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Dufour v. Mobil Oil Corporation

November 06, 1998

PAUL DUFOUR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MOBIL OIL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Quinn

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

No. 95 L 00633

Honorable Denise M. O'Malley, Judge Presiding.

Plaintiff, Paul Dufour appeals from an order of the circuit court granting defendant Mobil Oil Corporation's motion to compel plaintiff to answer additional interrogatories requesting the names and addresses of his individual and joint bank accounts, checking accounts and savings accounts. Plaintiff contends on appeal that the circuit court abused its discretion in ordering him to answer the additional interrogatories and in giving defendant leave of court to issue subpoenas pursuant to the disclosed account numbers, and that the circuit court's order finding plaintiff's attorney in contempt should be vacated. For the following reasons, the order compelling plaintiff to comply with the discovery request is affirmed and the contempt order is vacated.

The facts pertinent to this appeal are as follows. On April 2, 1993, plaintiff, while employed as a carpenter and scaffold builder for Goedecke Scaffolding & Erectors at a facility owned by defendant, sustained injuries to his shoulder and was released from work due to the injury in June 1993. Plaintiff's injury required surgery in 1994. Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant alleging violations of the Structural Work Act (740 ILCS 150/1-9 1995 (West 1994)) and lost wages in the amount of $106,000.

In October 1994, pursuant to the request of the insurance company handling plaintiff's worker's compensation claim, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Calvin Brown, Jr. In a report regarding plaintiff's physical condition, Dr. Brown noted the following:

"At the current time I see no evidence of any objective deficit or impairment. Moreover, it should be noted that during physical examination, I found his hands to be very calloused with thick skin, and mechanical grease was impregnated underneath his fingernails. This would lead me to believe that he certainly is performing some sort of mechanical work during his rehabilitation, and therefore may be functioning at a fairly high level."

Plaintiff stated in his answers to interrogatories filed in November 1995 that he did not work from October 2, 1993, to the time he answered the interrogatories. In November 1996 plaintiff gave a discovery deposition in which he testified that his injuries required surgery and he was unable to consistently work from October 1993 to the end of 1995. Plaintiff testified that only recently he had begun doing some work for his church and also performed some work on his own vehicles. Plaintiff further testified that during 1994, he had done no task that would have caused the development of callouses on his hands.

Plaintiff also testified that he did not file income tax returns from 1994 to 1996 because he had no taxable income. At the time of the deposition, plaintiff was employed as a maintenance person for a nursing home.

Following the deposition, defendant filed additional interrogatories requesting "the name and addresses of all individual bank accounts, checking or savings accounts, of Paul DuFour [sic] that were in existence at any time between June 1, 1993 to the present." Defendant also requested the "name and addresses of all joint bank accounts, savings or checking accounts of Paul DuFour [sic] in existence at any time between June 1, 1993 to the present." Plaintiff objected to the additional interrogatories and argued that defendant failed to obtain leave of court to file them. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to compel which, among other things, requested that the court compel plaintiff to answer the additional interrogatories.

After the circuit court granted defendant's motion to compel, plaintiff filed an emergency motion to reconsider the court's order compelling him to respond to all outstanding discovery requests. At the hearing on plaintiff's emergency motion to reconsider the order compelling him to answer the additional interrogatories, the trial court found the following:

"Absent the strong suggestion that plaintiff was working, it might not be appropriate to give access to plaintiff's financial records; however, in light of the circumstances in this case and no other that we know of at the moment, we do feel that it is appropriate."

Subsequently, plaintiff's emergency motion for reconsideration was denied and plaintiff was ordered to produce his checking and savings account numbers and the checking and savings account numbers of any joint accounts held between plaintiff and his wife. Although in their appellate briefs both parties refer to other non-parties as included in the discovery request, the circuit court's final order entered on October 21, 1997, only compels plaintiff to disclose information regarding individual and joint bank accounts held between himself and his wife. The circuit court gave defendant leave of court to issue subpoenas pursuant to the disclosed account numbers. The circuit court held plaintiff's attorney in "friendly contempt" of the court's order because of his refusal to tender plaintiff's financial information and imposed a sanction in the amount of $50. Defendant was not able to issue a subpoena for plaintiff's bank records. Plaintiff's timely appeal followed.

Plaintiff first contends that the circuit court abused its discretion in granting defendant's motion to compel plaintiff to answer additional interrogatories that requested the names and addresses of all individual and joint bank accounts, checking or savings accounts. Plaintiff argues that the information sought to be discovered by these additional interrogatories was not relevant. Plaintiff further argues that defendant was merely engaged in a fishing expedition of his financial information ...


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