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Hobbs v. Att

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

July 8, 2019

TAMIKA HOBBS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
RHODADE MOW ATT, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal 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 a.m. arbitration.

         ¶ 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 ...

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