Articles Posted in Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court has handed down a decision that affirmed a December 2015 ruling by Cook County Associate Judge William E. Gomolinski. The original lawsuit was a medical-malpractice case filed no more than a month after the law, which permitted a unilateral decision by a party to empanel 6-person juries.

The law was approved in the days just after Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner defeated Democratic Gov. Patrick J. Quinn in 2014 and was seen by many as a gift from Democrats to their allies in the plaintiffs’ bar. The argument for the law was that jurors were not paid appropriately for missing work or taking time away from family and school. The law also had increased the rate the jurors were paid across the state from a high of $17.20 per day in Cook County to $25 on the first day of service and $50 each day thereafter.

It was also argued that federal courts and other states use 6-member juries without issue. But Section 1, Article 13 of the State Constitution says, “[T]he right to trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate.”

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In 2006, Kipling Development Corp. was building a home in Will County, Ill. Kipling was the general contractor on the job.  The firm hired subcontractors to handle specific pieces of the job, including Speed-Drywall and United Floor Covering.

A service technician, Brian Harwell, entered the worksite to replace a furnace filter, using the stairs leading to the first floor to the basement. In the process, the stairs collapsed beneath Harwell, sending him falling into the basement. He sustained serious injuries and filed a lawsuit against Kipling as the general contractor of the building site.

In the lawsuit, it was alleged that Kipling was negligent in choosing not to properly supervise and direct construction and failing to furnish Harwell with a safe workplace and a safe stairway. In addition, Harwell also sued Speed-Drywall and United Floor Covering, claiming that they had modified or failed to secure the stairwell.

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In a divided opinion, Illinois law on negligence still requires proof of physical impact in “direct victim” emotional distress cases. There was a strong dissent written by Justice Sheldon A. Harris.

In this case, Melinda Schweihs lost her mortgage foreclosure case and was packing to move out of her Northbrook home when two subcontractors of Safeguard Properties Inc. mistakenly concluded that the property had been abandoned. Her car was parked in the driveway. The men broke into the house to implement an “initial secure order.”

The unexpected confrontation with the intruders supposedly scared Schweihs. She brought a lawsuit against Chase Home Finance, Safeguard and the subcontractors, alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress.

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Under the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, a minor who is under 13 at the time of the commission of a serious crime must be represented by counsel during the entire custodial interrogation. 705 ILCS 405/5-170(a). When the minor under 13 is in custody, Miranda warnings are not necessary. The law requires that the police provide the juvenile with a lawyer.

A juvenile who is one day shy of 13 gets an automatic lawyer, yet a juvenile who is just one day older must navigate the Miranda warnings in the same way as a sophisticated adult would be required to do.

Surprisingly, statistics show that 80% of suspects waive their Miranda rights. That would apply to the juveniles 13 and over. In one recent Illinois Supreme Court case, a police officer questioned a suspect in his home concerning a possible murder. The police officer who did the interrogation was not in uniform. He did have a revolver in plain sight.

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Cook County Judge William Gomolinski ruled that the language in the Illinois Constitution, Section 1, Article 13, “The right to trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate,” prevails and thus the law adopted for 6-person juries is unconstitutional. What the judge wrote in his opinion was that the right to a jury as it existed in 1970, with 12 jurors, cannot be changed without a constitutional amendment. That does not mean that the parties, should they agree, could not limit the jury size to a smaller number. However, litigants — according to Judge Gomolinski’s opinion — have a constitutional right to demand a 12-person jury in their cases.

The change to the Illinois jury system was proposed and passed during the last days of former Gov. Patrick J. Quinn’s second term in office. The law went into effect June 1, 2015.

In this particular case, a medical-malpractice case filed in Cook County on June 30, 2015, the defense counsel filed an appearance on behalf of his defendant clients, a doctor and a neurosurgery professional corporation, and requested a 12-person jury. A motion was filed for leave to file a 12-person jury demand with the court. The motion was assigned by the presiding judge in the law division to Judge Gomolinski. The opinion of Judge Gomolinski referred to the 1870 Illinois constitutional convention when a 12-person jury was a given right although the parties as now could waive their rights to a 12-person jury if they agreed on a smaller jury size.

