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Sandlin v. Harrah's Illinois Corp.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

September 2, 2016

MARY SANDLIN, individually and as Representative of the Estate of WILLIAM L. SANDLIN, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRAH'S ILLINOIS CORPORATION d/b/a HARRAH'S JOLIET HOTEL AND CASINO, LOONEY RICKS KISS ARCHITECTS, INC., HNEDAK BOBO GROUP, INC., and PEPPER CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Defendants. Harrah's Illinois Corporation, Defendant and Counterplaintiff-Appellant; Hnedak Bobo Group, Inc., Defendant and Counterdefendant-Appellee; Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, Inc. and Pepper Construction Company, Defendants and Counterdefendants.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, Circuit No. 13-L-188 The Honorable Theodore J. Jarz, Judge, presiding.

          JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and McDade concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CARTER JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In the context of a personal injury action arising out of a slip and fall injury at a hotel, one of the codefendants, Harrah's Illinois Corporation (Harrah's), filed a counterclaim against another codefendant, Hnedak Bobo Group, Inc. (HBG), seeking contractual indemnification or contribution (count I) and statutory contribution (count II).[1] [2] After all of the defendants settled with plaintiff and good-faith findings were made, the trial court granted summary judgment for HBG on both counts of the counterclaim. Harrah's appeals the grant of summary judgment but only as to count I (contractual contribution) of the counterclaim. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 In 1999, Harrah's started building a hotel in Joliet, Will County, Illinois. The project was completed the following year. HBG served as the primary architect on the project. Of relevance to this appeal, the contract between Harrah's and HBG for the construction project provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

"5.1 Indemnification. To the fullest extent permitted by law, Architect, on behalf of itself and its agents (all of said parties are herein sometimes collectively referred to as the 'Indemnitors'), shall fully indemnify, defend, save and hold Owner, its partners, all successor owners and/or partners and their agents, employees, partners and anyone else acting for or on behalf of any of them (all of said parties are herein collectively referred to as the 'Indemnitees') harmless from and against all liability, damage, loss, claims, demands, actions and expenses of any nature whatsoever including, but not limited to reasonable attorney's fees which arise out of or are connected with, or are claimed to arise out of or be connected with: (i) any negligent act, error or omission or any willful misconduct or other fault by any Indemnitor in the performance of any services to be performed hereunder; (ii) any failure to comply with applicable laws, codes, rules, regulations or ordinances; (iii) any breach of any obligations of Indemnitors as set forth in this Agreement."[3]

         ¶ 4 In July 2004, plaintiff's decedent, William Sandlin, was staying as a guest in the hotel when he slipped and fell on a wet part of the floor outside of his hotel room shower and was injured. Plaintiff, William's wife, Mary Sandlin (both individually and as the representative of William's estate), brought suit against Harrah's, HBG, and two other parties who were involved in the construction project, alleging various theories of liability. Most or all of the defendants filed counterclaims against each other. One counterclaim was filed by Harrah's against HBG. In that counterclaim, which was later amended, Harrah's sought contractual contribution pursuant to section 5.1 of the parties' agreement (count I) and statutory contribution pursuant to the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (Contribution Act) (740 ILCS 100/2 (West 2012)) (count II).[4]

         ¶ 5 During the course of the trial-court proceedings, all of the defendants eventually settled with the plaintiff, good-faith findings were made as to each of the settlements, and plaintiff's complaint was dismissed with prejudice. All of the counterclaims were also dismissed with prejudice, except for one-Harrah's counterclaim against HBG for contractual contribution and for statutory contribution. Based upon the good-faith settlements of all of the parties, HBG moved for summary judgment on Harrah's counterclaim.

         ¶ 6 A hearing was held on the motion for summary judgment in August 2014. By the time of the hearing, the parties had fully briefed the matters before the trial court. After listening to the arguments of the attorneys, the trial court granted summary judgment for HBG on Harrah's counterclaim. Following the denial of its motion to reconsider, Harrah's appealed the grant of summary judgment but only as to count I (contractual contribution) of its counterclaim.

         ¶ 7 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 8 On appeal, Harrah's argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for HBG on Harrah's counterclaim for contractual contribution. Harrah's asserts that summary judgment should not have been granted for HBG because the defense-cost obligation contained in the indemnification clause of the parties' contract was valid and because Harrah's had a constitutional right to the enforcement of that obligation. Harrah's asserts further that the trial court's ruling to the contrary directly conflicts with Harrah's constitutional right to freedom of contract. According to Harrah's, if the Illinois legislature had intended to extinguish contract claims for defense-cost reimbursement with respect to settlements reached under the Contribution Act, the legislature would have specifically done so. Instead, Harrah's posits, the Contribution Act is silent on the matter and does not in any way restrict the right of parties to freely contract for the allocation of defense costs. For all of the reasons stated, Harrah's asks that we reverse the trial court's grant of summary judgment for HBG on Harrah's claim for contractual contribution and that we remand this case for further proceedings.

         ¶ 9 HBG argues that the trial court's grant of summary judgment was proper and should be upheld. HBG asserts that the grant of summary judgment in its favor was appropriate for two reasons: (1) because Harrah's made no effort to separate out those defense costs that it incurred as a result of its own conduct from those defense costs that it incurred as a result of HBG's conduct and (2) because section 5.1 of the parties' contract required contribution, not indemnification, regardless of the label placed upon that provision, and the right to contribution was extinguished, pursuant to the Contribution Act, based upon both HBG's and Harrah's good-faith settlements with the plaintiff. HBG asserts further that the trial court's ruling in this case was consistent with the case law in this area and did not abridge Harrah's right to freedom of contract. In addition, as to Harrah's assertion regarding statutory interpretation, HBG contends that it is actually Harrah's assertion, and not HBG's, that is contrary to the plain language of the Contribution Act. For all of the reasons set forth, HBG asks that we affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment in its favor on Harrah's counterclaim for contractual contribution.

         ¶ 10 The purpose of summary judgment is not to try a question of fact but to determine if one exists. Adams v. Northern Illinois Gas Co., 211 Ill.2d 32, 42-43 (2004). Summary judgment should be granted only where the pleadings and supporting documents, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is clearly entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2014); Adams, 211 Ill.2d at 43. Summary judgment should not be granted if the material facts are in dispute or if the material facts are not in dispute but reasonable persons might draw different inferences from the undisputed facts. Adams, 211 Ill.2d at 43. Although summary judgment is to be encouraged as an expeditious manner of disposing of a lawsuit, it is a drastic measure and should be allowed only where the right of the moving party is clear and free from doubt. Id. In appeals from summary judgment rulings, the standard of review is de novo. Id. In addition, matters of statutory construction and contract interpretation, which are ...


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