Posted on September 5, 2018

What Are Sanctions In A Chicago, Illinois Divorce?

A sanction is “[a] penalty or coercive measure that results from failure to comply with a law, rule or order.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)

In layman’s terms in Chicago, this is a penalty for knowingly violating a court rule, doing something improper, making a false statement, etc.

In Illinois, the Illinois Supreme Court Rules have two different sections that discuss sanctions, namely Rule 137 and Rule 219.

Rule 137

Rule 137(a) has a signature requirement. This requires that “every pleading, motion and other document of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in his individual name, whose address shall be stated. A party who is not represented by an attorney shall sign his pleading, motion, or other document and state his address…”

The purpose or reason for signing the motion by the litigant or attorney is because “the signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading, motion or other document; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.” What this means is that it is that the person who signed the document knows what they signed and are attesting that it is accurate and well grounded in fact. It is not being signed / filed just to delay or otherwise harass another party.

The rule further goes on to state that “if a pleading, motion, or other document is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, may impose upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, motion or other document, including a reasonable attorney fee.”

This means that the party engaging in such action will often times be ordered to pay the other person’s attorney’s fees, costs for filing, or other expense upon filing of a motion by that other party.

“The purpose of Rule 137 is to prevent abuse of the judicial process by penalizing claimants who bring vexatious and harassing actions based upon unsupported allegations of fact or law.” Williams Montgomery & John Ltd. v. Broaddus, 91 N.E.3d 915, 925 (Ill. App. Ct. 2017)

“[T]he rule is designed to prohibit the abuse of the judicial process by claimants who make vexatious and harassing claims based upon unsupported allegations of fact or law. However, the rule is not intended to penalize litigants and their attorneys merely because they were zealous, yet unsuccessful.” Peterson v. Randhava, 313 Ill. App. 3d 1, 7 (Ill. App. Ct. 2000) (citations ommitted)

Rule 219

Rule 219 is very similar to Rule 137 sanctions but has the specific purpose of a party’s refusal to comply with rules or an order relating to discovery or pre-trial conferences.

Sanctions are used to “combat abuses of the discovery process and maintain the integrity of the court system.” Locasto v. City of Chicago,. 2014 IL App (1st) 113576, ¶ 27

If one party propounds discovery pursuant to the Supreme Court Rules, then the other party has an obligation to answer it. If this other party refuses to answer, or does not answer for any other reason, and “if the court finds that the refusal or failure was without substantial justification, the court shall require the offending party or deponent, or the party whose attorney advised the conduct complained of, or either of them, to pay to the aggrieved party the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order, including reasonable attorney’s fees. If the motion is denied and the court finds that the motion was made without substantial justification, the court shall require the moving party to pay to the refusing party the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred in opposing the motion, including reasonable attorney’s fees.”

Additionally, Rule 219(c) provides that “if a party, or any person at the instance of or in collusion with a party, unreasonably fails to comply with any provision of part E of article II of the rules of this court (Discovery, Requests for Admission, and Pretrial Procedure) or fails to comply with any order entered under these rules, the court, on motion, may enter, in addition to remedies elsewhere specifically provided, such orders as are just, including, among others, the following:
(i) That further proceedings be stayed until the order or rule is complied with;
(ii) That the offending party be debarred from filing any other pleading relating to any issue to which the refusal or failure relates;
(iii) That the offending party be debarred from maintaining any particular claim, counterclaim, third-party complaint, or defense relating to that issue;
(iv) That a witness be barred from testifying concerning that issue;
(v) That, as to claims or defenses asserted in any pleading to which that issue is material, a judgment by default be entered against the offending party or that the offending party’s action be dismissed with or without prejudice;
(vi) That any portion of the offending party’s pleadings relating to that issue be stricken and, if thereby made appropriate, judgment be entered as to that issue; or
(vii) That in cases where a money judgment is entered against a party subject to sanctions under this subparagraph, order the offending party to pay interest at the rate provided by law for judgments for any period of pretrial delay attributable to the offending party’s conduct.”

