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Schramm v. County of Monroe

October 23, 2001

TERRY W. SCHRAMM, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF VINITA L. SCHRAMM, DECEASED, AND TERRY W. SCHRAMM, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF TARA R. SCHRAMM, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES
v.
THE COUNTY OF MONROE AND MARY E. QUINN, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JAMIE A. QUINN, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, AND THE CITY OF WATERLOO AND CRAIG T. INMAN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS
THOMAS E. SMITH, INDIVIDUALLY, AND SHERRY L. SMITH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF ALEXANDER M. SMITH, A MINOR, SAMANTHA K. SMITH, A MINOR, AND HALEY R. SMITH, A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES
v.
MARY E. QUINN, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JAMIE A. QUINN, DECEASED, THE COUNTY OF MONROE AND DANIEL P. HANNON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, AND THE CITY OF WATERLOO AND CRAIG T. INMAN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Monroe County. No. 99-L-20; 00-L-8 Honorable Alexis D. Otis-Lewis, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

UNPUBLISHED

The City of Waterloo, Illinois (Waterloo), and Craig T. Inman appeal from the trial court's October 16, 2000, order finding that a settlement that had been reached among all the plaintiffs and Mary E. Quinn, administrator of the estate of Jamie A. Quinn (Quinn Estate), was made in good faith and that, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)), there was no just reason for delaying either the enforcement or the appeal from that order. We affirm.

This case arose out of a tragic set of events that occurred on April 23, 1999, when Jamie A. Quinn, who apparently was suffering from some sort of an emotional problem, took a shotgun from his parents' home and departed without their permission in their motor vehicle. His parents reported the incident to police. Police approached the Monroe County State's Attorney for the issuance of juvenile warrants. Jamie A. Quinn ended up at a Waterloo movie theater. Police were alerted to his presence. Officer Inman, an employee of the Waterloo Police Department, arrived at the theater, located Jamie A. Quinn in his parents' motor vehicle, and activated his flashing lights and siren upon approaching the vehicle. Jamie A. Quinn immediately drove off and away from Officer Inman. Officer Inman radioed for assistance, and some sort of a roadblock was set up. Jamie A. Quinn eluded the roadblock and continued on in what became a high-speed pursuit by the police. At some point, Jamie A. Quinn pulled out into the opposing lane of traffic to pass another motorist, and in the process, he struck a vehicle head-on. That vehicle was operated by Tara R. Schramm and contained Vinita L. Schramm as a passenger, both of whom perished as a result of the collision. Jamie A. Quinn also died in the collision. A third vehicle was involved in the accident. This vehicle was traveling directly behind the vehicle operated by Tara R. Schramm. There were no fatalities in that vehicle, but the five Smith family occupants sustained bodily injuries.

Separate lawsuits were filed by the Schramm estates and the Smiths against the Quinn Estate, Waterloo, Inman, and others. Ultimately those suits were consolidated. The Quinn Estate filed a counterclaim against Waterloo and Monroe County for Jamie A. Quinn's wrongful death. Waterloo filed a counterclaim for contribution against the Quinn Estate.

Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) apparently had a motor vehicle liability policy insuring Jamie A. Quinn's parents and the motor vehicle involved in this accident. Allstate, on behalf of the Quinn Estate, reached a settlement of the wrongful-death, survivor, and bodily-injury claims in the full occurrence amount of its policy-$100,000. Allstate, on behalf of the Quinn Estate, sought a good-faith settlement finding that would discharge the Quinn Estate from any further liability from any claims which were pending at that time or which could later be filed against the estate and that would result in the prejudicial dismissal of such pending and/or future claims. Those claims would include not only the wrongful-death, survivor, and bodily-injury claims but also any contribution claims. The wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the Quinn Estate would be unaffected by the good-faith settlement finding. The request for a good-faith settlement finding did not contain a request that the trial court enter a finding under Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)).

A hearing on the motion was held on August 23, 2000. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial judge indicated that she was granting the request for a good-faith settlement finding. In ruling from the bench, the trial judge made no mention of a Rule 304(a) finding. A written order was prepared. The parties to the settlement all received and approved a copy of the order, but a copy was not sent to the attorney for Waterloo and Inman. This order was somehow presented to the trial judge, who signed it on October 6, 2000, but the order was not filed with the court until October 16, 2000, at which time the court sent copies to all parties of record. On that same date, an amended version of the motion for a good-faith finding was filed, and this version contained a request for a Rule 304(a) finding. A copy of the amended motion was not forwarded to the attorney for Waterloo and Inman. Waterloo and Inman appeal.

