Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17 M1 300264
Honorable John A. O'Meara Judge Presiding
JUSTICE GRIFFIN delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Mikva and Justice Walker concurred
in the judgment and opinion.
1 Plaintiff Tamika Hobbs failed to appear for a mandatory
arbitration hearing despite being served with notice that she
was required to appear. Based on her absence from the
arbitration hearing, the trial court held that plaintiff was
barred from rejecting the arbitration award that was rendered
in her absence. She appeals, and we reverse and remand the
case for further proceedings.
2 I. BACKGROUND
3 The facts are straightforward and are not disputed. This is
a personal injury case that plaintiff Tamika Hobbs filed
against defendant Rhodade Mowatt stemming from a motor
vehicle accident between the parties. The matter was subject
to nonbinding mandatory arbitration. Plaintiff, a resident of
Metter, Georgia, had to travel to Chicago for the
arbitration. She opted to drive. The arbitration was
scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on March 21, 2018.
4 At approximately 8:00 a.m. on the day the arbitration
hearing was set to take place, plaintiff called her attorney
and explained that her travels had been delayed because she
got stuck in a snowstorm in Kentucky. She thus advised the
attorney that she would be late for the arbitration. Her
attorneys immediately drafted an emergency motion for an
extension and spindled it for the earliest time they could
present it to the circuit court, 9:00 a.m. that day. One
attorney went to the circuit court to present the emergency
motion at 9:00 a.m. and another attorney went to the 8:30
5 At the arbitration hearing, plaintiff's attorney told
the arbitration panel about plaintiff's delayed travel,
but went on to participate in the arbitration on her behalf,
making arguments and questioning defendant. The arbitration
hearing proceeded without incident in plaintiff's absence
and concluded with the arbitration panel finding in favor of
defendant. The panel explained that it did not find bad faith
on plaintiff's part due to her absence because she
appeared through counsel and had made an attempt to appear,
but was delayed due to inclement weather.
6 At the same time the arbitration hearing was proceeding,
another of plaintiff's attorneys presented her emergency
motion for an extension in the circuit court. The emergency
motion was denied because, by the time it was presented at
9:00 a.m., the arbitration proceedings had already begun.
Plaintiff arrived in Chicago at 11:30 a.m., but had missed
all of the relevant proceedings.
7 Thereafter, plaintiff timely filed a rejection of the
arbitration award. In response, defendant filed a motion to
debar plaintiff from rejecting the arbitration award on the
basis of her failure to appear at the arbitration hearing as
required by the Illinois Supreme Court Rules. Plaintiff
submitted an affidavit in response to defendant's motion
averring that the factual matters set forth above were true.
Defendant does not dispute the veracity of any of the factual
matters asserted. The trial court found that plaintiff was
not entitled to reject the arbitration award and was bound by
it. She appeals that ruling.
8 II. ANALYSIS
9 Illinois Supreme Court Rule 237 provides that a party can
be required to appear at a legal proceeding by serving the
party with proper notice indicating that the person is
required to appear. Ill. S.Ct. R. 237(b) (eff. July 1, 2005)
(West 2018). Illinois Supreme Court Rule 90(g) expressly
makes such a notice applicable to an arbitration hearing.
Ill. S.Ct. R. 90(g) (eff. July 1, 2017) (West 2018). If a
party fails to comply with a notice to appear at an
arbitration hearing, the court may sanction the party for
that noncompliance. Id. The court's imposition
of a sanction for failing to appear at an arbitration hearing
will not be disturbed unless the court abuses its discretion.
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v.
Trujillo, 2018 IL App (1st) 172927, ¶ 21.
10 Among the potential sanctions that the court may impose
for a party's failure to comply with a notice to appear
at an arbitration hearing is an order debarring the offending
party from rejecting the arbitration award. Ill. S.Ct. R.
90(g) (eff. July 1, 2017) (West 2018); see also Ill. S.Ct. R.
91 (eff. June 1, 1993) (West 2018). It is within a trial
court's authority to sanction a party who abuses the
arbitration process by failing to appear by debarring that
party from rejecting an arbitration award. State Farm
Ins. Co. v. Kazakova, 299 Ill.App.3d 1028, 1034 (1998).
11 Where a party does not appear, the attendance of counsel
at an arbitration hearing preserves the right to reject an
arbitration award. Bachmann v. Kent, 293 Ill.App.3d
1078, 1081-82 (1997). However, the attendance of counsel by
itself does not preclude the trial court from entering an
order debarring a party from rejecting the award as a
sanction. Id. at 1082. Instead, "[i]n reviewing
the imposition of the sanction of debarment, courts have
considered the circumstances of the case and the purpose of
the supreme court rules on the arbitration ...