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12/14/89 Thomas Cummings Et Al., v. Beaton & Associates

December 14, 1989

THOMAS CUMMINGS ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS

v.

BEATON & ASSOCIATES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FOURTH DIVISION

549 N.E.2d 634, 192 Ill. App. 3d 792, 139 Ill. Dec. 908 1989.IL.1936

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Dean J. Sodaro, Judge, presiding.

Rehearing Denied January 22, 1990.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE LINN delivered the opinion of the court. JIGANTI, P.J., and JOHNSON, J., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE LINN

Plaintiffs, Thomas and Barbara Cummings, appeal from an order of the trial court that impounded the trial record and ordered the parties to refrain from discussing certain allegations found in the second amended complaint. Defendants are McDonald's Corporation, private investigative agencies and their agents, and certain individuals who allegedly conspired to harass and intimidate a witness in related litigation and who allegedly committed other acts that "corruptly influenced the administration of Justice."

On this interlocutory appeal, plaintiffs assert that the order entered constitutes prior restraints on speech; is overbroad and vague; and also violates the right of public access to court files. Defendants respond that the court has inherent power to supervise its own records and that the order is not appealable under Supreme Court Rule 307(a) (107 Ill. 2d R. 307(a)). In addition, they state that the allegations in question include "vicious" and untrue rumors of a murder plot and that the order does not violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

Background

In December of 1985 the plaintiffs filed the original complaint, which they amended in June 1986. By agreement of the parties the action was stayed because of the pendency of a related action in the Federal court. Discovery in that suit proceeded until the Federal court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the action.

Several months after the Federal lawsuit had been dismissed, plaintiffs sought leave to file a second amended complaint and to lift the stay of the pending State court action. The hearing on this motion took place on January 6, 1989.

At the hearing, defendants objected to the filing of the second amended complaint, in part because it contained "scurrilous" allegations that had not been raised in the original or first amended complaint; furthermore, the Federal discovery proceedings established that these allegations had no basis in fact.

One of the allegations of the second amended complaint concerned a statement that supposedly tied the chairman of the board of McDonald's to a plot to murder one of the plaintiffs, Thomas Cummings. At the January 6 hearing defense counsel told the court that the source of the rumor had denied making this statement in a deposition taken in the Federal court proceeding. Defendants' attorneys therefore requested the court to grant them leave to file written objections to the plaintiffs' motion to file the second amended complaint. Plaintiffs told the court that they must file it immediately to avoid problems with the statute of limitations. In an attempt to accommodate both sides, the trial court allowed plaintiffs to file the second amended complaint and ordered the file to be impounded until the court could rule on defendants' objections to the amended pleading. In addition, the court prohibited the parties and their agents from disseminating information contained in the complaint. The court then set a briefing schedule on defendants' objections to the plaintiffs' motion.

On January 24, 1989, plaintiffs filed a motion to vacate the impoundment order. Both sides filed memoranda, and the court ...


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