Order Dismissing Personal Loan Dispute After Plaintiff’s Evidence Reviewed By Manifest Weight

Brad Barnes gave Rose Michalski $27,000. He said the money was a loan and he wanted repayment. She said the money was a gift, and refused to pay.

Brad sued Rose for the money. The case was tried to a judge without a jury. After Brad put on his evidence, Rose asked for a “directed verdict.” The court granted Rose’s request because, it ruled, Brad did not prove the elements of a cause of action for breach of contract. Brad appealed.

The appellate court ruled that a “directed verdict” in this case was “impossible,” because there was no jury. The real motion defendant should have made was “for a judgment in her favor at the close of plaintiff’s case, pursuant to section 2-1110 of the Code of Civil Procedure.” The difference was not “merely quibbling over nomenclature.” The kind of motion determines the kind of analysis the trial and appellate courts make, and the standard of review the appellate court applies.

An order granting a directed verdict in a jury trial is reviewed de novo (no discretion to the trial judge’s opinion). But appellate review of an order granting a defendant’s request for judgment after plaintiff’s evidence in a jury trial is reviewed under one of two standards. The Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court explained:

… If the court granted the motion … finding a total lack of evidence on one or more of the elements of the prima facie case, our standard of review is de novo …; for the trial court was in no better position than we are to determine the mere presence or absence of evidence …

If, however, the trial court granted the motion … by weighing the evidence and assessing the credibility of witnesses, we ask whether the ruling is against the manifest weight of the evidence … The ruling is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if it is unreasonable, arbitrary, or not based on any evidence or only if the opposite conclusion is clearly evident from the evidence in the record …

In this case, the appellate court reviewed the case under a manifest-weight-of-the-evidence standard, “Because the [trial] court found that plaintiff had failed to carry his ultimate burden of proof, as distinct from his burden of initially going forward with some evidence in support of each element of his prima facie case, we infer that the court granted defendant’s motion on the basis of its weighing of the evidence, not because of a failure on plaintiff’s part to present any evidence at all on one or more of the elements of the cause of action.”

Ultimately, the trial court’s decision was reversed, and the case was sent back for full trial. The appellate opinion contains informative discussion of standards at trial for requests for a directed verdict and for judgment at the close of plaintiff’s evidence at a jury trial. Read the whole opinion, Barnes v. Michalski, No. 4-09-0450 (3/23/10), by clicking here.

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