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Pickens v. Aahmes Temple #132, LLC

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

May 18, 2018

MICHELLE PICKENS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
AAHMES TEMPLE #132, LLC, Defendant-Appellant.

          Rule 23 Order Filed: May 10, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 15-L-301, Honorable Vincent J. Lopinot, Judge, presiding.

          Attorney for Appellant Dedra M. Moore, East St. Louis.

          Attorneys for Appellee Michelle M. Rich, Kristina D. Cooksey, Thomas C. Rich.

          OVERSTREET JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Welch and Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          Honorable David K. Overstreet, J. Justices.

         ¶ 1 The plaintiff, Michelle Pickens, filed a complaint against the defendant, Aahmes Temple #13, LLC, alleging that she suffered injuries due to the defendant's negligence when she slipped and fell at the defendant's facility. When the defendant failed to file an appearance or an answer, the circuit court entered a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the plaintiff $42, 837.63 in damages. Nine months later, the defendant filed a motion to quash service and set aside the default judgment, arguing that the default judgment was void because the plaintiff never served it with process. The circuit court denied the motion, and the defendant appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The defendant is an Illinois limited liability company that operates a nightclub facility in East St. Louis, Illinois, at which its members and guests socialize at various functions. On May 21, 2015, the plaintiff filed a one-count complaint against the defendant alleging that she sustained injuries at the defendant's facility because of the defendant's negligence when she slipped on a substance on the floor. At the time the plaintiff filed her lawsuit, the defendant's articles of organization filed with the Secretary of State designated its registered agent as an individual named "Jesse Gurley" and established the company's registered office at "104 Fletcher St., Collinsville, IL 62234" (registered office).

         ¶ 4 The plaintiff employed Kenneth Bouas of Bi-State Investigative Services, Inc., to serve the summons and complaint upon the defendant's registered agent. Unknown to the plaintiff, her attorney, and Bouas, however, the defendant's registered office was a home in which three individuals named "Jesse Gurley" had lived at various times: Jesse Gurley III, Jesse Gurley IV, and Jesse Gurley V. The defendant intended that its registered agent was to be Gurley IV, but the defendant's designation of its registered agent did not include a suffix to distinguish which of the Jesse Gurleys located at its registered office was its registered agent.

         ¶ 5 Gurley III is Gurley IV's father, had lived at the location of the defendant's registered office for over 30 years, and had no affiliation with the defendant. Gurley V is Gurley IV's son and also lived at the location of the defendant's registered office but had no association with the defendant. In addition, at the time the plaintiff filed her complaint, Gurley IV no longer resided or conducted any business on behalf of the defendant at the defendant's registered office.

         ¶ 6 On July 24, 2015, Bouas filed a "process service affidavit" in which he certified that, on June 8, 2015, he served the summons and complaint on a "Jesse Gurley" at the defendant's registered office. He identified the "Jesse Gurley" he served as being a black male approximately 65 years old. Bouas's affidavit included a line for identifying the name of the person to be served that stated, "Aahmes Temple #132, LLC a Corp. care of Jesse Gurley." The affidavit form provided check boxes for "service type" that included, among other options, a check box for "personal" service and a check box for "corporation" service. Bouas mistakenly checked the box next to "personal" as the service type he completed.

         ¶ 7 According to Bouas, when he served the summons and complaint, he knocked on the door of a residence that was located at the address of the defendant's registered office and a person answered the door. Bouas asked for "Jesse Gurley, " and the person answering the door said, "I'm Jesse Gurley." Bouas identified himself as a process sever and told the person answering the door that he had a summons from the St. Clair County court. He read the caption of the complaint and stated that the papers were for "registered agent, Jesse Gurley."

         ¶ 8 According to Bouas, the person who answered the door and identified himself as Jesse Gurley, accepted the service of the summons and complaint, and did not indicate that he was the incorrect person or that he did not understand what was presented to him. The person who accepted the service of process was Gurley III.

