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Steven Smola v. Greenleaf Orthopedic Associates

December 27, 2012

STEVEN SMOLA,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
GREENLEAF ORTHOPEDIC ASSOCIATES, S.C., BQMCC, LLC, AND TOMASSETTI LANDSCAPING, INC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 09-L-1167 Honorable Margaret J. Mullen, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

JUSTICE HUTCHINSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Steven Smola, brought the current matter, alleging a personal injury claim against defendants, Greenleaf Orthopedic Associates, S.C., BQMCC, LLC, and Tomassetti Landscaping, Inc. Plaintiff alleged that he slipped and fell on "black ice" in a parking lot owned and maintained by defendants, causing injuries to his shoulder. The trial court dismissed plaintiff's claim with prejudice, pursuant to the parties' agreement to resolve the controversy by way of binding arbitration; the trial court retained jurisdiction to adjudicate liens and to enforce the terms of the arbitration award.

¶ 2 Following a hearing, the arbitrator returned an "Award" in defendants' favor. Thereafter, plaintiff submitted to the arbitrator a motion to reconsider the arbitration award. On the same day, defendants filed a motion with the trial court to enforce the arbitration award. Before the arbitrator ruled on plaintiff's motion to reconsider, the trial court conducted a hearing and granted defendants' motion to enforce the arbitration award. The trial court concluded that the award was "final and binding upon the parties" and that plaintiff was barred from filing with the arbitrator a motion to reconsider the award. Contending that the trial court erred by finding that the award was final before the arbitrator ruled on plaintiff's motion to reconsider, plaintiff now appeals. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

¶ 3 I. Background

¶ 4 In October 2007, plaintiff underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. A surgeon who was a member of Greenleaf Orthopedic Associates, S.C., performed the surgery. Following the surgery, the surgeon prescribed a physical therapy regimen for plaintiff. On December 3, 2007, plaintiff drove to the Greenleaf Orthopedic Associates' physical therapy department, located at 151 W. Golf Road in Libertyville. While in the parking lot, plaintiff slipped on what he described as "black ice" under a "light dusting of snow."

¶ 5 On December 3, 2009, plaintiff filed his complaint. Plaintiff alleged that defendants had a duty to maintain the parking lot in a manner that was free from unreasonably dangerous conditions; defendants failed to do so; and, as a result, defendants proximately caused his injuries. Plaintiff sought in excess of $100,000 in damages.

¶ 6 Thereafter, the parties agreed to submit their dispute to binding arbitration. On February 24, 2011, the trial court entered an order providing:

"[T]he above cause of action is dismissed with prejudice and without cost to either party, all costs having been paid and all matters in controversy for which said action was brought having been agreed to be resolved by the parties by way of a binding arbitration hearing. The Court retains jurisdiction to adjudicate liens and to enforce the terms of the arbitration award."

The parties manifested their agreement in a March 3, 2011, letter that defendants' counsel sent to plaintiff's counsel. The letter stated:

"Please allow this letter to confirm that all parties in this case have agreed to resolve this matter by way of a binding arbitration hearing; with retired Lake County Judge Stephen Walter serving as the sole arbitrator. It is understood and agreed to between the parties that [the arbitrator] will decide all pertinent issues in this case, including liability and damages."

¶ 7 The arbitrator conducted the arbitration proceedings on April 11, 2011. On July 8, 2011, the arbitrator entered the "Award," finding in defendants' favor. The arbitrator signed the award and delivered it to the parties.

ΒΆ 8 On July 26, 2011, plaintiff's attorney sent the arbitrator a "Motion to Reconsider, Rehear, Modify and/or Vacate Arbitration Award of July 8, 2011," by e-mail, with an accompanying memorandum. Also on July 26, 2011, defendants filed with the trial court a "Motion to Enforce Binding Arbitration Award." Plaintiff responded to defendants' motion and attached his motion to reconsider and accompanying memorandum. Plaintiff argued that ...


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