied a de novo standard [trial court decision gets no discretion]. This case was different than the typical contempt appeal “because a trial court lacks the discretion to compel the disclosure of privileged information, [so] we apply a de novo standard of review in determining the applicability of the attorney-client privilege.”

Hadley and David Newton were getting divorced. Grund, an attorney had met with David concerning the divorce, and took notes of the conversation with David. Nonetheless, Grund and Leavitt agreed to represent Hadley in the divorce case.

Grund and Leavitt asked the trial court for an award of Hadley’s attorney fees from David, about $250,000. But David asked the trial court to disqualify Grund and Leavitt from representing Hadley because of a conflict of interest from Grund’s representation of David. Before it ruled on the fee request, the trial court disqualified Grund and Leavitt.

A week later the trial court denied the fee request based on the conflict of interest. At the court hearing, the law firm refused to obey the disqualification order, so the trial court found Grund and Leavitt to be in direct contempt of court.

Chris Ward wanted to be a judge in the state trial court in Will County, Illinois. Circuit court judges are elected by popular vote in Illinois, so Ward filed a candidacy petition to run in the primary. But when he filed, he did not live in the subcircuit he filed in.

Daniel Goodman, husband of one of Ward’s primary opponents, filed an objection to Ward’s candidacy petition. Goodman argued Ward was ineligible to run for judge in a subcircuit he did not live in when the petition was filed.

The Will County electoral board agreed with Ward and ruled that Ward could appear on the election ballot. Goodman appealed the board’s decision to the circuit (trial level) court, which agreed with him, and precluded Ward from the ballot. Ward then took the case to the Illinois Appellate Court, which also agreed with Goodman.

Old Town Development sued a slew of companies for fraud and breach of fiduciary duties in operating Old Town Development. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded Old Town over $1 million compensatory damages and three times that for punitive damages.

The defendant companies appealed. The appellate court’s opinion is instructive on the standards of review for the various aspects of a punitive damages award.

The first part of the punitive damages test was whether “punitive damages were available as a matter of law [under] plaintiff’s cause of action.” The appellate court ruled that its standard of review was de novo (no discretion to the trial court). In this case, the First District Illinois Court of Appeals ruled, a breach of fiduciary duty action could support a claim for punitive damages.