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Heim v. Herrick

December 05, 2003

JULIE HEIM; DENNIS HEIM; PATRICIA O'CONNELL; ROBERT O'CONNELL; NANCY CLAPP, AS ADMINISTRATRIX WITH THE WILL ANNEXED OF THE ESTATE OF SHARLIS A. HELPHINSTINE, DECEASED; AND NANCY CLAPP, AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN HELPHINSTINE, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
JUSTIN HERRICK; CONNIE COLCORD; AND EAGLE FOOD CENTERS, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, D/B/A EAGLE FOOD CENTER, NO. 297, DEFENDANTS, AND CTK, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, D/B/A THE NORTHENDER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 00L156 Honorable Lisa Holder White, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton

PUBLISHED

Plaintiffs sued defendants, Eagle Food Centers, Inc., doing business as Eagle Food Center, No. 297 (Eagle), and CTK, Inc., doing business as the Northender (CTK), under the Liquor Control Act of 1934 (Dramshop Act) (235 ILCS 5/6-21(a) (West 2000)). While discovery was still underway, Eagle filed, in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. §§101 through 1330 (2000)). In re Eagle Food Centers, Inc., No. 03-15299 (PSH). The filing of the bankruptcy petition automatically stayed all civil litigation against Eagle, including the present action. See 11 U.S.C. §362(a)(1) (2000). CTK- 1 -moved that the trial court stay further proceedings against it as well, to avoid the sole exposure to liability, if any. The trial court denied the motion, and CTK appeals, arguing that the ruling was an abuse of discretion. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In their first-amended complaint, which they filed on April 24, 2001, plaintiffs allege that on May 16, 2000, Justin Herrick was driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee in Decatur while intoxicated with liquor he had bought from Eagle and CTK. He rear-ended a car, causing it to veer off the road and strike three pedestrians on a sidewalk. Two of the pedestrians, Julie Heim and Patricia O'Connell, survived their injuries; the other pedestrian, Sharlis Helphinstine, did not. Plaintiffs are Julie and Patricia and their husbands, as well as Nancy Clapp, representative of the estates of Sharlis and her late husband, John Helphinstine. Plaintiffs first named both Eagle and CTK as defendants in the first-amended complaint.

Plaintiffs became aware of Eagle's and CTK's potential liability by taking Herrick's discovery deposition on April 6, 2001. He testified that on May 16, 2000, he bought a six-pack of beer from Eagle and began drinking it on an empty stomach. Later, when he bought miniature bottles of rum and a 40-ounce bottle of beer from CTK, he was already drunk from the beer he had bought from Eagle. After drinking two or three of the miniature rums and opening the 40-ounce bottle of beer, he rear-ended the car.

On April 24, 2003, two years after the filing of the first-amended complaint, "after [(as CTK says)] written and limited oral discovery had taken place," Eagle filed a notice of automatic stay based on its having filed a chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on April 7, 2003.

In its "Motion to Stay Proceedings Against CTK, Inc.," filed on June 20, 2003, CTK states:

"It is unknown *** whether [p]laintiffs have petitioned *** the federal bankruptcy court for a lift of the automatic stay [of] proceedings directed against Eagle. Until the stay is lifted and/or [sic] a determination is made by the bankruptcy court as to whether [p]laintiffs' claims against Eagle fall within or without the purview of the automatic stay ***, [p]laintiffs' claim alleging [dramshop] liability against CTK, Inc.[,] should and must similarly be stayed."

On July 18, 2003, the trial court entered a docket order stating as follows:

"1. These proceedings have been stayed until further order of the [c]court as to the [d]efendant, Eagle Foods, because Eagle Foods has filed [for] bankruptcy and an automatic stay is in effect.

2. The [d]efendant, CTK, has [moved] *** to stay the cause as to [CTK] because of the cause being stayed against Eagle Foods.

3. This is not the first time since the filing of this case that Eagle Foods has been in bankruptcy.

4. *** [P]otential harm *** might be imposed on the [p]laintiffs if they are not allowed ...


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