Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 12th Judicial Circuit. Will County, Illinois. No. 90-SC-17141. Honorable Robert C. Lorz, Judge Presiding
Rehearing Denied and Released for Publication April 14, 1994.
Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice, Honorable Tom M. Lytton, Justice, Honorable Michael P. Mccuskey, Justice
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Breslin
JUSTICE BRESLIN delivered the opinion of the court:
Following a trial for which the defendant demanded that a jury be impaneled and at which the defendant presented no evidence on its own behalf, the plaintiff, James Hernandez, moved that sanctions be imposed on the defendant's counsel, the law firm of Moss & Hillison, for violations of Supreme Court Rule 137 (134 Ill. 2d R. 137) (Rule 137). The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion and imposed sanctions of $2,525. We affirm.
The facts are simple. This was a small claims case. The plaintiff's complaint alleged that the defendant had negligently caused damage to the plaintiff's vehicle. Moss & Hillison filed an "Appearance and 6 Man Jury Demand" on behalf of the defendant. No written answer was filed as none is required in small claims cases.
At trial, Moss & Hillison cross-examined the plaintiff's witnesses, but presented no evidence in defense of the action. The defendant was not present. At the close of the evidence, the trial court directed a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
The plaintiff's motion for sanctions under Rule 137 alleged that Moss & Hillison: (a) failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into the underlying facts and circumstances of the case; (b) sought to defend against the plaintiff's suit without having a good faith basis for doing so; (c) demanded a trial by jury and denied the plaintiff's allegations for an improper purpose, i.e., the unnecessary delay and needless increase in the costs of litigation to the plaintiff; and (d) denied the allegations of the complaint without a good faith basis.
Over the objection of Moss & Hillison, the trial court scheduled a hearing on the plaintiff's motion. The trial court gave Moss & Hillison 21 days to respond and specifically requested that it provide evidence that it contacted the defendant prior to filing the jury demand.
In its response, Moss & Hillison argued, inter alia, that the filing of a jury demand and an appearance does not constitute sanctionable conduct under Rule 137, and that even if it did, the plaintiff's motion lacked any foundation for alleging that the jury demand and appearance were not well-grounded in fact. Nowhere in the response did Moss & Hillison indicate that anyone from the firm ever spoke with the defendant, nor did the response detail what investigation the firm conducted into its defense.
At the hearing on the motion, the trial Judge asked on more than one occasion if Moss & Hillison had spoken to the defendant prior to filing the appearance and jury demand. The attorney for Moss & Hillison did not state that it had. The trial Judge also noted that Moss & Hillison failed to allege in its response that an attorney from the firm had spoken with the defendant. The trial court then allowed Moss & Hillison additional time to provide information about what it had done to comply with the reasonable inquiry requirement of Rule 137. No such additional information was provided.
In a written decision, the trial Judge found that the combined appearance and jury demand constituted a "paper" for purposes of Rule 137. The Judge further found that since defense counsel refused to produce evidence that it spoke with the defendant or conducted any investigation prior to filing the appearance and jury demand, he could only conclude that such steps had not been taken and that Moss & Hillison had demanded a trial in order to cause delay and increase the cost of litigation for the plaintiff. Therefore, he found that Moss & Hillison had violated Rule 137 and awarded $2,525 in attorney fees to the plaintiff.
Supreme Court Rule 137 provides, in pertinent part:
"Every pleading, motion and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in his individual name, whose address shall be stated. * * * The signature of an attorney * * * constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading, motion or other paper; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry, it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of lititgation. * * * If a pleading, motion or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, may impose upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both, an appropriate ...