         ¶ 9 No one entered an appearance or answered the complaint on behalf of the defendant after Bouas served the summons on Gurley III. On September 1, 2015, the plaintiff sent a certified letter addressed to "Jesse Gurley" at the address of the defendant's registered office. The purpose of this letter was to advise the defendant, through its registered agent, that more than 30 days had elapsed since the service of the summons and complaint and that no one had entered an appearance or answered the complaint on behalf of the defendant. The letter included a file-stamped copy of the complaint and Bouas's affidavit of service of the complaint and summons. Gurley III received and signed for this letter on September 5, 2015. Again, no one took action on behalf of the defendant after Gurley III signed for this letter.

         ¶ 10 On December 14, 2015, the plaintiff filed a motion for a default judgment. The plaintiff also sent a copy of the motion and notice of hearing on the motion by certified mail to the defendant c/o "Jesse Gurley" at the registered office. The letter included another copy of the complaint as well as the plaintiff's medical bills that she intended to present as part of her proof of damages. The record indicates that the person who signed for this certified mail signed the receipt as "Jesse Gurley" with an illegible suffix that could be III or IV. According to Gurley IV, the signature is not his. In addition, he did not recognize the signature but believed that Gurley III signed for the letter but never gave it to him. Gurley III, however, stated that the signature was not his and denied signing for this letter.

         ¶ 11 On January 12, 2016, the plaintiff sent another certified letter to the defendant c/o "Jesse Gurley" at the registered office, again attempting to notify the defendant of the complaint and proof of service and that she would be seeking a default judgment on January 19, 2016. The letter included exhibits that the plaintiff stated she would present at the hearing. Gurley III signed for this letter on January 14, 2016. Again, no one appeared or answered the complaint on behalf of the defendant.

         ¶ 12 On January 19, 2016, the plaintiff appeared in court for a hearing on her motion for a default judgment. The defendant failed to appear. The circuit court entered an order granting the plaintiff's motion for a default judgment on the issue of liability. On January 27, 2016, the plaintiff attempted to send a copy of the default order to the defendant by certified mail addressed to the defendant c/o "Jesse Gurley" at the address of the defendant's registered office. The letter included notice that the plaintiff intended to appear in court on March 15, 2016, to establish her damages. Gurley IV's mother, Earline, who also lived at the address, signed for the certified letter on January 30, 2016. Again, no one appeared on behalf of the defendant.

         ¶ 13 On March 18, 2016, the defendant filed a statement with the Secretary of State to indicate a change of its registered agent. In this document, the defendant designated Suskin Lockett as its registered agent, rather than Jesse Gurley, and listed a new address for its registered office.

         ¶ 14 On March 23, 2016, the plaintiff sent a letter to the clerk of the circuit court with a proposed order concerning the default judgment and sent a copy of the letter and proposed order to the defendant c/o Jesse Gurley at the defendant's previous registered office (Gurley III's home). Earline signed for this letter. On April 1, 2016, the plaintiff appeared in court to prove her damages. The circuit court entered a default judgment against the defendant, awarding her $42, 837.63 in damages.

         ¶ 15 On July 25, 2016, the plaintiff filed a citation to discover assets. On September 27, 2016, Bouas attempted to serve the citation to discover assets on the defendant c/o "Jesse Gurley" at Gurley III's home. This time Earline spoke with Bouas and informed him that the Jesse Gurley he needed to speak to was Gurley IV who had moved to Shiloh, Illinois.

         ¶ 16 On October 1, 2016, Bouas served the citation to discover assets on Gurley IV at 2740 Lake Lauren Drive, Shiloh, Illinois. In his affidavit, Bouas attested that he served "Jesse Gurley, " a black male with an approximate age of 45. With respect to the type of service, Bouas checked the boxes for personal and corporation. Once served with these documents, Gurley IV gave the documents to a person who was affiliated with the defendant. The defendant then retained counsel and, on October 17, 2016, ...


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