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03/30/95 CHESTER BREWER v. NATIONAL RAILROAD

March 30, 1995

CHESTER BREWER, APPELLANT,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, A/K/A AMTRAK, APPELLEE.



The Honorable Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman

JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Chester Brewer, brought a personal injury action in the circuit court of Cook County against defendant, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak. The trial court entered an order enforcing a settlement of the suit. The appellate court affirmed. (256 Ill. App. 3d 1083.) We allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. (145 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).) We now reverse the judgments below and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

The appellate court detailed the facts of this case. We repeat only those facts that are necessary to dispose of this appeal.

Plaintiff sought damages for injuries suffered in the course of his employment with defendant. Plaintiff fell while inspecting track, injuring his head and lower back.

The trial court held a pretrial settlement conference. Present were the trial judge, the attorneys for plaintiff and defendant, and defendant's claims agent. Although plaintiff and his wife were in the courthouse, they were not present in the trial judge's chambers during the negotiations.

The attorneys reached a settlement. Defense counsel agreed to pay plaintiff $250,000 plus an additional $50,000 if plaintiff would undergo back surgery within six months of the entry of a dismissal order. The parties disagree on plaintiff's duties under the settlement. According to defense counsel and defendant's claims agent, plaintiff's attorney agreed that plaintiff would quit his job with defendant. However, according to plaintiff's attorney, he never agreed to that condition. It is undisputed that plaintiff's attorney left the trial judge's chambers to confer with plaintiff.

After the attorneys reached a settlement, the trial court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice. The order incorporated only defendant's agreement to pay plaintiff. The order did not incorporate an agreement that plaintiff would quit his job.

Within nine days of the dismissal order, defendant moved to enforce its version of the settlement agreement. Soon thereafter, plaintiff timely moved to vacate the dismissal order. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 110, par. 2-1203.) At the hearing on the motions, plaintiff's attorney first contended that the issue of plaintiff's resignation was never discussed at the settlement conference. However, the trial judge remembered and found that the issue was discussed and was the basis of defendant's payment to plaintiff.

Plaintiff's attorney also contended that plaintiff never authorized him to compromise plaintiff's job. Plaintiff's attorney, plaintiff, and plaintiff's wife each submitted an affidavit testifying, inter alia, that plaintiff never agreed to quit his job; plaintiff never authorized his attorney to make such an agreement; and no one ever told plaintiff that his resignation was a settlement term.

Rejecting this contention, the trial judge assumed that plaintiff's attorney conferred with plaintiff on the resignation issue. The trial judge personally spoke to plaintiff prior to dismissing the lawsuit. However, the judge did not remember specifically mentioning the resignation issue. The trial judge rejected plaintiff's affidavit evidence by relying solely on the general presumption that the attorney speaks for the client; the trial judge did not make any findings of fact or rely on any evidence.

The trial court denied plaintiff's motion to vacate the dismissal order and granted defendant's motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The trial court ordered plaintiff to quit his job, finding that it was a condition of the settlement agreement.

In affirming the trial court, the appellate court assumed that plaintiff's attorney conferred with plaintiff on the resignation ...


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