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Skinner v. Mahomet Seymour Sch. Dist. No. 3

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 26, 1980.

MICHAEL SKINNER, A MINOR, BY JOSEPHINE SKINNER, HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

MAHOMET SEYMOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 3, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. ROBERT J. STEIGMANN, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The principle of liberal pleading simply cannot be stretched to encompass a paucity and dearth of allegations.

There must be a bottom line on even barely adequate pleading, and we have reached it in this case.

The minor plaintiff brought an action to recover damages for an injury suffered while using playground equipment on school grounds in the control of the defendant school district. Plaintiff's second amended complaint was dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a cause of action.

We affirm.

On October 11, 1978, plaintiff filed a complaint for personal injury resulting from defendant's negligence, asserting that the plaintiff was injured while using playground equipment controlled by the defendant. Defendant's motion to dismiss was allowed and on June 6, 1979, plaintiff filed an amended complaint alleging wilful and wanton misconduct on the part of the defendant. Following a hearing, plaintiff was allowed to file a second amended complaint. Paragraph 8 of that complaint stated:

"Defendant, by its agents and employees, was then and there guilty of one or more of the following acts of wilful and wanton misconduct:

a. Failed to keep its playground equipment in proper repair, specifically leaving nails protruding dangerously from said equipment, when it knew or should have known of the existence of said protruding nails.

b. Maintained its playground and playground equipment in a condition it knew or should have known was unsafe and dangerous.

c. Failed to notify or warn Plaintiff and others of the dangerous and unsafe playground equipment, even though it knew or should have known such equipment was dangerously unsafe."

Another motion to dismiss was filed by the defendant and on January 15, 1980, the trial court dismissed the second complaint with prejudice.

Plaintiff initially argues that this case is controlled by the decision in Gerrity v. Beatty (1978), 71 Ill.2d 47, 373 N.E.2d 1323, and that he must merely plead and prove negligence on the part of the defendant. Plaintiff argues that the allegations of wilful and wanton conduct in his amended complaint can be ignored as surplusage, and the complaint can be read as stating a cause of action in negligence.

Defendant argues that even under the liberal pleading rules, the basic purpose of pleading is notice to the other party, and it is clear from any reading of the second amended complaint that the action was based on wilful and wanton misconduct and not negligence. Defendant thus reasons that the sole question on appeal is whether the allegations in the plaintiff's second amended complaint give rise to any inference of wilful and wanton activity.

• 1, 2 There are certain general rules of construction to be applied when a complaint is challenged for failure to state a cause of action. The essential test of the sufficiency of the complaint is whether it reasonably informs the defendant of a valid claim under a general class of cases of which the court has jurisdiction. (Kramer v. McDonald's System, Inc. (1978), 61 Ill. App.3d 947, 378 N.E.2d 522, aff'd on other grounds (1979), 77 Ill.2d 323, 396 N.E.2d 504.) In determining the sufficiency of the complaint, the court must accept as true all well pleaded facts and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom. (Morse v. Nelson (1977), 48 Ill. App.3d 895, 363 N.E.2d 167.) No pleading is bad in substance where it reasonably informs the opposite party of the nature of the claim. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 42(2).) Finally, a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action unless it clearly appears that no set of facts could be proved under pleadings which would entitle plaintiff to relief. Cain v. American National Bank & Trust Co. (1975), 26 Ill. App.3d 574, 325 N.E.2d 799.

• 3 The second amended complaint in this case specified certain acts which the plaintiff alleged constituted wilful and wanton misconduct. Nowhere in the complaint does the plaintiff assert any acts which constitute negligence or that the defendant was in any way negligent. The fact that the original complaint was grounded in negligence and the two subsequent complaints asserted wilful and wanton misconduct tends to indicate that the plaintiffs had switched theories. In this situation, the complaint did not adequately apprise the ...


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