Husband’s Directed Finding In Post-Dissolution Fraud Case Reviewed By Manifest Weight Standard

Clara George Minch and Ronald George were divorced in 1982. In 2003, Clara learned that Ronald had sold his interest in a company that owned Florida real estate for more than $950,000. She sued George for fraud, asserting that during the divorce proceedings he misrepresented his interest in the stock.

After Clara presented her case, the trial court directed a verdict for George.
The trial court ruled that Clara did not prove fraud and thus failed to meet her burden of proof.

Clara appealed, and the parties disagreed about the proper standard of review. Clara said the appellate court should use a de novo review [trial court gets no deference]. George said the directed verdict should be affirmed unless it was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court agreed with George. The appellate court explained when each standard is used when a directed verdict is considered on appeal.

If the trial court finds that the plaintiff has failed to present a prima facie case as a matter of law, the appellate standard of review is de novo … If the trial court moves on to consider the weight and quality of the evidence, finding no prima facie case remains, the appellate standard of review is the deferential “manifest weight of the evidence” standard.

In this case, the appellate court found two factors persuasive. (1) The trial court did not state its ruling was “due to the wife’s failure to make a prima facie showing of the husband’s fraud, as a matter of law.” And (2), the appellate court’s review of the record showed it was clear the trial court weighed the evidence.

In the end, George’s directed verdict was affirmed as not against the manifest weight of the evidence. This opinion also sets out the methodology a trial court should follow in ruling on a motion for a directed verdict. Read the whole case, Minch v. George, No. 1-08-1826 (10/30/09), by clicking here.

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