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Johnson v. St. Therese Medical Center

May 11, 1998

ERIC JOHNSON AND LORI JOHNSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
ST. THERESE MEDICAL CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS, (THOMAS BRANIFF, JR., CITATION RESPONDENT AND CONTEMNOR-APPELLANT). ERIC JOHNSON AND LORI JOHNSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
ST. THERESE MEDICAL CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS, (MICHAEL OSTER AND RICHARD KELLER, CITATION RESPONDENTS AND CONTEMNORS-APPELLANTS). ERIC JOHNSON AND LORI JOHNSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
ST. THERESE MEDICAL CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS, (THOMAS BRANIFF, JR; RICHARD KELLER; MICHAEL OSTER; AND RODNEY HAENSCHEN, CITATION RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 91--L--944 Honorable John T. Phillips and Wallace B. Dunn, judges, Presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 91--L--944 Honorable George Bridges and Wallace B. Dunn, judges, Presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court No. 91--L--944 Honorable George Bridges, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

The citation respondents, Drs. Richard Keller, Michael Oster, Thomas Braniff, and Rodney Haenschen, appeal a turnover order that required the assets of the citation respondents to be turned over to the plaintiffs, Eric and Lori Johnson, as special administrators of the estate of their deceased daughter, Erica. The citation respondents Drs. Richard Keller, Michael Oster, and Thomas Braniff also appeal findings of civil contempt against them after they refused to appear, answer questions, and produce documents regarding their personal assets at a citation hearing. We reverse.

In November 1990, the plaintiffs brought their 22-month-old daughter, Erica, to St. Therese Medical Center (St. Therese), where she was examined, treated, and released by Dr. Bruce Sands. Erica died the next day. On the day Sands treated Erica, he was a partner of Northern Illinois Emergency Physicians, Ltd. (the Partnership). The other partners of the Partnership included the citation respondents, Drs. Richard Keller, Michael Oster, Rodney Haenschen, and Thomas Braniff (collectively known as the Partners), and Phillip Gillespie, M.D.

The plaintiffs' first complaint named as defendants Sands and the Partnership, among others. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that Sands negligently caused the death of Erica, and at the time of the incident Sands acted on behalf of the Partnership and that the Partnership was negligent. The Partnership filed an answer to the plaintiffs' first amended complaint, in which the Partnership admitted that Sands was a partner in the Partnership at the time of the alleged incident.

After a jury trial on March 22, 1996, the trial court entered judgment on the verdict of $4 million in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants Sands, St. Therese, and the Partnership. On April 10, 1996, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint to conform with their proofs at trial, naming as defendants Sands, St. Therese, and the Partnership. The Partnership did not file an answer to the second amended complaint.

After the commencement of the action, Sands filed for bankruptcy in federal court. Thus, when the plaintiffs began postjudgment collection proceedings against Sands, Sands claimed he had been discharged of this debt. The matter was deferred pending a ruling from the bankruptcy court.

The plaintiffs also filed a postjudgment collection action against the Partners as individuals. All the Partners except Gillespie were served with notice of the supplemental action and were issued citations to discover assets. At the citation hearings all the Partners except Gillespie admitted they were Partners of the Partnership at the time of the incident giving rise to liability. Keller, Oster, and Haenschen appeared at the supplemental actions, answered questions, and provided documents regarding the Partnership. However, during their citation hearings on February 3, 1997, Keller and Oster refused to answer questions or produce documents regarding their personal assets. On February 10, 1997, Keller, Oster, and Haenschen filed a motion to quash, modify, and dismiss, alleging that the citations were improper.

On February 18, 1997, the trial court, Judge Wallace B. Dunn presiding, denied Keller's, Oster's, and Haenschen's motion. The trial court held that the determinations dealing with partnership liability can be made during citation proceedings. The court also held that, if Keller, Oster, and Haenschen were general partners on the date of the incident, the plaintiffs may proceed against them individually.

Subsequently, the plaintiffs issued wage deduction notices and affidavits for wage deduction orders to withhold the wages of all the Partners. On March 17, 1997, the Partners filed a motion to reconsider the denial of their motion to quash and dismiss the citations to discover assets. The Partners also filed a motion to quash and dismiss all of the citations and garnishments. On April 1, 1997, Judge Dunn denied their motions and, citing sections 2--411(b) and 2--102 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--411(b), 2--102 (West 1996)), stated that judgment could be enforced against the Partners personally if it were determined that they were partners with Sands at the time of the incident. The trial court also held that this determination could be made during supplemental proceedings. Judge Dunn reasoned that, since the Partners had previously admitted that they were partners in the Partnership at the time of the incident, the Partners were jointly and severally liable for the judgment against the Partnership.

On April 4, 1997, Oster and Braniff filed answers stating that they refused to answer questions regarding their personal assets because judgment was not entered against them personally and they had already answered questions and provided documents regarding the assets of the Partnership and Sands.

On April 22, 1997, the trial court, Judge George Bridges presiding, cited Keller, Oster, Haenschen, and Braniff to appear and respond to questions regarding their personal assets. They failed to appear. The Partners argued that they did not have to appear because they were not judgment debtors. The trial court determined that the Partners were subject to discovery of assets and ordered them to show cause and appear on May 22, 1997.

On May 22, 1997, Braniff appeared and testified but refused to answer questions regarding his personal assets. Keller, Oster, and Haenschen failed to appear. The trial court, Judge John Philips presiding, held Keller, Oster, and Haenschen in indirect civil contempt of court and set bond at $10,000 each. The trial court also held Braniff in direct civil contempt of court and sentenced him to 24 hours' incarceration, or until he answered questions regarding his personal assets. Braniff appealed this order.

On June 3, 1997, Keller, Oster, and Haenschen appeared before the court. Haenschen answered questions regarding his personal assets. However, Keller and Oster refused to answer questions regarding their personal assets. Thus, the trial court held Keller and Oster in direct civil contempt of court and remanded them to the county jail until such time as they answered questions and produced documents regarding their personal assets. Keller and Oster appealed this order. The trial court dismissed Haenschen's citation to discover assets and purged his contempt order.

In addition, on June 30, 1997, the trial court entered a turnover order requiring the assets of Keller, Haenschen, and Braniff to be turned over to the plaintiffs. The trial court noted that all the Partners were subject to the supplemental proceedings because they admitted that they were partners at the time of the incident giving rise to liability. The court explained that, since Gillespie did not admit that he was a partner, the trial court could not rule that he was subject to the supplemental ...


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