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Geske v. Geske

September 30, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John E. Morrissey, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice South


This is the second appeal which arises from an order of the circuit court reopening its decision on defendant's motion for a directed finding upon remand and granting that motion.

The chronology of events is as follows: On February 3, 1999, plaintiff, Richard J. Geske, filed a two-count complaint against defendant, Barbara A. Geske, alleging unjust enrichment and fraud. Specifically, the complaint alleged that defendant had been unjustly enriched by depriving plaintiff of his ownership interests in property and income and had fraudulently entered into an agreement with plaintiff, thereafter defrauding him of his property and income interests. A bench trial was commenced on June 5, 2001. At the conclusion of plaintiff's case- in-chief, defendant made a motion for a directed finding, which the trial court denied. Immediately after that ruling, defense counsel rested without presenting testimony or documentary evidence, and after closing arguments the trial judge ruled in defendant's favor as to both counts of the complaint.

On July 5, 2001, plaintiff filed a notice of appeal of the ruling to this court. On March 7, 2002, in a unanimous Rule 23 order reversing and remanding the trial court's ruling, this court held in pertinent part:

"Here, the defendant moved for a directed finding, each side argued the motion's merits, and the trial judge denied the motion. In doing so, the trial judge did not merely determine that the plaintiff had made a prima facie case and, therefore, a judgment as a matter of law in the defendant's favor was improper. Instead, the trial judge also took into account the credibility of the witnesses and the quality of the evidence and found that the plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to satisfy the required burden of proof. *** Accordingly, when the defendant rested without offering any additional evidence, the initial determination that the plaintiff had satisfied his required burden of proof was unchallenged. Therefore, we hold that the trial judge erred in finding that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy his required burden of proof and entering a judgment in the defendant's favor." Geske v. Geske, No. 1-01-2512 (2002) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).
This court did not address any other issues raised by plaintiff and reversed and remanded the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings "not inconsistent with this order." A petition for rehearing filed by defendant was denied.

On remand, plaintiff filed a motion for "Entry of Order in Favor of Plaintiff on Counts of Unjust Enrichment and Fraud and For Entry of an Order for Damages Consistent with the Illinois Appellate Court's Ruling." In her response to that motion, defendant pointed out that this court never directed the trial court to enter any findings, judgments or awards of damages for plaintiff. Defendant asked the trial court to deny all relief, enter an order clarifying the reasons for its original finding or, in the alternative, reopen the proofs at the point at which the court denied plaintiff's motion for a directed finding and allow her to present evidence in support of her defense.

The trial court denied plaintiff's motion and ruled in favor of defendant on both counts of her motion for a directed finding. In rendering its decision, the court stated:

"Let me say this. There's no question that 2-1110 applies. I frankly was not aware of the statute. When you moved for a directed finding at the close of all the evidence *** you didn't, I'm virtually certain, cite the statute, and I *** applied the Pedrick standard. I don't know whether I actually said that on the record, but there's no doubt that I did apply the Pedrick standard and that is the wrong standard in civil bench trials. *** Basically, the statute calls for a jury-type assessment; did the plaintiff establish his case by a preponderance of the evidence considering and weighing all of the evidence *** I just want to point out the difference between the standard for directed verdicts in bench trials. We have to start out from that premise. *** [T]he Appellate Court was correct in pointing out that I did not apply [sic] correct standard. *** When [defense counsel] moved for a directed finding, she did not argue 2-1110. Frankly, I wasn't aware of its existence when this case was tried. Neither of the parties urged that that is the standard I was to apply. I believe, [defense counsel], you argued that the Pedrick standard was the law for me to consider, and I obviously ruled from that legal position."
The court went on to explain that when it originally ruled on defendant's motion for a directed finding by applying the incorrect standard, it had considered the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the nonmoving party, and denied the motion because it did not believe the evidence "so overwhelmingly" favored defendant, the moving party. The trial judge acknowledged time and time again that he had made a mistake since the Pedrick standard does not apply in civil bench trials.

The trial judge then reviewed his notes from the original trial, and after applying the correct standard, section 2-1110 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1110 (West 2000)), and after considering the credibility of the witnesses and the weight and quality of the evidence granted defendant's motion for a directed finding, stating that he did not find plaintiff's testimony to be credible. This second appeal followed.

Plaintiff has raised three issues for our review: (1) whether questions of law presented and determined in a prior appeal become the law of the case and are binding on the parties and the trial court in any subsequent proceeding on remand; (2) whether the trial court can sua sponte reopen its decision of the defendant's motion for a directed verdict after remand when the trial court's decision was not appealed by the defendant; and (3) whether the trial court on remand must follow the opinion and mandate of the appellate court.

In ruling on a motion for a directed finding or judgment, the court must consider all of the evidence, including any favorable to the defendant, and pass on the credibility of witnesses, draw reasonable inferences from the testimony, and generally consider the weight and the quality of the evidence. Kokinis v. Kotrich, 81 Ill. 2d 151, 154 (1980). On appeal, the decision of the trial court should not be reversed unless it is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Kokinis, 81 Ill. 2d at 154.

On remand, the trial judge conceded that he had applied the wrong standard in his original ruling on the motion for a directed finding because he applied the Pedrick standard rather than section 2-1110. In Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern R.R. Co., 37 Ill. 2d 494 (1967), our supreme court held that "verdicts ought to be directed and judgments n.o.v. entered only in those cases in which all of the evidence, when viewed in its aspect most favorable to the opponent, so ...

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