VALENTINE ZAGORSKI and CHRISTINA ZAGORSKI, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant Robert L. Brady, Contemnor-Appellant
from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 10-L-148.
Honorable Lloyd A. Cueto and Andrew J. Gleeson, Judges,
Appellants: Robert L. Brady, Brown & James, P.C., St. Louis,
Appellees: John H. Leskera, Leskera Law Firm, Collinsville,
Welch and Goldenhersh concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] The plaintiffs, Valentine Zagorski and
Christina Zagorski, filed an action in the circuit court of
St. Clair County, against the defendant, Allstate Insurance
Company (Allstate), alleging a vexatious breach of contract
and common law fraud in the handling of their homeowners'
insurance claim. At the request of Allstate, and its
attorney, Robert Brady, the circuit court held Brady in civil
contempt for refusing to comply with a discovery order. The
court also imposed a fine of $25 per day, which was stayed
pending appeal. Allstate and Brady appeal the contempt order
and the underlying discovery order. They contend that the
circuit court erred in requiring them to answer
interrogatories which seek information that is irrelevant to
the plaintiffs' action or protected by a statutory
privilege. For reasons that follow, we vacate the contempt
order and monetary sanction, we affirm in part and reverse in
part the underlying discovery order, and we remand this case
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
[¶3] On August 21, 2009, the plaintiffs
purchased a homeowners' insurance policy from Allstate to
cover their home in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Five days
later, the plaintiffs' home was damaged by a fire. The
plaintiffs filed a claim with Allstate, and their claim was
assigned to Allstate's Special Investigation Unit.
[¶4] On September 6, 2009, Theresa Robinson,
an adjuster with the Special Investigation Unit, contacted
the plaintiffs and obtained a recorded statement from each of
them. On that same date, Robinson sent a letter to the
plaintiffs to inform them of their responsibilities during
the claims process. Enclosed with the letter was a form
entitled, " Sworn Statement in Proof of Loss."
Robinson instructed the plaintiffs to complete the form and
return it to Allstate, signed and notarized, within 60 days.
Shortly thereafter, Allstate requested sworn statements from
both plaintiffs. On September 12, 2009, Allstate's
attorney, Robert Brady, separately questioned each plaintiff,
under oath, for more than an hour. Then, in a letter dated
January 5, 2010, Robinson notified the plaintiffs that the
investigation had concluded, and that Allstate had denied the
claim based upon its determination that the plaintiffs had
intentionally set the fire.
[¶5] On March 29, 2010, the plaintiffs filed
a complaint against Allstate in the circuit court of St.
Clair County. The third amended complaint is at issue. In
count I of the third amended complaint, the plaintiffs allege
that Allstate breached its duties under the homeowners'
insurance contract in that it vexatiously and unreasonably
denied the plaintiffs' claim for insurance benefits
following their fire loss. They seek contractual damages, as
well as statutory penalties and attorney fees under section
155 of the Illinois Insurance Code (Code) (215 ILCS 5/155
(West 2010)). In count II, the plaintiffs assert a claim for
common law fraud, alleging that Allstate's agent, Theresa
Robinson, knowingly made false statements during the
claims-handling process for the purpose of inducing the
plaintiffs to act in reliance on her statements, that the
plaintiffs acted in reliance on her statements, and that the
plaintiffs were thereby damaged.
[¶6] On August 27, 2010, the plaintiffs
served their initial interrogatories and requests for
production on Allstate. The plaintiffs inquired about
Allstate's claims practices, including the following
interrogatories which are at issue in this appeal:
" 12. During the last five years has any Illinois court
assessed attorney's fees, costs, penalties, or fines
against Allstate pursuant to 215 ILCS 5/155? If so, state the
a. the case name, number and jurisdiction;
b. the amount of the fees, costs, penalties or fines; and
c. whether the fees, costs, penalties or fines were a result
of denial of a fire loss claim.
13. During the last five years has Defendant been sued in
Illinois by any insured alleging Defendant failed to pay a
fire loss claim? If so, state:
a. the case name, number, and jurisdiction;
b. the date the case was filed;
c. the attorneys of record;
d. whether the case was tried or settled; and
e. the amount of any settlement or jury verdict.
14. Did Defendant have a policy manual or other documents for
handling fire loss claims in effect at the time of the fire?
If so, identify the document.
15. During the last five years have any of Defendant's
insureds made any claim with the Illinois Department of
Insurance alleging improper claims practices regarding a fire
loss claim? If so, please state:
a. the name and address of each claimant;
b. the date each claim was filed; and
c. the disposition of each claim."
[¶7] On October 6, 2010, Allstate responded
with objections to certain questions in the initial set of
interrogatories. The stated grounds for objection to
interrogatories 12, 13, 14, and 15 are identical, and are as
" Objection. Defendant objects on the grounds that this
interrogatory is over-broad, unduly burdensome, harassing,
seeks information which is irrelevant and not calculated to
lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, and seeks
information protected ...