By Robert G. Black
Law Offices of Robert G. Black, P.C.
The case of Pedigo v. Youngblood, 2015 IL App (4th) 140222, makes clear that a contempt finding must be accompanied by a set, actual monetary sanction to be subject to direct appeal under Supreme Court Rule 304(b)(5).
In this matter, on March 4, 2014, the trial court orally pronounced defendant, Sean Youngblood, in contempt for failure to comply with discovery and ordered reasonable attorney fees as a sanction. On March 10, 2014, Youngblood filed a notice of appeal. On March 13, 2014, the trial court entered its written contempt order, stating in part that as a sanction for indirect civil contempt, “Youngblood shall pay reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the plaintiffs as a result of his failure to answer plaintiffs’ first requests to produce.” Pedigo, 2015 IL App (4th) 140222, ¶ 14. The order further directed plaintiffs to file a fee petition for a determination of reasonable attorney fees. Id.
On appeal, the appellate court first dealt with the timing of Youngblood’s March 10, 2014, notice of appeal. The court noted Rule 303 provides that a notice of appeal filed after the trial court announces its decision, but before entry of the judgment or order, is treated as filed on the date of, and after entry of, the order. Id. ¶ 15. Accordingly, the appellate court treated the notice of appeal filed on March 10, 2014, as filed on the date of, and after entry of, the trial court's written order of March 13, 2014. The appellate court further treated the notice of appeal as referring to the written order. Id.
More problematic – and the real issue of the appeal – was whether a contempt order granting reasonable attorney fees in an amount later to be determined is directly appealable under Supreme Court Rule 304(b)(5). That Rule permits direct appeal from an order “finding a person or entity in contempt of court which imposes a monetary or other penalty.” Ill. S. Ct. R. 304(b)(5) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). The key part of the Rule is the imposition of the monetary penalty, as a contempt order which does not impose sanctions is not final and therefore not reviewable. Id. ¶ 17 (citing In re Estate of Hayden, 361 Ill. App. 3d 1021, 1026 (2005)).
In this matter, the amount of “reasonable attorney’s fees” remained pending and unresolved even by the time the record on appeal was prepared and certified. Id. ¶ 7. The Fourth District noted that because the trial court, in its March 13, 2014 written order, did not impose a “specific monetary sanction, we cannot review the appropriateness of the sanction.” Id. ¶ 17. Accordingly, because Youngblood appealed the contempt order prior to the trial court imposing a monetary sanction, the Fourth District ruled it “lack[ed] jurisdiction under Rule 304(b)(5) to entertain the merits of [this] appeal” (id. ¶ 18), and it dismissed Youngblood’s appeal. Id. ¶ 24.
As a postscript, the appellate court also considered plaintiffs’ request for sanctions pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 375. While Youngblood claimed he filed the appeal in a good-faith effort to address the underlying discovery issue, the appellate court determined the record “belies that assertion” since first, he originally withdrew his motion to vacate the order compelling discovery. Id. ¶ 21. Second, the appellate court noted this was, in fact, the third occasion that Youngblood pursued an appeal prematurely. Id. Accordingly, the appellate court granted plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions, stating the exact amount would be determined after plaintiffs’ submitted a statement of reasonable expenses and attorney fees in connection with the appeal, and after Youngblood had an opportunity to respond. Id. ¶ 22.
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