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Mehalko v. Doe

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

July 10, 2018

KATHY MEHALKO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
JANE DOE, KATHY MILLER WHITNEY, a/k/a Opposing Voices of Kathy Mehalko Puppymill Agenda, and MATTHEW CALEB WILLIAMS, a/k/a Caleb Matthew Williams, a/k/a Caleb-Matthew Williams, a/k/a Pet Owners Beware, Defendants Jane Doe, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 16-L-214 Honorable Eugene G. Doherty, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SPENCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hudson and Justice Schostok concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Kathy Mehalko, appeals from the trial court's order imposing postjudgment sanctions on her under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 219 (eff. July 1, 2002). Mehalko argues that Rule 219 sanctions were improper because (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to impose such sanctions as the case was already closed, (2) the sanctions' purpose was not to further discovery as required by the rule, and (3) no "abuse of discovery procedures" occurred. She further argues that the hearings did not include the procedural safeguards necessary for contempt proceedings.

         ¶ 2 We conclude that the trial court had jurisdiction to sanction Mehalko under both Rule 219 and its inherent authority to enforce its orders through contempt proceedings. However, although the trial court found Mehalko in indirect civil contempt, it failed to specify what Mehalko must do to purge herself of the contempt. We therefore remand the cause.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Mehalko is an animal rights activist. On July 29, 2016, she filed a three-count complaint against various defendants alleging defamation, violation of the Right of Publicity Act (765 ILCS 1075/1 et seq. (West 2016)), and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The claims arose from photographs and comments about her that were posted on the Facebook pages "Opposing Voices of Kathy Mehalko Puppymill Agenda" (Opposing Voices) and "Pet Owners Beware." Mehalko did not know who was responsible for creating the Facebook pages or posting the comments, so she nominally filed the case against various Jane and John Does.

         ¶ 5 In a related action, Mehalko obtained an order requiring Facebook to disclose to Mehalko's attorney the individual(s) behind Opposing Voices. Jane Doe was named to counsel and then served in the instant case.

         ¶ 6 Mehalko was granted leave to file an amended complaint on September 1, 2016. On September 21, 2016, Doe filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.

         ¶ 7 Mehalko thereafter sought to depose Doe. On November 8, 2016, the trial court granted Mehalko leave to conduct a limited deposition of Doe. Its order stated that Mehalko's attorney could reveal Doe's identity to Mehalko, who could attend the deposition. It further stated that Mehalko was "ordered not to disclose Doe's identity to anyone and may be subject to contempt of court if she [did]." (Emphasis in original.)

         ¶ 8 On January 19, 2017, the trial court allowed Mehalko leave to file a second amended complaint.

         ¶ 9 On February 22, 2017, the trial court granted Doe's motion to dismiss, and it dismissed all claims as to all parties with prejudice under section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2016)). Shortly afterward, on March 2, 2017, Mehalko filed a motion to lift the November 8, 2016, protective order prohibiting her from disclosing Doe's identity. The trial court denied Mehalko's motion on March 23, 2017.

         ¶ 10 More than 30 days later, on May 4, 2017, Doe filed a petition for a rule to show cause and for reconsideration. She alleged that she had proceeded under a pseudonym in the case because Mehalko's Internet followers, who did not know Doe's identity, had made veiled threats against her. Doe alleged that Mehalko had violated the protective order by revealing Doe's identity to them, resulting in escalating "online taunts and menacing behavior." Doe alleged that Mehalko's conduct constituted contempt of court. Doe asked the court to order Mehalko to remove all Facebook posts referring to her and pay her attorney fees.

         ¶ 11 On June 20, 2017, the trial court granted Doe's petition for a rule to show cause. An evidentiary hearing took place on August 10, 2017. On August 14, 2017, Doe amended her petition "[p]ursuant to the direction of the" trial court to state that it was brought ...

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