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Benitez v. KFC National Management Co.

June 25, 1999

REYNA BENITEZ, MARIA VELASQUEZ, AND NATALIE POYER, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
KFC NATIONAL MANAGEMENT COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE (DONALD BINNINGER, RICARDO CASTRO, LUCIO CASTREJON, AND GUILLERMO CASTREJON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS; JAVIER DELOYA, DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County No. 95--L--643 Honorable Terrence J. Brady, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell

JUSTICE COLWELL delivered the opinion of the court:

Reyna Benitez, Maria Velasquez, and Natalie Poyer (collectively, plaintiffs) worked with Donald Binninger, Ricardo Castro, Lucio Castrejon, Guillermo Castrejon, and Javier Deloya (collectively, employee-defendants) at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Northbrook. Plaintiffs filed suit against employee-defendants and KFC National Management Company (KFC), alleging, inter alia, that employee-defendants engaged in a systematic spying operation on plaintiffs through a hole in the ceiling of the KFC women's bathroom. The circuit court of Lake County dismissed KFC from the lawsuit, and the case subsequently proceeded to trial against four of the five employee-defendants. After a bench trial, the circuit court entered judgments in favor of each plaintiff and against the four employee-defendants. Plaintiffs and employee-defendants appealed, and KFC filed a cross-appeal.

The issues on appeal are as follows: (1) whether the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against employee-defendants in plaintiffs' fifth amended complaint related back to plaintiffs' original complaint; (2) whether plaintiffs stated a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) whether plaintiffs' invasion of privacy claims were barred by the one-year statute of limitations of section 13--201 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code)(735 ILCS 5/13--201 (West 1994)); (4) whether plaintiffs' claims were preempted by section 8--111(C) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/8--111(C) (West 1992)); (5) whether the circuit court improperly struck plaintiffs' second amended complaint; (6) whether the Workers' Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1992)) preempted plaintiffs' claims; (7) whether plaintiffs' claims against employee-defendants were res judicata; (8) whether plaintiffs proved their intentional infliction of emotional distress claim; and (9) whether the circuit court erred in denying KFC's motion for sanctions against plaintiffs. We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are former female employees of KFC. They worked at KFC as cooks, cashiers, and food servers. Each employee-defendant worked for KFC in the same capacities as plaintiffs except for Binninger, who was plaintiffs' supervisor. On March 9, 1995, plaintiffs filed suit against employee-defendants and KFC for invasion of privacy and negligence. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged that between October 1992 and December 1993 employee-defendants (a) poked holes in the ceiling of KFC's women's restroom, (b) observed plaintiffs disrobing and using the restroom facilities, (c) took pictures of plaintiffs through the hole in the ceiling, (d) described plaintiffs' private anatomies to others, (e) viewed and photographed female customers using the restroom, and (f) sold expired and tampered-with food to the general public. After KFC answered the complaint and raised several affirmative defenses, plaintiffs amended the complaint to include KFC's correct corporate name. All other allegations remained the same.

KFC subsequently moved to strike as irrelevant and scandalous the allegations that employee-defendants spied on female customers and sold expired and tampered-with food. While KFC's motion was pending, plaintiffs sought leave of court to file a second amended complaint. Judge William Block granted both motions, and plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint in August 1995.

The second amended complaint contained three counts: one against employee-defendants entitled "invasion of privacy," one against KFC entitled "negligent retention of employees," and one against KFC entitled "negligent hiring." Plaintiffs included the same facts that Judge Block struck from the first amended complaint and further alleged that employee-defendants locked one employee in a freezer and chased another with a butcher's knife. KFC moved to strike the second amended complaint on the grounds that it contained the same alleged scandalous and impertinent information as the first. Before Judge Block ruled on KFC's motion to strike, plaintiffs sought leave to file a third amended complaint, which was virtually identical to the second amended complaint. On October 3, 1995, Judge Block granted KFC's motion to strike, denied plaintiffs leave to file the third amended complaint, and granted plaintiffs leave to file a fourth amended complaint. Referring to plaintiffs' customer-related allegations, Judge Block ordered plaintiffs to refrain from stating claims on behalf of third parties.

Plaintiffs filed their 12-count fourth amended complaint on October 23, 1995. Each of the three plaintiffs brought four causes of action. Counts I-III alleged invasion of privacy against employee-defendants. Counts IV-VI, entitled "invasion of privacy, willful and wanton," were also directed at employee-defendants. Counts VII-XII were against KFC. Counts VII-IX were entitled "invasion of privacy--respondeat superior" and counts X-XII "negligent retention."

KFC subsequently moved to dismiss the counts against it pursuant to sections 2--615 and 2--619 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2--615, 619 (West 1996)). KFC maintained (a) that plaintiffs' invasion of privacy claims were barred by the statute of limitations set forth in section 13--201 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/13--201 (West 1994)); (b) that section 8--111(C) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/8--111(C) (West 1992)) preempted the entire lawsuit; and (c) that the Workers' Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1992)) barred plaintiffs from going forward with their claims against KFC. Without stating his reasons, Judge Block ruled in January 1996. His order stated as follows: "KFC's Motion to Dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs' case as to KFC is dismissed with prejudice; *** [t]his case remains open as to the remaining Defendants." (Emphasis added.) The order contains no language indicating that the order was appealable.

Employee-defendants had not answered any of the complaints, and, on January 23, 1996, plaintiffs filed a motion for entry of default. Judge Block entered an order of default against employee-defendants on March 5 and, on April 25, 1996, entered a judgment against them.