At oral argument, we learned that the Rule 304(a) finding came about when counsel for Waterloo and Inman suggested to the plaintiffs and the Quinn Estate at the August 23, 2000, hearing that they ought to procure such a finding.

From the transcript of the hearing on the good-faith finding, we know that the possibility of a Rule 304(a) finding was referenced. However, in her preliminary ruling from the bench, the trial judge indicated that she found the settlement to be in good faith. The trial judge did not indicate that she would enter a Rule 304(a) finding. Perhaps that is because the original motion for a good-faith finding did not seek a Rule 304(a) finding, or perhaps she simply did not find that it was necessary to specifically state her intent to enter that order. In any event, a Rule 304(a) finding was clearly contemplated by the parties. Additionally, the parties agreed that a written order of judgment would be distributed to all parties and that if anyone disagreed with the order, he or she could inform the trial court in writing of their objections within 10 days.

A written order was prepared and sent to the parties to the settlement for signature. This written order found that the settlement was made in good faith and also that, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a), there was no just cause for the delay of enforcement or appeal. The trial judge was presented with the order, and the order was signed on October 6, 2000. The order was not actually filed by the court until October 16, 2000. Upon that date, copies of the order were sent by the court to all parties of record-including Waterloo and Inman. Apparently contemporaneously, an amended motion for a good-faith finding, which attached copies of the settlement checks and releases and added a request for a Rule 304(a) finding, was filed and sent to some of the attorneys of record but was not sent to the attorney for Waterloo and Inman.

Instead of objecting in the trial court, the attorney for Waterloo and Inman elected to file this appeal. The attorneys for the remaining defendants do not join in the appeal. In this appeal, counsel argues that the good-faith settlement finding was erroneous and that the Rule 304(a) finding was improvidently granted. However, initially, counsel contends that this court lacks jurisdiction over this matter on the theory that the Rule 304(a) finding is void as it was entered on an ex parte basis.

Before we begin our analysis, we find it necessary to discuss the manner in which this case came to our court. Counsel for Waterloo and Inman was obviously unhappy with the trial court's conclusion that the settlement was reasonable and reached in good faith. While the parties to the settlement were not seeking a Rule 304(a) finding, counsel for Waterloo and Inman took it upon himself to suggest to the other attorneys that they should ask the court for such a finding. Now he contends that the Rule 304(a) finding was not only improvidently granted but that it occurred on an ex parte basis. He intimates that he was not aware that such an order was contemplated. He further insinuates that the parties to the settlement agreement have done something ethically inappropriate. Despite counsel's claims to the contrary, we do not find that the parties conspired together in some insidious plot to prevent counsel from obtaining a copy of the written order confirming the judge's verbal order from the bench. To the extent that all parties were not in Judge Otis-Lewis's presence as she put her pen to the written order, then we suppose that one could label the occurrence as an ex parte one. However, such a gathering of the attorneys was never contemplated by the parties or the court. The judge simply asked that a written order be presented to her. While there was discussion about circulation of the written order, it appears that due to an administrative error, this did not occur. We find this whole process rather disingenuous on counsel's part since he was the very attorney who recommended that the Rule 304(a) finding be included. He could not have been surprised that the order contained the very Rule 304(a) finding that he recommended. Furthermore, it is not as if counsel never received a copy. He had no difficulty in filing this appeal. So, while we could send this case back to the trial court in order to allow counsel for Waterloo and Inman to have a copy of the written order prior to its entry, he would not be able to reargue to the trial court the primary issue that he raises in this appeal-that the good-faith settlement itself was improperly entered. We suspect that counsel would turn around and appeal that order to this court again, which would certainly be contrary to our ongoing goal of judicial economy. Therefore, we address the merits of this appeal.

For the reasons stated, we do not find that the order was void for having been entered on what counsel labels an "ex parte" basis. Waterloo and Inman fail to prove that they have been in any way prejudiced or otherwise harmed by the entry of the Rule 304(a) finding, given the fact that their attorney suggested its entry. Savage v. Pho, 312 Ill. App. 3d 553, 557, 727 N.E.2d 1052, 1055 (2000).

We next turn to the issue of whether the settlement meets the good-faith requirement of section 2(c) of the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (the Act) (740 ILCS 100/2(c) (West 1998)). Before we review the trial court's conclusion ...


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