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State Farm Insurance Co. v. Kazakova

October 14, 1998

STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANY, AS SUBROGEE OF ROBIN DEPENDER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STELLA KAZAKOVA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice David Cerda

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; Honorable Sidney A. Jones III, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE DAVID CERDA delivered the opinion of the court:

The issue on appeal is whether a non-English-speaking defendant failed to participate in good faith and in a meaningful manner at a mandatory-arbitration hearing and violated the notice to appear by failing to provide a foreign-language interpreter so she could testify. Defendant, Stella Kazakova, appeals from the orders of the circuit court of Cook County (1) finding that she did not participate in good faith and in a meaningful manner at the mandatory-arbitration hearing and that she violated the notice to appear by not appearing with a foreign-language interpreter; (2) sanctioning her by debarring her from rejecting the arbitration award in favor of plaintiff, State Farm Insurance Company, as subrogee of Robin Depender; and (3) denying her motion to vacate the sanction. We reverse.

FACTS

In 1995, plaintiff filed a negligence complaint arising out an automobile collision between the vehicles of Depender and defendant. Defendant filed an answer, denying the allegations of negligence. Defendant also filed a jury demand.

The case was assigned to mandatory arbitration. The hearing was held on September 4, 1996, but the proceedings were not transcribed. The arbitrators entered an award finding in favor of plaintiff and awarding damages. The award stated in part:

"We note for the record that defendant personally appeared pursuant to a proper Rule 237 request but was unable to testify due to her inability to speak and understand English. In addition, we unanimously find that defendant failed to participate in the arbitration hearing in good faith for the following reasons: 1) Failed to produce a witness who was competent to testify; 2) Failed to present any evidence to counter the evidence presented by plaintiff on the issues of liability and damages; 3) Failed to present any evidence whatsoever in defense of the claim."

Defendant filed a notice of rejection of the arbitration award. Plaintiff moved the court to debar defendant from rejecting the mandatory-arbitration award and to enter judgment on the award. The motion was based in part on defendant's failure to testify at the arbitration hearing due to her inability to speak English, her failure to bring an interpreter, and her failure to introduce any evidence in defense. Plaintiff also sought sanctions under Supreme Court Rule 137 (155 Ill. 2d R. 137) for filing an answer in bad faith. Defendant opposed the motion, arguing in part that she was not required to bring an interpreter.

On December 30, 1996, the trial court made a finding that, because defendant "fail[ed] to appear" at the arbitration hearing "prepared to testify," she failed to participate in good faith and in a meaningful manner and violated plaintiff's notice to appear. The trial court barred defendant from rejecting the arbitration award, entered judgment on the award in favor of plaintiff, struck defendant's rejection of the arbitration award, and denied plaintiff's motion for Supreme Court Rule 137 sanctions.

Defendant filed a motion to vacate judgment, which was denied.

Defendant appealed.

DISCUSSION

Defendant argues that (1) defendant's failure to speak English was not a failure to participate in good faith and in a meaningful manner and was not a violation of the notice to appear at the arbitration; (2) it was an excessive sanction to debar defendant from rejecting the arbitration award; (3) the actions of the trial court and the arbitration panel violated equal protection; and (4) Supreme Court Rule 91(b) (145 Ill. 2d R. 91(b)) is unconstitutional. We find that it is not necessary for us to decide the constitutional issues.

Plaintiff has moved to strike portions of defendant's reply brief that make new arguments in alleged violation of Supreme Court Rule 341(g) (155 Ill. 2d R. 341(g)), which requires that argument "shall be confined strictly to ...


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