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Gray v. City of Plano

OPINION FILED MARCH 14, 1986.

EDWARD GRAY ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE CITY OF PLANO, DEFENDANT AND CROSS-PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT (BRUCE FINSTROM, CROSS-DEFENDANT-APPELLEE).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. James W. Cadwell, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE UNVERZAGT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, the city of Plano, appeals from the judgment entered in the circuit court of Kendall County in favor of plaintiffs, Edward Gray and Bruce Finstrom. Plaintiffs filed this action seeking to recover for injuries sustained in an automobile accident which took place at approximately 2:30 a.m. on May 21, 1981. According to the evidence presented at trial, plaintiffs were traveling in an easterly direction on Lee Street in Plano. Finstrom was driving; Gray was in the back seat, and another passenger — not a party to this action — was riding in the front seat next to Finstrom. Although there was conflicting evidence concerning whether the speed limit on Lee Street was 25 or 30 miles per hour, it was not disputed that Finstrom was driving at least 35 miles per hour at the time of the accident. The accident occurred when Finstrom lost control of the automobile while rounding a curve. The car left the road and struck a large tree, causing serious injuries to both plaintiffs. Finstrom testified that he did not see the sign warning of the curve, which was located approximately 100 feet west of the point where the road began to curve. In this regard, plaintiffs introduced evidence that the curve sign was obscured by tree branches on the night of the incident.

The jury found for the plaintiffs, awarding Gray $221,000 and Finstrom $185,000. Finstrom's damages, however, were reduced to $64,750 after the jury found that he was 65% negligent in causing the accident. (Gray's award was subsequently reduced by $48,000 representing the amount he received in settlement of his separate action against Finstrom.) See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 70, par. 302(c).

Defendant raises numerous arguments for overturning the judgment entered by the trial court. The dispositive issue in our opinion is whether plaintiffs' amended complaint states a cause of action.

Defendant contends that plaintiffs' amended complaint should have been dismissed on the ground that it failed to allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action. We agree.

Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint, consisting of two counts, on June 4, 1982. Count I purported to set forth a cause of action by Gray. The only allegations against defendant appear in paragraph 6, which provides:

"That the Defendant had a duty not to injury [sic] the Plaintiff but that, wholly not withstanding that duty, it negligently committed one or more of the following acts or omissions:

A. Failed to place a proper `curve ahead' sign prior to the curve immediately adjacent to the place of the collision;

B. Failed to properly maintain a `curve ahead' sign which was in place at the time of the occurrence."

Count II purported to state a cause of action by Finstrom and contained the same allegations as appear in count I.

On August 3, 1982, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing, inter alia, that the allegations consisted of conclusions and opinions and that they "[did] not sufficiently inform the Defendant of Plaintiffs' cause of action." The trial court denied the motion. The case was subsequently assigned to another judge and set for trial on September 12, 1984. On the day of trial, defendant renewed its motion to dismiss. It contended that the amended complaint contained only conclusions and failed to allege any specific facts. Defendant informed the court, without objection from counsel for plaintiffs, that its original motion to dismiss was denied "basically because it was at the start of the case." Defendant argued that "we are now faced with jury selection and with opening statements in trial and we still don't know, as far as I'm concerned, their Complaint. It [was] error of the Court to deny my motion to begin with. It is very prejudicial and extreme error to force us to go to trial with the Complaint in the condition it is in now." The trial court then inquired whether anyone had previously ruled on the motion. After the defendant again explained that its original motion to dismiss was denied primarily because it came at the beginning of the case, the trial court denied defendant's motion without comment.

• 1 In order to state a cause of action, a complaint must contain facts and not merely conclusions. (Knox College v. Celotex Corp. (1981), 88 Ill.2d 407, 426; Ritchey v. Maksin (1978), 71 Ill.2d 470, 474-75; People ex rel. Kucharski v. Loop Mortgage Co. (1969), 43 Ill.2d 150, 152; Martin v. Federal Life Insurance Co. (1982), 109 Ill. App.3d 596, 608; Davis v. Thompson (1979), 79 Ill. App.3d 613, 616. See also Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-601.) Notice pleading, which is permitted in Federal courts, is not sufficient. (Pelham v. Griesheimer (1982), 92 Ill.2d 13, 17.) Although pleadings are to be liberally construed with the aim of doing substantial justice between the parties (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-603(c)), this rule does not relieve a plaintiff from including sufficient factual averments in his or her complaint. (People ex rel. Kucharski v. Loop Mortgage Co. (1969), 43 Ill.2d 150, 152; Fanning v. LeMay (1967), 38 Ill.2d 209, 211.) A complaint will be deemed sufficient if the allegations contained therein "reasonably inform the defendants by factually setting forth the elements necessary to state a cause of action." (Emphasis added.) (People ex rel. Scott v. College Hills Corp. (1982), 91 Ill.2d 138, 145.) Where, however, the complaint contains conclusions unsupported by sufficient facts, it must be dismissed "regardless of how many conclusions the [complaint] may contain and regardless of whether or not they inform the defendant in a general way of the nature of the claim against him." Knox College v. Celotex Corp. (1981), 88 Ill.2d 407, 426.

• 2 Applying these principles to the case at bar, it is clear that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs' amended complaint contains only broad conclusions that the defendant owed a duty to plaintiffs and that it breached that duty in failing to place a proper curve sign adjacent to the curve and in failing to properly maintain the curve sign that was in place. The complaint is completely devoid of any supporting factual averments.

• 3 Plaintiffs do not directly address defendant's claim that the amended complaint fails to allege any specific facts. Rather, they argue that defendant's original motion to dismiss, filed some two years prior to the start of trial, contained only conclusions and did not specifically point out the defects in their amended complaint. This argument is completely without merit. In its original motion, defendant quoted the relevant paragraphs of plaintiffs' pleading and asserted that they contained only conclusions and opinions and that they did not sufficiently inform it of plaintiffs' cause ...


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