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Manns v. Briell

June 09, 2004

JILL MANNS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THEODORE BRIELL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND REBECCA S. FOLEY, CONTEMNOR-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County. No. 02L135. Honorable Elizabeth A. Robb, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Knecht

PUBLISHED

Plaintiff, Jill Manns, filed a negligence action against defendant, Theodore Briell, alleging personal injuries arising out of an automobile accident. During pretrial discovery, plaintiff sought documents and information pertaining to defendant's personal financial affairs. Defendant refused to answer, contending the documents and information sought were irrelevant and immaterial to any issue in the lawsuit and are not subject to discovery until a judgment is entered against him exceeding the limits of his liability insurance policy. The trial court ordered defendant to produce the documents and information requested and held defendant's attorney in contempt of court for declining to produce the requested discovery materials. Defendant and his attorney appeal from the court's order requiring discovery and from the entry of the contempt citation. We reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's complaint in this case consists of one count, seeking damages for personal injuries plaintiff allegedly sustained in an automobile accident involving vehicles driven by plaintiff and defendant on February 15, 2002. The complaint is based on negligence and seeks only compensatory damages. Defendant denied liability.

On October 1, 2002, plaintiff propounded interrogatories and a request to produce documents. The interrogatories contained many of the standard interrogatories approved in Illinois for matrimonial cases and requested detailed information on defendant's sources of income, real estate holdings, business interests, bank accounts, investments, securities, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, debts, and personal property ownership. The request to produce documents sought copies of defendant's federal and state income-tax returns and all docu-ments indicating his income, real property interests, investments, securities, retirement accounts, and personal property interests.

Defendant objected to these discovery requests on the basis the information sought was not relevant or material to any matter at issue in the lawsuit and would not become discoverable unless plaintiff obtained a judgment against him that exceeded the limits of his liability insurance policy. On October 10, 2002, he answered the remaining interrogatories and requests to produce that did not seek personal financial information.

On October 23, 2002, plaintiff filed a motion to compel answers to the remaining interrogatories and production requests. On December 19, 2002, the trial court granted the motion to compel, finding the information sought in the supreme court-approved matrimonial interrogatories and in plaintiff's request to produce was relevant to the pending personal injury negligence case.

The trial court ordered defendant to respond within 28 days. On January 10, 2003, the trial court entered a case management order that set August 30, 2003, as the date by which all written discovery requests were to be answered.

On May 14, 2003, defendant filed a motion for reconsideration of the trial court's order of December 19, 2002, or, alternatively, for a contempt citation and $1 fine for purposes of facilitating appellate review of the discovery order. On June 5, 2003, the trial court denied defendant's motion to reconsider and took the request for a contempt order and fine under advisement. On August 13, 2003, the trial court granted the request for a contempt order and fine, finding defense counsel in indirect civil contempt and ordering her to pay a $1 fine for purposes of facilitating appellate review of the court's previous discovery order under Supreme Court Rule 304(b)(5) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(b)(5)) and certified the issue for appellate review. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendant contends on appeal he may not be compelled to disclose information on his personal financial affairs prior to a judgment being entered against him in a personal injury case seeking only compensatory damages. He argues his personal finances are not relevant to the subject matter in this case; the legislature has provided means for discovery only after a final judgment is entered against him; and his right to privacy outweighs the present interest plaintiff has in his personal finances.

Supreme Court Rule 201 establishes the scope of permissible pretrial discovery and states a party may obtain through discovery:

"[A]ny matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking disclosure or of any other party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or tangible things, and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of relevant facts." 166 Ill. 2d R. 201(b)(1).

The Illinois Supreme Court has interpreted Rule 201(b)(1) to be "founded on the basic premise that the objective of discovery is the 'expeditious and final determination of controversies in accordance with the substantive rights of the parties.' [Monier v. Chamberlain, 35 Ill. 2d 351, 357, 221 N.E.2d 410, 415 (1966)]. Thus, discovery should only be utilized to 'illuminate the actual issues in the case.' [Sarver v. Barrett Ace Hardware, ...


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