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Tielke v. Auto Owners Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

August 16, 2019

JOANNA TIELKE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
AUTO OWNERS INSURANCE CO., LEAHY EISENBERG & FRAENKEL LTD., MANOR BOWLING AND BILLIARD, INC., KEVIN KILLERMAN, 3124 NORTH CENTRAL, LLC and TARA RYNIEC-STANEK, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17 L 10764. Honorable Patrick J. Sherlock, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE ROCHFORD delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hoffman and Hall concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          ROCHFORD PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Joanna Tielke, appeals the circuit court's order dismissing her breach of contract action against Auto Owners Insurance Company ("Auto Owners"), Leahy Eisenberg & Fraenkel Ltd. ("LEF"), Manor Bowling and Billiard, Inc. ("Manor Bowling"), Kevin Killerman, 3124 North Central, LLC ("North Central") and Tara Ryniec-Stanek, because it constituted an improper collateral attack on a judgment order in another case. We affirm[1].

         ¶ 2 The two cases involved here are: (1) a personal injury action filed by plaintiff against defendants North Central, Mr. Killerman, and Manor Bowling in case no. 2013 L 011557; and (2) a subsequent breach of contract action filed by plaintiff against defendants North Central, Mr. Killerman, Manor Bowling, Ms. Ryniec-Stanek, LEF, and Auto Owners in case no. 17 L 10764 and assigned to Judge Patrick J. Sherlock.

         ¶ 3 I. THE PERSONAL INJURY ACTION (CASE NO. 2013 L 011557)

         ¶ 4 On September 18, 2017, plaintiff filed a fifth amended complaint (hereinafter "personal injury action") against defendants North Central, Kevin Killerman, and Manor Bowling alleging that their negligence caused her to slip, fall, and injure herself on February 16, 2013, at a bowling alley under defendants' control. In the personal injury action, defendants were represented by Tara Ryniec-Stanek and her law firm, LEF. Auto Owners was the liability insurer for defendants.

         ¶ 5 On September 26, 2017, Ms. Ryniec-Stanek, on behalf of all defendants, and in open court, engaged in settlement negotiations with plaintiff and made a settlement offer of $700, 000, with the proceeds to be hand-delivered by Friday, September 29, 2017. No settlement was reached on September 26, 2017, but that night Ms. Ryniec-Stanek sent a text to plaintiff confirming that she had spoken with Auto Owners and that the $700, 000 settlement offer was still open and available. Ms. Ryniec-Stanek stated that if plaintiff accepted the settlement offer, the check would be delivered on Friday.

         ¶ 6 The next day, September 27, 2017, at the break in the testimony of Mr. Killerman, plaintiff spoke with Ms. Ryniec-Stanek and orally accepted the settlement offer. Plaintiff further confirmed the acceptance via a text message sent to Ms. Ryniec-Stanek and asked that the check be delivered on Friday, September 29. About 15 minutes later, right before the reconvening of court, Ms. Ryniec-Stanek returned a text stating, "Sorry offer was withdrawn. We will proceed." Plaintiff demanded that the settlement agreement be honored, but Ms. Ryniec-Stanek refused.

         ¶ 7 Plaintiff brought the matter before the trial court, who stated:

"So the defense is giving you two bites at the apple. So I can't do anything here. The method for you to do this, after trial, if you get a verdict less than the accepted offer, you file a breach of contract lawsuit."

         ¶ 8 The trial court further stated: "So I encourage you to do what you need to do to protect your rights. The only thing for me to do is to proceed with trial. *** I'm denying [plaintiff] any relief."

         ¶ 9 The trial proceeded, and on October 2, 2017, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and against defendant Manor Bowling in the amount of $332, 425. The jury found that defendants Kevin Killerman and North Central were not liable. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict and later awarded plaintiff certain costs that she was entitled to recover as the prevailing party at trial.

         ¶ 10 Two days later, on October 4, 2017, plaintiff made a written demand that Auto Owners tender the full amount of the $700, 000 settlement agreement. In response, Ms. Ryniec-Stanek wrote a letter to plaintiff on October 6, 2017, denying that a settlement had been reached before the offer was withdrawn. Ms. Ryniec-Stanek stated:

"We disagree with your representations and no settlement was effectuated. Our settlement offer was withdrawn, and your actions, including continuing to prosecute your case and presenting new demands, confirm this."

         ¶ 11 Ms. Ryniec-Stanek further stated that Auto Owners had prepared a check for $332, 425 in satisfaction of the judgment on the verdict.

         ¶ 12 On October 16, 2017, the defendants in the personal injury action filed a motion to "enforce full satisfaction of [the] verdict and judgment." Defendants alleged that "[t]o date, plaintiffs counsel has refused to accept the tender of the verdict check and post-judgment interest in full satisfaction of the jury's verdict and judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff, Joanna Tielke, and against the defendant, [Manor Bowling]."

         ¶ 13 On October 27, 2017, plaintiff accepted the check. In correspondence with defendants, plaintiff indicated that she was accepting the check as payment of the jury verdict only, and not as full payment of the amount owed to her under the settlement agreement. Plaintiff stated that she was still owed the difference between the ...


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