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Jones v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

May 31, 2018

TERRELL JONES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 16 L 716 Honorable John C. Griffin, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Burke and Justice Gordon concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          ELLIS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Generally, if a party to an action in the circuit court is sent to mandatory arbitration and does not prevail-or does not prevail to its satisfaction-that party may reject the award and demand a trial. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 93 (eff. Jan. 1, 1997) gives that party 30 days after the filing of the award to file a rejection. Since 2014, by local rule, the circuit court of Cook County has instituted a mandatory arbitration program (for certain commercial cases valued at $75, 000 or less) that allows a party only seven business days to reject the arbitration award and demand.

         ¶ 2 The threshold question here is whether that local rule, seemingly in conflict with an Illinois Supreme Court rule, is thus invalid. We hold that the rule is valid, because the Illinois Supreme Court authorized the Cook County mandatory arbitration program and thus approved any deviations between that program's rules and the supreme court's rules.

         ¶ 3 We further hold that plaintiff, who failed to object within seven day of the award's entry, is thus bound by that judgment and may not voluntarily dismiss his lawsuit to avoid that result.

         ¶ 4 We affirm the circuit court's judgment in all respects.

         ¶ 5 I

         ¶ 6 A

         ¶ 7 Plaintiff Terrell Jones obtained an automobile insurance policy in October 2014 from defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm). A few months later, plaintiff filed a claim, stating that his insured vehicle and personal property in the vehicle had been stolen. State Farm ultimately denied the claim, based on what it alleged to be intentional misrepresentations and concealments made by plaintiff concerning the claim.

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County, alleging breach of contract and bad-faith denial of insurance coverage. The case was assigned to a commercial calendar in the circuit court's law division. After the bad-faith count was dismissed, the case was referred to commercial calendar mandatory arbitration. On December 2, 2016, an award in favor of defendant was entered. Nineteen days later, on December 21, 2016, plaintiff filed his rejection of that award.

         ¶ 9 On December 30, 2016, plaintiff moved to voluntarily dismiss the complaint. The court concluded that plaintiff's rejection of the award was untimely, and he thus did not have a right either to proceed to trial or to voluntarily dismiss his case. The court entered judgment on the arbitration award. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 10 B

         ¶ 11 The mandatory arbitration system was first authorized by the General Assembly in 1986 (Pub. Act 84-844 (eff. Jan. 1, 1986) (adding Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, ¶ 2-1001A, now codified at 735 ILCS 5/2-1001A)) and implemented the following year by the Illinois Supreme Court via the adoption of Illinois Supreme Court Rules 86 through 95. See Stemple v. Pickerill, 377 Ill.App.3d 788, 790-91 (2007); Kolar v. Arlington Toyota, Inc., 286 Ill.App.3d 43, 45 (1996), aff'd sub nom., Cruz v. Northwestern Chrysler Plymouth Sales, Inc., 179 Ill.2d 271 (1997). See generally Ill. S.Ct. Rs. 86 to 95 (eff. June 1, 1987). Under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 86(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 1994), the supreme court may approve a judicial circuit's request to implement a mandatory arbitration program and, in fact, may direct judicial circuits to do so even if they do not so request.

         ¶ 12 The circuit court of Cook County first chose to implement a mandatory arbitration program in 1990, with the approval of the Illinois Supreme Court. See Cruz, 179 Ill.2d at 273. That program, governed by part 18 of the Circuit Court Rules of Cook County, is not at issue in this appeal. See generally Cook County Cir. Ct. Rs. 18.1 to 18.11.

         ¶ 13 In 2014, Cook County proposed a mandatory arbitration program for certain commercial cases. In an order dated September 25, 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court approved the request of the circuit court of Cook County to implement a two-year pilot program of mandatory arbitration for commercial cases assigned to the commercial calendar section of the law division, where the amount in controversy was $75, 000 or less. See Ill. S.Ct., M.R. 9166 (eff. Oct. 1, 2014).

         ¶ 14 Following the supreme court's approval, the local rules implementing this program were adopted by a majority of the judges of the circuit court of Cook County on November 26, 2014, and made effective December 1, 2014. See Cook County Cir. Ct. R. 25.17 (Dec. 1, 2014). The rules are found in part 25 of the Circuit Court Rules of Cook County, titled "Law Division Mandatory ...


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