The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Geiger
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County.
Honorable Edward R. Duncan, Jr., Judge, Presiding.
The appellant, the law firm of Parrillo, Weiss & O'Halloran (Parrillo, Weiss), appeals from the December 5, 1997, order of the circuit court of Du Page County imposing Supreme Court Rule 137 (155 Ill. 2d R. 137) sanctions in the amount of $5,303.48. On appeal, Parrillo, Weiss contends that (1) the award of sanctions was an abuse of the trial court's discretion; and (2) the trial court erred in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the appropriate sanction amount. We affirm the trial court's order and impose additional sanctions on appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 375(b) (155 Ill. 2d R. 375(b)).
The facts relevant to the Disposition of this appeal are as follows. On February 24, 1995, the plaintiff, Sally Amadeo, filed a complaint against Tim Gaynor and Mary Anne Pelini, alleging that she was injured in an April 13, 1994, traffic accident. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a vehicle being driven by Pelini. The accident occurred when Pelini's vehicle was struck from behind by a vehicle being driven by Gaynor. On May 17, 1995, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her action as to Pelini.
On July 14, 1995, Parrillo, Weiss filed an appearance and answer to the plaintiff's complaint on behalf of Gaynor. On that same date, Parrillo, Weiss also filed a cross claim for contribution against Pelini, even though Pelini had already been dismissed. The cross claim alleged that Pelini negligently (1) failed to keep a proper lookout; (2) failed to give a proper warning to any vehicle involved in the collision; and (3) slowed and/or stopped her vehicle suddenly without proper warning.
On November 7, 1995, the trial court entered an order permitting the cross claim to stand as Gaynor's third-party complaint for contribution against Pelini. On May 10, 1996, following receipt of service, Pelini filed an answer to the third-party complaint for contribution.
On October 11, 1996, Pelini filed a motion for summary judgment on Gaynor's third-party complaint. In support of her motion, Pelini relied upon her own deposition testimony as well as the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and Gaynor. Such testimony revealed that, immediately prior to the accident, Pelini's vehicle was stopped at a red light and that Gaynor had stopped his vehicle immediately behind her. While the light was still red, Gaynor observed Pelini check the traffic to determine if she could turn right on red. Gaynor observed Pelini start to pull her vehicle forward. Gaynor then looked to his left to check for traffic. As Gaynor was looking to his left, he rolled into Pelini's vehicle. Pelini testified that she had stopped her vehicle because the light was still red and because there was oncoming traffic. Gaynor could not recall whether there was oncoming traffic.
Pelini argued that, pursuant to section 11--306(c)(3) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11--306(c)(3) (West 1996)), she was expressly required to stop her vehicle when facing a steady red light at a controlled intersection. Pelini argued that, because her actions were in accordance with the mandate of the law, she could not have been negligent as a matter of law. Rather, she contended that the sole cause of the accident was Gaynor's failure to keep a safe lookout to avoid colliding with her vehicle. On December 5, 1996, in light of the pending motion for summary judgment, Gaynor agreed to voluntarily dismiss the third-party complaint with prejudice.
On January 3, 1997, Pelini filed a motion for sanctions against Parrillo, Weiss pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 137. Pelini argued that the third-party complaint was frivolous and not warranted by existing law. Pelini requested that sanctions be awarded to her in order to cover her costs, fees, and expenses incurred in defending the action. Attached to her motion, Pelini provided her attorney's affidavit and copies of billing statements detailing her legal expenses.
On December 5, 1997, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Pelini's motion for sanctions. At the hearing, Cheryl Fleming testified that she was the attorney from Parrillo, Weiss who prepared and filed the third-party complaint on behalf of Gaynor. Fleming testified that, in drafting the pleading, she relied upon a telephone conversation she had with Gaynor on June 23, 1995. During this conversation, Gaynor told Fleming that the accident occurred as follows: (1) Gaynor was stopped behind Pelini at a red light; (2) Pelini started to make a right turn during the red light; (3) Pelini stopped suddenly; and (4) there appeared to be no traffic or other reason that would require Pelini to suddenly stop.
Fleming testified that, in drafting the third-party complaint, she also relied on a written statement given by Gaynor to his insurance company on October 5, 1994. In this statement, Gaynor explained that the accident occurred when Pelini started to make a right turn on red and then suddenly stopped. The statement also contained a diagram showing that, at the time of the collision, Pelini's vehicle had started to enter the intersection. Fleming testified that the police report contained no description of how the accident occurred and listed no witnesses.
During the hearing, the trial court asked Fleming whether she was aware of any case law that supported the allegations contained in the third-party complaint. Fleming stated that she was unprepared for such an inquiry and would be unable to provide any cases without going to the library. Fleming also stated that, at the time she filed the complaint, she was not aware that the plaintiff had dismissed Pelini as a defendant.
At the close of the hearing, the trial court granted Pelini's motion for sanctions. Specifically, the trial court found that there was an inadequate legal investigation of the facts known to Fleming at the time she filed the third-party complaint and ...