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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Trujillo

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

June 28, 2018

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, as Subrogee of Joanna Potepa, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUAN TRUJILLO, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 16 M1 014547 The Honorable Deborah J. Gubin, Judge Presiding.

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

          OPINION

          GORDON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The instant appeal arises from a lawsuit filed by plaintiff, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, as subrogee of Joanna Potepa, against defendant, Juan Trujillo, for damages resulting from an automobile collision. The matter was submitted for mandatory arbitration, and while defendant was represented by counsel at the arbitration, defendant himself was not present during the arbitration. The arbitrators entered an award in favor of plaintiff, and defendant rejected the award. Plaintiff filed a motion to bar defendant from rejecting the award as a sanction for his absence from the arbitration, which was granted. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court denied. Defendant now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in granting plaintiff's motion and in denying his motion to reconsider. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On October 4, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, alleging negligence with respect to an automobile collision that occurred on June 29, 2015, and seeking $12, 365.74 in damages. On November 7, 2016, defendant, through counsel, filed an appearance and answer.

         ¶ 4 On November 28, 2016, plaintiff filed a "Notice to Produce at Trial and Arbitration" pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213(e) (eff. Jan. 1, 2007), Rule 237 (eff. July 1, 2005), and Rule 90(f), (g) (eff. July 1, 2008), in which plaintiff requested, inter alia, that defendant produce himself "at the commencement of the case in chief of Plaintiff at the arbitration and trial of this matter."

         ¶ 5 On December 5, 2016, the trial court assigned the case to mandatory arbitration. On March 1, 2017, the case was set for an arbitration hearing on May 15, 2017. The notice setting the case for arbitration noted that "failure to appear shall constitute a waiver of the right to reject the award pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 91." Defendant never notified the trial court or counsel concerning defendant's unavailability to appear at the arbitration hearing.

         ¶ 6 The arbitration occurred on May 15, 2017, and the arbitration panel found in favor of plaintiff and against defendant in the amount of $8656.02. The arbitration award noted that "[a]ll parties participated in good faith," but also included a finding that "a 237 was filed as [to] [defendant], who was only represented by [his] attorney." On June 13, 2017, defendant filed a notice of rejection of the arbitration award and requested a trial.

         ¶ 7 On June 21, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion to bar defendant from rejecting the arbitration award, claiming that defendant did not appear at the arbitration after having been called as a witness by plaintiff and having been served a notice to produce himself at the arbitration. Plaintiff argued that barring the rejection of the award was an appropriate sanction for defendant's failure to appear.

         ¶ 8 On July 27, 2017, defendant filed a response to the motion to bar rejection of the award, in which he argued that the court had discretion over whether to debar a party from rejecting the award and may instead order another arbitration or set a trial date. Defendant argued that plaintiff's motion made no reference to prejudice suffered and that, in fact, plaintiff had not suffered any prejudice given that an arbitration award was entered in its favor. Defendant further argued that all parties involved were represented by an attorney and actively participated "as evidenced by the arbitration award in favor of Plaintiff." Defendant also claimed that "[p]laintiff has presented no evidence of any willful violation or showing of a deliberate disregard for the arbitration process[;] in fact, Defendants' [sic] counsel appeared and fully participated in the hearing of May 15, 2017." (Emphases in original.) Accordingly, defendant requested that plaintiff's motion be denied and that defendant be permitted to reject the arbitration award. We note that defendant did not provide the reason for his absence in his response.

         ¶ 9 On August 14, 2017, the trial court entered an order granting plaintiff's motion to bar. On the same day, the trial court entered judgment on the arbitration award.

         ¶ 10 On September 13, 2017, defendant filed a motion to reconsider. In support of his motion, ...


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