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Eakins v. Hanna Cylinders, LLC

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

June 2, 2015

DAVID EAKINS, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant-Appellant,
v.
HANNA CYLINDERS, LLC, Defendant and Counterplaintiff-Appellee.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 12-L-639 Honorable Christopher C. Starck, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Jorgensen and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

BURKE, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Plaintiff, David Eakins, filed a two-count complaint against defendant, Hanna Cylinders, LLC, for wages due and owing pursuant to the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (Wage Act) (820 ILCS 115/1 et seq. (West 2012)) and for breach of the parties' employment contract. Plaintiff appeals the trial court's grant of defendant's summary judgment motion and denial of his motion for summary judgment. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the cause with directions.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On February 15, 2010, defendant hired plaintiff to be its plant manager pursuant to an at-will employment contract. Defendant offered a revised contract in a letter of agreement dated July 15, 2010, when plaintiff tendered his resignation after receiving an offer from another employer. Plaintiff accepted defendant's offer, which included a base salary, automatic bonuses, and a "minimum term of employment 24 months from 7/15/2010." After about 14 months, on September 21, 2011, defendant terminated plaintiff. Defendant did not pay any salary to plaintiff after the date of termination.

¶ 4 On August 22, 2012, plaintiff filed a two-count complaint. Count I alleged a violation of section 5 of the Wage Act (820 ILCS 115/5 (West 2012)). In his prayer for relief, plaintiff sought unpaid wages and prejudgment interest (see 820 ILCS 115/14(a) (West 2012)) and reserved his right to seek statutory penalties (see 820 ILCS 115/14(b) (West 2012)). In count II, plaintiff alleged breach of contract and sought unpaid wages, prejudgment interest, and attorney fees. Plaintiff claimed that the July 15, 2010, employment contract provided for a minimum term of employment of 24 months from that date. Plaintiff alleged that he mitigated part of his damages by securing new employment on February 3, 2012.

¶ 5 Defendant filed amended affirmative defenses and counterclaims. Count I of the counterclaims alleged negligence. Count II alleged willful and wanton acts and omissions. However, the counterclaims are not part of this appeal and remain pending in the trial court.

¶ 6 On January 6, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to section 2-1005 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 2012)), arguing that, by the express terms of his contract, he was entitled to two years of employment. The trial court denied the motion.

¶ 7 Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on June 9, 2014. Defendant alleged that plaintiff breached the contract by his poor performance and that therefore it had the right to discharge him for cause. Defendant alleged significant problems with plaintiff's performance. For example, defendant claimed that the number of past-due orders skyrocketed during his final full month of employment; he consistently failed to meet forecasted shipments, causing defendant to lose customers and market shares; and defendant's inventory levels were above normal. Defendant further alleged that plaintiff lost control of defendant's manufacturing plant and that his inability to control costs and to drive any significant increase in revenue placed significant stress on defendant's profitability, solvency, and operation. Plaintiff denied the allegations.

¶ 8 As to the breach-of-contract count, the trial court stated that it was "convinced that there [was] no genuine issue of material fact." It noted that, "in his deposition, [plaintiff] admitted his responsibility and his duties so, even if there was, indeed, a contract for two years plus the bonuses, [plaintiff] had admitted he's breached his duties as far as I can see." As to the Wage Act count, the trial court held that the Wage Act did not apply to compensation due under an employment contract once that contract was terminated, particularly where there was a question at the time as to whether the termination was for cause.

¶ 9 On August 14, 2014, the trial court granted defendant's motion for a special finding pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). Plaintiff timely appeals.

¶ 10 II. ANALYSIS

ΒΆ 11 A. Summary Judgment ...


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