Illinois Supreme Court Refuses To Consider Forfeiture Argument Because Appellate Court Briefs Not In The Record

Michael Ready was killed at a work site when a wooden truss that was being rigged for scaffolding fell eight floors and struck him. Michael’s widow, Terry, as administrator of Michael’s estate, sued the contractor, BMW Constructors, and United/Goedecke Services, the scaffolding subcontractor. After BMW and United filed third-party complaints for contribution against Michael’s employer, Midwest Generation, Terry also sued Midwest.

Terry settled with BMW and United for more than $1.1 million. She went to trial against United. After subtracting offsets for Michael’s comparative negligence and the settlement, Terry was awarded $8.137 million.

An appellate court affirmed the judgment and ruled that United forfeited the right to challenge the amount of the award. United forfeited the issue, the appellate court stated, because the company mentioned it only in a “concluding remarks” section of its brief. Violating Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(7), United “failed to set forth in its brief ‘specific reasons or argument as to why the damage award was excessive or unreasonable’ and failed to ‘specifically argue that the damage award was improper.’”

The Illinois Supreme Court let the forfeiture decision stand. Because the appellate court briefs were not made a part of the record, the supreme court could not determine whether the forfeiture question had been properly decided. Here’s what the supreme court stated:

Before this court, United argues that the appellate court erred by applying the doctrine of procedural default. A review of the appellate court’s application of the doctrine would necessarily require that we examine the briefs filed in the appellate court. However, United has failed to utilize Supreme Court Rule 318(c), which provides: “If it is important for the Supreme Court to know the contentions of any party in the Appellate Court, copies of the pertinent Appellate Court briefs certified by the clerk of that court may be filed in the Supreme Court.” … Because the briefs filed by the parties in the appellate court are not a part of the record provided to this court, we are unable to review whether the appellate court erred in applying procedural default.

Read the whole case, Ready v. United/Goedecke Services, No. 103474 (3/23/09), by clicking here.