Four days later, plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal. They sought review of Judge Block's October 1995 and January 1996 orders. Nonetheless, in May 1996, all but one (Deloya) of the employee-defendants filed motions to vacate the default judgment against them. The circuit court granted those motions. Plaintiffs advised the appellate court that the circuit court had vacated the default judgment and that the October 1995 and January 1996 orders were therefore no longer final. Thus, the appellate court determined that it was without jurisdiction to entertain plaintiffs' appeal at that time and accordingly dismissed that appeal.

The case proceeded against all of the employee-defendants except for Deloya. In November or December 1996, however, Judge Block died, and the case was reassigned to Judge Terrence Brady. Judge Brady dismissed counts IV-VI of the fourth amended complaint and granted plaintiffs leave to file a fifth amended complaint. On January 8, 1997, plaintiffs filed a two-count, fifth amended complaint in which plaintiffs alleged the same facts as they did in their prior complaints. Plaintiffs also alleged that Binninger was acting as the "alter ego" of KFC while the acts giving rise to the suit occurred. In both count I (invasion of privacy) and count II (intentional infliction of emotional distress), plaintiffs sought recovery from employee-defendants and from KFC.

On February 18, 1997, KFC, relying upon Judge Block's January 1996 order, moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against it. KFC also sought sanctions against plaintiffs pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 137 (155 Ill. 2d R. 137). Judge Brady initially denied both parts of KFC's motion in February 1997, and KFC thereafter moved for Judge Brady to reconsider his denial of KFC's motion to dismiss. In March 1997, Judge Brady vacated his February 1997 order, dismissed KFC from the lawsuit, and barred plaintiffs "from bringing further claims against KFC arising from the transactions and occurrences as set forth in Plaintiffs' various pleadings."

In February 1997, employee-defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2--619 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2--619 (West 1996)) in which they raised the same issues that are the subjects of the instant appeals. Judge Brady denied the motion.

A bench trial began on November 24, 1997. On November 25, 1997, Judge Brady entered judgment against employee-defendants. The order stated that the physical evidence favored plaintiffs, that plaintiffs were more credible than were employee-defendants and that "[a]t all times D. Binninger was a supervisory manager for KFC." Judge Brady found for plaintiffs and against employee-defendants on all counts. The order awarded Poyer $15,000, Benitez $50,000, and Velasquez $30,000.

ANALYSIS

I.

[The following material is nonpublishable under Supreme Court Rule 23.]

RELATION BACK OF INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS CLAIM

We must first consider whether plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress claim "related back" to their original complaint. Section 2--616 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2--616 (West 1994)) governs the relation back of amendments to pleadings. This section permits the relation back of an amended pleading to avoid a statute of limitations if two requirements are met: (a) the originally pleading was timely filed and (b) the original and amended pleadings indicate that the cause of action asserted in the amended pleading grew out of the same transaction or occurrence alleged in the original pleading. Boatman's National Bank v. Direct Lines, Inc., 167 Ill. 2d 88, 101-2 (1995). Claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress are governed by the two-year statute of limitations of section 13--202 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/13--202 (West 1994)). Dahl v. Federal Land Band Association of Western Illinois, 213 Ill. App. 3d 867, 872 (1991).

The wrongful conduct of which plaintiffs complained began in October 1992 and ended in December 1993. Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on March 9, 1995, and their fifth amended complaint on January 8, 1997. Plaintiffs first attempted to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress in the fifth amended complaint. Apparently because plaintiffs did not discover the hole in the restroom ceiling until November or December 1993, employee-defendants state that, under the applicable statute of limitations, plaintiffs had through December 1995 to file a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Although they recognize that plaintiffs' original complaint was timely filed, employee-defendants nonetheless assert that plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress claim did not relate back to the March 1995 complaint. We are unpersuaded by this argument.

Plaintiffs' March 1995 complaint alleged that employee-defendants poked holes in the KFC women's bathroom, viewed and photographed plaintiffs in the bathroom and described plaintiffs' anatomies to others. Plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress claims in their fifth amended complaint allege the same exact facts--that plaintiffs were victims of a systematic spying operation perpetrated by employee-defendants. In other words, plaintiffs' original complaint contains the same factual allegations which formed the basis of their intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Thus, plaintiffs' emotional distress claim related back to their timely-filed complaint and was not time-barred by Section 2--616 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/13--202 (West 1994)).

[The preceding material is nonpublishable under Supreme Court Rule 23.]

II.

[The following material is nonpublishable under Supreme Court Rule 23.]

SUFFICIENCY OF INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS CLAIM

Next we must determine whether plaintiffs stated a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress against employee-defendants. This issue comes before us on Judge Brady's denial of employee-defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. As a court of review, we must accept as true all of plaintiffs' well-pleaded facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs. See Abels v. Safeway Insurance Co., 283 Ill. App. 3d 1, 5 (1996).

To state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must plead facts indicating (a) that the defendant's conduct was truly extreme and outrageous (b) that the defendant intended to inflict or knew that there was a high probability that his conduct would inflict severe emotional distress upon the plaintiff and (c) that the defendant's conduct in fact caused the plaintiff severe emotional distress. McGrath v. Fahey, 126 Ill. 2d 78, 86 (1988). Plaintiffs' allegations in this case are sufficient.

The first element is the outrageousness of employee-defendants' conduct. Plaintiffs' alleged that employee-defendants (a) poked holes in the ceiling of the KFC women's bathroom, (b) viewed and photographed plaintiffs undressing and using the facilities and (c) described plaintiffs' bodies to others and (d) grabbed plaintiffs' private body parts. We conclude from these allegations that a reasonable jury could deem employee-defendants' conduct outrageous. See McGrath, 126 Ill. 2d at 92 (if ...


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