from Circuit Court of McLean County Nos. 11L224 11CH451.
Honorable Charles M. Feeney III, Judge Presiding.
JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Harris and Appleton concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 Roland J. Thoma and Eric Hjerpe were the principal members
of Thoma & Hjerpe, Certified Public Accountants
(T&H), an accounting firm located in Bloomington,
Illinois. In January 2010, Thoma and Hjerpe signed a
document, entitled "Integrated Business Acquisition and
Employment Agreement" (Agreement) that governed their
business relationship. In December 2011, the parties filed
lawsuits against each other, and the trial court determined
the Agreement required the parties to pursue their claims
through binding arbitration. In June 2016, the arbitrators
issued their decision and an offset award in favor of Hjerpe
for $271, 194.42. Thoma filed a motion in the trial court to
modify, correct, or vacate the arbitrators' decision. The
court denied the motion and awarded Hjerpe $12, 335.75 in
attorney fees for the trial court litigation of Thoma's
2 On appeal, Thoma argues that the arbitration award should
be vacated and that the trial court's award of attorney
fees was improper. For the reasons that follow, we disagree
3 I. BACKGROUND
4 In December 2011, Hjerpe filed a complaint against Thoma,
alleging breach of contract and tortious interference with a
business relationship (McLean County case No. 11-L-224).
Hjerpe alleged Thoma joined a competitor and, using false
statements, attempted to lure T&H customers to
Thoma's new employer. Based on these allegations, Hjerpe
filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and
5 Later in December 2011, Thoma filed a complaint against
Hjerpe, alleging tortious interference with a business
relationship, defamation, replevin, and rescission of
contract (McLean County case No. 11-CH-451).
6 Later that month, the trial court consolidated case Nos.
11-L-224 and 11-CH-451. The court found section 10.11 of the
Agreement governed the parties' claims and required them
to participate in mediation, followed by binding arbitration.
7 Two additional complaints followed. In January 2012, Thoma
filed a verified countercomplaint in case No. 11-L-224, in
which he sought payments owed under the Agreement. In March
2012, Thoma and his wife, Donna Thoma, filed a complaint
against Hjerpe and T&H alleging unpaid wages, common-law
retaliatory discharge, and false light invasion of privacy
(McLean County case No. 12-L-43).
8 Over the next several years, the parties engaged in
discovery and made numerous filings. Thoma filed an
interlocutory appeal with this court, challenging the trial
court's order granting sanctions for a discovery
violation in case Nos. 11-CH-224 and 12-L-43. This court
affirmed. See Hjerpe v. Thoma, 2014 IL App (4th)
9 In October 2015, a five-day evidentiary hearing commenced
before the three arbitrators whom the parties selected.
10 In March 2016, the arbitrators issued a 29-page interim
award, detailing their findings. The arbitrators awarded
damages to both parties and, after offsetting the award,
found in favor of Hjerpe for $271, 194.42. The arbitrators
noted a fee-shifting provision in the Agreement allowed the
successful party to receive attorney fees for the cost of the
action. The arbitrators reserved the issue of attorney fees
and requested the parties to respond in writing as to which
party, if any, was entitled to attorney fees for the
arbitration proceedings. The fee-shifting provision in the
Agreement provided, as follows:
"In the event that any action is filed in relation to
this agreement, the unsuccessful party in the action shall
pay to the successful party, in addition to all the sums that
either party may be called on to pay, a reasonable sum ...