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Motton v. Petrie

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 30, 2015

DELORES MOTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT PETRIE, individually and as an agent of CRST MALONE, INC., and CRST MALONE, INC., Defendants. ROBERT PETRIE and CRST MALONE, INC., Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM MOTTON, Third-Party Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARIA VALDEZ, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Good Faith Finding and to Dismiss, [Doc. No. 61], filed by third-party defendant William Motton ("Mr. Motton"). Defendants, Robert Petrie ("Petrie") and CRST Malone, Inc. (collectively "Defendants"), oppose the Motion. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(c). For the following reasons, the Court denies Mr. Motton's Motion.

BACKGROUND[1]

Shortly after sunset, on September 22, 2012, Mr. Motton was driving with his wife ("Mrs. Motton") on Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, when he struck a tractor-trailer parked near the intersection of Cottage Grove and 104th Place, which was operated by Petrie. Unfortunately, Mrs. Motton suffered extensive injuries from the accident, resulting in roughly $300, 000 in medical expenses. She thus filed a complaint in Illinois state court against Defendants, alleging claims of negligence against Petrie and vicarious liability against his employer, CRST Malone. Mrs. Motton did not, however, name her husband as a defendant because she settled with his insurance company for $100, 000 (the alleged policy limit) before this case was filed and signed a release of liability to that effect.

After removing Mrs. Motton's complaint to this Court, Defendants filed a third-party complaint against Mr. Motton, in which Defendants, inter alia, deny liability for Mrs. Motton's injuries and, in the alternative, seek contribution for Mr. Motton's alleged negligence. Mr. Motton responded by filing the instant Motion, claiming that he is excluded from liability as a matter of law pursuant to the Illinois Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act ("the Contribution Act"), 740 ILCS 100/0.01-100/5, which provides that a joint tortfeasor who settles in good faith with a plaintiff is immune from contribution liability. The Court then held an evidentiary hearing on March 18, 2015, which led to the following uncontroverted revelations: (1) Mr. Petrie's tractor-trailer was parked on the side of the road and therefore did not obstruct Mr. Motton's path; and (2) Mr. Motton rear-ended the tractor-trailer while he was looking down at the radio.[2]

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Contribution Act provides that a tortfeasor who settles in good faith with the injured party is discharged from contribution liability. 740 ILCS 100/2(c), (d). The term "good faith" is not defined in the Act; instead, a finding of good or bad faith is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Wreglesworth v. Arctco, Inc., 740 N.E.2d 444, 449 (Ill.App.Ct. 2000). Factors to consider in determining whether a settlement was made in good faith include: (1) whether the amount paid was within a reasonable range of the settlor's fair share; (2) whether there was a close personal relationship between the settling parties; (3) whether the plaintiff sued the settlor; (4) whether a calculated effort was made to conceal information about the circumstances surrounding the settlement agreement; (5) facts tending to show wrongful conduct, collusion, or fraud; and (6) whether the settlement conflicts with the terms of the Contribution Act or its underlying policies. Johnson v. United Airlines, 784 N.E.2d 812, 824 (Ill. 2003). Importantly, no single factor is determinative; courts must consider all of the surrounding circumstances in determining whether a settlement was made in good faith. Wreglesworth, 740 N.E.2d at 449.

DISCUSSION

Mr. Motton contends that a finding of good faith is straightforward: he and his wife sat down for arms-length negotiations with their respective attorneys, settled for the maximum amount provided by his insurance policy ("the Policy"), executed a legally valid settlement agreement, and thereby released Mr. Motton from liability. Defendants, in contrast, contend that the release is irrelevant because it does not specifically name Mr. Motton. Furthermore, even if the release were interpreted to apply to Mr. Motton, Defendants argue there is indeed clear evidence of bad faith: the Motton's marriage; Mrs. Motton's decision not to sue Mr. Motton; the disproportionate value of the settlement to requested damages; the remaining $100, 000 in liability limits under the Policy; and the injustice that would result by excluding Mr. Motton from contribution liability.

The parties' dispute thus boils down to two issues: (1) whether the failure to name Mr. Motton on the release is fatal to the settlement's applicability in this case; and (2) whether the settlement was made in good faith. The Court, however, declines to address the first issue because it finds that, even if the release were interpreted to include Mr. Motton, the totality of circumstances does not support a finding of good faith.

I. GOOD FAITH

As an initial matter, the Court must clarify the standard for a finding of good faith. Mr. Motton claims that under the Contribution Act, "a settlement is considered prima facie in good faith when the settling party shows that [it] is supported by consideration." (Motton's Rep. Br. at 5.) Thus, relying on Alvarez v. Fred Hintze Construction, 617 N.E.2d 821 (Ill.App.Ct. 1993), he asserts that the settlement here was indeed supported by consideration and therefore that Defendants now carry the burden of proving bad faith with clear and convincing evidence. Mr. Motton is mistaken.

The standard of proof was changed from "clear and convincing" to a "preponderance of the evidence" in 2003. See Johnson, 784, N.E.2d at 820. Perhaps more importantly, a legally valid settlement is the minimum needed to establish a preliminary showing of good faith, but it is not the sine qua non of good faith. See id. ; Bowers v. Murphy & Miller, 650 N.E.2d 608, 611 (Ill. 1995) ("While we are prepared to say that an invalid agreement could never satisfy the good faith requirements of the Contribution Act, we are not prepared to say that all valid agreements are necessarily given in good faith. A competent plaintiff might, for whatever reason, give a release supported by some nominal consideration to a tortfeasor without regard to the tortfeasor's potential liability or the relationship between the consideration received and the tortfeasor's relative culpability.") Therefore, "other factual evidence may be necessary before the court may ...


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