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The Illinois Supreme Court has overturned the Illinois Appellate Court decision regarding the cap on self-insured rental car companies. The Supreme Court reversed a $600,000 judgment against Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s Chicago area’s subsidiary.

The Supreme Court ruled that self-insured rental car companies are liable for a maximum of $100,000 toward all injured parties in a rental car crash.

The decision of the Supreme Court was unanimous. In 2007, a crash in which an Enterprise vehicle was involved, injured at least two individuals. Enterprise paid $75,000 to two of the people involved in the crash. Enterprise argued that it had responsibility  to pay only an additional $25,000 allowed under the cap to the plaintiff.

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The plaintiff Shrempf, Kelly, Napp & Darr, Ltd. was granted summary judgment by the Circuit Court of Madison County for attorney fees and costs they claimed were due pursuant to the Illinois Common Fund Doctrine. The defendants, the Carpenters’ Health and Welfare Trust Fund and the trustees of the Carpenters’ Health and Welfare Trust Fund of St. Louis, appealed.

On May 4, 2006, James Corey Miller was injured when he fell from a ladder. Miller was a participant in the defendants’ Plan. The Plan is a self-funded, multi-employer, Employee Welfare Benefit Plan subject to the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §1001, et seq. (ERISA).

The defendants became aware that Miller’s injuries were “sustained due to the act or omission of a third-party when Miller applied for disability benefits because he was no longer able to work.” As part of Miller’s benefit coverage, the Plan was “not obligated to pay any benefits” for an injury or sickness where “a third-party [was] legally liable to make payment or does make payment.”

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The beneficiaries of the Barbara B. Kaull Trust included the biological children of Mark James Kaull’s father, Mark Kaull, who died in 2010. Mary Kaull, acting as trustee of the Barbara B. Kaull Trust, petitioned the court for a ruling on whether Mark, the elder, was also the father of Ryan Donald Schrader. Mark James Kaull might be the brother of Ryan Donald Schrader. To determine whether they were in fact brothers, Mary Kaull asked the court for an order compelling Mark James Kaull to submit to a DNA test. Mark James Kaull refused and was held in contempt of court. Mark James Kaull argued that the Illinois Supreme Court Rule 215 as revised and amended in 1996 is unconstitutional under the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions.

Mark James claimed that the revised Rule 215 violated the prohibition on reasonable searches and seizures under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, plus his right under Article 1, Section 6 of the Illinois Constitution to be free from unreasonable searches, seizures and invasions of privacy.

This case, which was set in Winnebago County, Ill., granted Mary’s request for the DNA testing. Mark appealed from that order which fined him $100 and a dollar a day for declining to obey.

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Cook County has the largest single unified court system in the United States. For the first time, on Jan. 5, 2015, the Circuit Court of Cook County began allowing media cameras in courtrooms. The pilot program has limited to the Leighton Criminal Court building at 26th and California streets in Chicago.

In order to take photographs or film in a Cook County courtroom, the media would have to request authority in advance. The privilege to photograph or videotape court proceedings was initiated by the Illinois Supreme Court’s Extended Media Coverage (EMC) policy and the court’s authorization, which extended media coverage in Illinois courts; it is referred to as M.R 2634.

The pilot program is designed to allow for increased transparency in the Cook County court system.

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It is perhaps a custom that grew out of an era nearly 200 years ago that elected judges would be better suited to carry out the law and protect the integrity of the United States court systems. The reason many states adopted the laws that would allow the election of judges was because so long ago, perhaps in the 1820s, judges were appointed by those in power and influence and thus judges were likewise influenced by those who appointed them. It was thought that the election of judges by the area’s residents would place the best qualified judges on the bench and thus render fair and reasoned opinions absent the influence of the powerful.

A 2007 University of Chicago Law School study found that appointed judges write fewer opinions than elected judges. However, the written opinions by appointed judges tend to be of a higher quality. “A simple explanation for our results,” wrote Stephen Choi, J. Mitu Gulati and Eric Posner, “is that electoral judgeships attract and reward politically savvy people, while appointed judgeships attract more professionally able people.”

The election of judges occurs in 39 U.S. states, including Illinois. Simply put, judges can earn a spot on the bench by winning an election — often, one that is partisan. In fact in some states, the elected judges do not need to be lawyers. This is unheard of throughout most of the civilized world.

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