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Steiner v. Eckert

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

August 23, 2013

GREGORY STEINER and AGRISTAR FROZEN FOODS, INC., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
JEFFREY P. ECKERT, Defendant-Appellant Platinum Frozen Foods, Inc., Benchmark Holdings Group, Inc., Meadows Cold Storage, Inc., and Americe, Inc., Defendants.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 09-CH-2305 Honorable Terence M. Sheen, Judge, Presiding.

Justices Hutchinson and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

SCHOSTOK, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Defendant Jeffrey P. Eckert appeals from the order of the circuit court of Du Page County granting plaintiff Gregory Steiner's amended motion for enforcement of a settlement agreement and entering judgment in favor of Steiner for $1 million, and from the trial court's subsequent order denying Eckert's motion to vacate.[1] Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion either in granting the amended motion to enforce the settlement agreement or in entering judgment, we affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Plaintiffs, Steiner and AgriStar Frozen Foods, Inc., filed a 12-count complaint against, among others, Eckert and Platinum Frozen Foods, Inc., of which Eckert was the sole officer, director, and shareholder. Steiner and Eckert entered into a settlement agreement, dated June 29, 2010, and an addendum thereto, dated August 10, 2010, under which Eckert agreed to pay Steiner a certain amount of money in exchange for dismissal of plaintiffs' claims. The settlement agreement further provided that plaintiffs' claims would be dismissed with leave to reinstate should Eckert default under the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement also stated that, if Eckert satisfied his monetary obligation under its terms, then all claims would be dismissed with prejudice. In the event of Eckert's default, Steiner retained the right under the settlement agreement to obtain a judgment against Eckert for $1 million minus any amounts received under the settlement agreement.

¶ 4 On September 3, 2010, the trial court entered an agreed order that stated that the "parties have entered a [s]ettlement [a]greement resolving the claims of this litigation." The September 3 order also provided that, by "agreement of the parties, and pursuant to the [s]ettlement [a]greement, " the complaint was dismissed without prejudice to plaintiffs' right to reinstate if Eckert defaulted under the settlement agreement. The order further stated that, upon satisfaction of the monetary obligation under the settlement agreement, the complaint would be dismissed with prejudice. Also, a counterclaim, filed by Platinum Frozen Foods, Inc., was dismissed, and the trial court retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement. The order was signed by counsel for plaintiffs and by attorney Douglas Drenk for Eckert and Platinum Frozen Foods, Inc. A handwritten notation, next to Drenk's signature, stated "per clients [sic] express approval 9-2-2010."

¶ 5 On February 8, 2011, Steiner and Eckert entered into a written "forbearance agreement, " requiring Steiner to forgo enforcing his rights under the settlement agreement for a period of eight months. In consideration of such forbearance, Steiner would "cause to be executed" a judgment in the amount of $1 million in favor of himself and against Eckert. The forbearance agreement further provided that, during the eight-month period, execution of the judgment would be stayed and not "entered on the docket." Finally, the forbearance agreement stated that, if Eckert were in default under the settlement agreement at the end of the eight-month period, Steiner could "have the [j]udgment entered on the docket, record the [j]udgment and execute upon the [j]udgment, " as well as exercise any other rights and remedies under the settlement agreement.

¶ 6 On December 11, 2011, Steiner filed a combined, amended motion to enforce the settlement agreement and for entry of judgment (amended motion). The amended motion referred to the settlement agreement, the forbearance agreement, and the September 3, 2010, agreed order. The amended motion asserted that, as of its date, Eckert had not paid any money toward satisfaction of the amount owed under the settlement agreement. The amended motion thus asserted that Eckert was in default under the settlement agreement and the forbearance agreement and that entry of judgment in the amount of $1 million was proper. The amended motion asked the trial court to enter a judgment of $1 million in favor of Steiner and against Eckert.

¶ 7 On December 21, 2011, attorney Daniel Voelcker filed a "supplemental appearance" on behalf of Eckert. The next day, Eckert filed a motion to disqualify Steiner's attorney.

¶ 8 After denying the motion to disqualify on March 27, 2012, the trial court set a briefing schedule on Steiner's amended motion. The trial court also set the amended motion for a hearing on July 12, 2012. On May 8, 2012, Eckert filed a motion to stay the briefing schedule and hearing on the amended motion. However, the record reflects that the motion to stay was never noticed up or ruled on. Eckert never filed any written response to Steiner's amended motion.

¶ 9 At the July 12 hearing on the amended motion, Eckert was represented by an attorney from the Voelcker law firm. Additionally, Drenk stated that he would be seeking leave to file an appearance as additional counsel for Eckert.[2]

¶ 10 Also at the July 12 hearing, the trial court noted that Eckert had filed no response to the amended motion. The trial court further stated that "there's no reason, based on the unopposed pleadings, [not to] grant the [m]otion to [e]nforce the [s]ettlement and [e]ntry of [j]udgment, " and that it was "going to do that" because "there [were] no pleadings filed in response to [the motion]." Eckert's attorney did not respond or object to the amended motion or the trial court's comments during the hearing. The trial court entered a written order on that same date, stating that Eckert failed to file a response to the amended motion and entering a judgment in favor of Steiner and against Eckert in the amount of $1 million plus postjudgment interest.

ΒΆ 11 On August 10, 2012, Eckert, represented by Drenk, filed a verified motion to vacate the July 12, 2012, judgment pursuant to "735 ILCS 5/2-1203 and/or 735 ILCS 5/2-1301(e) [(West 2010)]." In the motion to vacate, Eckert contended that no valid settlement agreement was shown to exist by either verified pleadings or evidence. Additionally, Eckert argued that the settlement agreement, if it did exist, made ...


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