When imposing sanctions for a discovery violation, an Illinois divorce court considers the following factors: “(1) the surprise to the adverse party; (2) the prejudicial effect of the proffered testimony or evidence; (3) the nature of the testimony or evidence; (4) the diligence of the adverse party in seeking discovery; (5) the timeliness of the adverse party’s objection to the testimony or evidence; and (6) the good faith of the party offering the testimony or evidence.” Peal v. Lee, 403 Ill. App. 3d 197, 203 (2010)

You can get sanctioned for more than just refusing to comply with discovery. You can be sanctioned for asking for discovery the wrong way.

“The court may order that information obtained through abuse of discovery procedures be suppressed. If a party willfully obtains or attempts to obtain information by an improper discovery method, willfully obtains or attempts to obtain information to which that party is not entitled, or otherwise abuses these discovery rules, the court may enter any order provided for in paragraph (c) of this rule.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 201(k)

Discovery sanctions for bad discovery requests can really be for anything. Here are a sample of cases that had discovery sanctions.

Attorney was sanctioned for using investigator to intimidate witnesses for information after the close of discovery. Martzaklis v. 5559 Belmont Corp., 157 Ill. App. 3d 731 (1987); Litigant sanctioned for seeking information “to which they knew they were not entitled,” resulting in harassment. Kilpatrick v. First Church of Nazarene, 182 Ill. App. 3d 461 (1989); Litigant subpoenaing of the presiding judge to testify of “irrelevant matters” warranted dismissal of relevant count under Rule 219(c). Wegman v. Pratt, 219 Ill. App. 3d 883 (1991); Litigant submitted “false witness statements procured under false pretenses.” Sanchez v. City of Chicago, 352 Ill. App. 3d 1015 (2004); Litigant sanctioned for subpoenaing opposing counsel for deposition Baumgartner, 384 Ill. App. 3d 39; and Sanctions for party that improperly revealed anonymous social media user’s identity in violation of court’s protective order. Mehalko v. Doe, 2018 IL App (2d) 170788 (2018).

An Illinois divorce court has a myriad of options under two different Supreme Court Rules when it comes to sanctioning an individual for certain prohibited conduct. Ultimately, the judge’s primary goal is to reach an equitable conclusion to the case and abuse of process is not usually tolerated in a courtroom. It is therefore imperative that proper procedure is followed, and pro se litigants are required to be held to the same standard as attorneys. That is why it is important that you or your attorney know exactly what they are doing in order to ensure that no rules are violated, either intentionally or by mistake.

Sanctions are only available for so long. Courts want finality.

“Motions brought pursuant to this rule must be filed within 30 days of the entry of final judgment, or if a timely post-judgment motion is filed, within 30 days of the ruling on the post-judgment motion.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 137(a)

Sanction “motions must be filed within 30 days of the entry of final judgment or the ruling on a timely post-judgment motion.” In re Marriage of Esther Barmak, 276 Ill. App. 3d 83, 85 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995)

If an order for sanctions is not sufficiently specific, that order can be appealed.

“When reviewing a decision on a motion for sanctions, the primary consideration is whether the trial court’s decision on a motion for sanctions was informed, based on valid reasoning, and follows logically from the facts.” Technology Innovation Center, Inc. v. Advanced Multiuser Technologies, Corp., 315 Ill. App. 3d 238, 244 (2000) 

Whether a sanctions decision was “informed, based on valid reasoning, and follows logically from the facts” can only be determined if the court was sufficiently specific in its order.

“Where a sanction is imposed under this rule, the judge shall set forth with specificity the reasons and basis of any sanction so imposed either in the judgment order itself or in a separate written order.”  Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 137(d)

“[T]he judge shall set forth with specificity the reasons and basis of any sanction so imposed either in the judgment order itself or in a separate order.” Ill. S. Ct. R. 219(c)

Call my Chicago, Illinois Law Office today to learn more about whether you or your ex may be subject to sanctions in your Chicago, Illinois divorce.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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