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Crawford County Oil, LLC v. Weger

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

August 15, 2014

CRAWFORD COUNTY OIL, LLC, and LaCROSS, INC., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
FLOYD WEGER, MICHAEL WORTHY, PAULA WORTHY, and CHARLENE CORNWELL, Defendants-Appellees

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Crawford County. No. 11-CH-8. Honorable Mark L. Shaner, Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

In an action where the questions certified by the trial court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 would not materially advance the ultimate termination of the instant litigation, the appellate court limited the scope of its answers to the facts of the case, including the fact that defendants did not file any answer to plaintiffs' complaint, and therefore, the appellate court responded that under the circumstances presented, section 2-610 of the Code of Civil Procedure does not apply where no answer was filed, and, in the absence of an answer to the complaint, the response to the first question rendered moot the second question as to whether deeming an allegation admitted renders the introduction of evidence supporting the allegation unnecessary; furthermore, based on plaintiffs' failure to make a motion to have the allegations of the complaint deemed admitted until after they opened their case-in-chief, the trial court had the discretion to grant defendants leave to file a late answer, and therefore, the cause was remanded with directions to enter an order requiring defendants' answer to be in writing and contain a verification in accord with section 2-605 of the Code.

For Appellants: Gregory K. Stewart, Conger & Elliott, P.C., Carmi, IL.

For Appellees: Thomas G. Maag, Maag Law Firm, LLC, Wood River, IL.

JUSTICE SPOMER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Goldenhersh and Cates concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

SPOMER, JUSTICE.

Page 979

[¶1] Upon the motion of the plaintiffs, Crawford County Oil, LLC, and LaCross, Inc., the circuit court of Crawford County certified the following questions for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010): (1) Are factual allegations in a complaint which are not denied deemed admitted? (2) If a fact is deemed admitted in the pleadings, is the admission a judicial admission making it unnecessary for the party to introduce evidence in support thereof? and (3) Does a trial court have discretion to order a defendant, after the close of the plaintiffs' case-in-chief, to make an initial answer to the plaintiffs' complaint when the defendant had not previously answered the allegations in the complaint? For the following reasons, we find that answering the certified questions, as written, will not materially advance the ultimate termination of this litigation, and as such, we limit the scope of our answer to these questions to the facts of this case, in which the defendants have not filed an answer at all, and the plaintiffs have sought judicial admission of the allegations of the complaint pursuant to section 2-610 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-610 (West 2012)). Under these circumstances, we hold that section 2-610 of the Code is inapplicable in situations where there has been no answer filed, and as such, answer the first question, as we have reframed it, in the negative, rendering the second certified question moot. Furthermore, under these circumstances, where the plaintiffs, on the day of trial, filed a motion pursuant to section 2-610 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-610 (West 2012)) seeking to have all of the allegations of the complaint deemed admitted for the failure of the defendants to file an answer, we hold that the circuit court has the discretion to allow the defendants to file an answer, and as such, answer the third certified question, as we have reframed it, in the affirmative. Having answered the certified questions as we have reframed them in order to materially advance the termination of this litigation, in the interests of judicial economy and the need to reach an equitable result, we remand these proceedings to the circuit court with directions that its order be amended to require that the answer be in writing and contain a verification in accordance with section 2-605 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-605 (West 2012)).

[¶2] FACTS

[¶3] On March 7, 2011, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in the circuit court of Crawford

Page 980

County against the defendants, Floyd Weger, Michael Worthy, Paula Worthy, and Charlene Cornwell. According to the complaint, the plaintiffs own an interest in oil and gas leases on the defendants' properties and have ceased production on certain wells located on those properties, which requires the plaintiffs, under Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) regulations, to plug those wells. The complaint alleges that the defendants ejected the plaintiffs from their respective properties while the plaintiffs were attempting to plug the subject wells and continue to deny the plaintiffs access to their properties for this purpose. In the complaint, the plaintiffs request an injunction requiring the defendants to grant them access to the properties so that they may plug the wells. The complaint is verified pursuant to section 2-605 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-605 (West 2010)).

[¶4] On April 8, 2011, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and on June 28, 2011, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. According to a docket entry dated July 20, 2012, the circuit court entered an order denying the motion for summary judgment, but the record contains no documentation to ...


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