United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.
remaining third-party claim in this case gallops towards
trial, the parties have filed briefs on a few matters. (Docs.
270, 272-73.) The gist is that third-party defendant Safety
International, LLC (“Safety”) thinks that the
defendants/third-party plaintiffs in this case- Alexandria
Transportation, Alexandre Solomakha, and Alex Express, LLC
(collectively, “Alex”)-grossly overpaid the
plaintiffs in their settlement. Since Alex is now seeking
contribution to that settlement from Safety as a joint
tortfeasor, Safety argues that Alex should have to prove to
the jury that the settlement amount was in good faith and/or
reasonable- otherwise, Safety believes that they could be on
the hook for more money than their pro rate share of
liability would entail. Safety also argues that all settling
parties-the plaintiffs, Alex, and third-party defendant
Edwards-Kamadulski, LLC (“Edwards”)-should be
listed on the jury verdict form so that the jury can
adequately apportion fault in this case amongst every party
involved in the common liability towards the plaintiffs'
Court extensively outlined the facts of this case in its
order denying summary judgment (See Doc 262.) In a
construction zone on I-70 westbound, Alex's freightliner
smashed into the plaintiffs' car, causing severe injury.
Allegedly, a traffic flagger at the site caused the accident
because he failed in his duties to direct and slow down
traffic. The plaintiffs-Thomas and Diane Roberts-sued Alex,
and Alex then brought third-party claims against a few
parties for contribution as joint tortfeasors pursuant to
Illinois's Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act, 740 ILCS
100/0.01 et seq. (Doc. 116.) These other tortfeasors
include (1) Edwards, the general contractor at the
construction zone; and (2) Safety, the company that Edwards
hired to preside over safety-related issues at the site.
years into this litigation, the plaintiffs settled with
Edwards for $50, 000. (See Doc. 189.) This released
Edwards from Alex's contribution claim. Alex objected to
the settlement, however, arguing that it was not in good
faith because the plaintiffs were seeking a total of $2
million in damages in this case-meaning Edwards's $50,
000 settlement amounted to less than 3% of the total demand.
(Doc. 195.) The Court overruled Alex's objection and
entered a good-faith finding of settlement. (Doc. 209.)
Safety never objected to the Edwards settlement.
2017, the plaintiffs settled with Alex for an undisclosed
amount. All remaining parties-the plaintiffs, Alex, and
Safety-signed a stipulated dismissal under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(a)(ii) to dispose of the
plaintiffs' claims, though Safety “denie[d] and
object[ed] to the allocation of damages as set forth in the
Release of All Claims” in the stipulation. (Doc. 260.)
Accordingly, the only claim left in this case is Alex's
third-party contribution claim against Safety.
eve of trial, the parties now seek clarification on a few
matters. First, Safety believes that Alex should have to
prove to the jury that their settlement amount with the
plaintiffs was in good faith. (Doc. 270.) Second, they argue
that all of the settling parties-Alex, Edwards, and the
plaintiffs-should also be listed on the jury verdict form so
that the jury can adequately apportion each party's pro
rata share of liability. (Id.)
this action is rooted in diversity jurisdiction, Illinois
tort law governs: a federal court sitting in diversity
jurisdiction must apply the substantive law of the state in
which it sits. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S.
64 (1938); Windy City Metal Fabricators & Supply,
Inc. v. CIT Tech. Fin. Servs., Inc., 536 F.3d 663, 670
(7th Cir. 2008). Procedural matters, however, are still
governed by federal law. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S.
460, 469-74, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965). When
evaluating whether a particular state law is procedural or
substantive, district courts take as their starting point the
“outcome-determinative” test of Guaranty
Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 109 (1945): whether
“the outcome of the litigation in the federal court
should be substantially the same, so far as legal rules
determine the outcome of a litigation, as it would be if
tried in a State court.”
The Verdict Form
Safety believes that all of the settling parties in this case
should be on the verdict form. This is an issue of substance,
not procedure: state law informs the content of jury
instructions, including the verdict form. Lasley v.
Moss, 500 F.3d 586, 589 (7th Cir. 2007). Accordingly,
the parties all agree that Illinois law applies here.
initial matter, it is clear that the settling
plaintiffs-Thomas and Diane Roberts- should not be on the
verdict form. This trial is about Alex's third-party
contribution claim against Safety-specifically, contribution
towards the settlement that Alex has already made with the
plaintiffs. That settlement already takes into account the
plaintiffs' contributory negligence and deducts that
proportion from the settlement amount, so Safety cannot
“double-dip” into the Roberts' contributory
negligence tub by re-installing them on the verdict form.
See Barnai v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2017 IL App
(1st) 171940, ¶ 14, 93 N.E.3d 534, 539; Ewanic v.
Pepper Const. Co., 305 Ill.App.3d 564, 569, 712 N.E.2d
852, 855 (1999). Conversely, however, Alex must be on the
verdict form even though they have already settled with the
plaintiffs: In a contribution action, the jury must be able
to apportion fault between the contribution plaintiff and any
contribution defendants. See Illinois Pattern
third issue is the difficult one: whether Edwards should be
on the verdict form. Like Safety, Edwards was a third-party
contribution defendant of Alex. But Edwards settled directly
with the plaintiffs, extinguishing Alex's contribution
claim against Edwards. Safety nevertheless believes that
Edwards should be on the verdict form so that the jury can