"Cases Pending" Highlights Cases to be Heard During Illinois Supreme Court's May Term

May 07, 2019 1:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The Illinois Supreme Court's May Term begins on Monday, May 13th. The Term will include oral argument in 4 criminal cases and 3 civil cases on May 14th and 15th. Below is a listing of the cases that will be heard:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019: People v. John Michael Custer, No. 123339
                                            People v. Ralph Eubanks, No. 123525
                                            People v. Stevie Smith, Nos. 123901 & 123902 (cons.)
                                            People v. Bethany Austin, No. 123910

Wednesday, May 15, 2019: Carmichael v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., No. 123853
                                                 Jones v. Pneumo Abex LLC, No. 123895, 124002 (cons.)
                                                 Accettura v. Vacationland, Inc., No. 124285

Below are summaries of one of the criminal cases and one of the civil cases to be argued. As always, more information about all pending criminal and civil cases is available in the ALA's Cases Pending newsletter.

People v. Ralph Eubanks, No. 123525

Defendant was convicted of aggravated DUI, first degree (knowing) murder, and Class 1 felony failure to report the accident because he was the driver during a hit-and-run collision that killed one pedestrian and seriously injured a second. Related to the first issue, police officers asked defendant to submit to chemical testing of his blood and urine under section 11-501.2(c)(2) of the Vehicle Code (directing officers to pursue such chemical testing of DUI suspects given collisions resulting in death or injury; drivers refusing to submit to testing have their licenses summarily suspended as a result). The First District, in a 2-1 decision on all three issues discussed, held that section 11-501.2(c)(2) is facially unconstitutional because it permits testing in violation of the Fourth Amendment under Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141, 147-49 (2013), which held that warrantless blood testing is reasonable only given the driver's consent or case-specific exigent circumstances (not just the natural dissipation of blood-alcohol levels present in every case). Related to the second issue, defendant, given his charge of first degree knowing murder, requested a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of reckless homicide, but the trial court refused. Knowing murder occurs when the defendant knew that his acts created a "strong probability" of death or great bodily harm, while reckless homicide occurs when he knew that his acts were only "likely" to cause, i.e., created a "substantial risk" of, such harm. The majority reversed, holding that the trial court erred in finding no evidence of recklessness to justify the reckless homicide instruction. Related to the third issue, defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his Class 1 felony failure-to-report conviction regarding one element: the failure to report within 30 minutes of the collision. The majority reduced defendant's conviction to the Class 4 felony form of the offense in light of the fact that defendant was arrested within the reporting period because the State cannot demonstrate that a defendant failed to report within 30 minutes given that any evidence of a defendant's post-arrest silence is inadmissible.

Before the Illinois Supreme Court, the State challenges the majority's three holdings. First, the facial invalidation of section 11-501.2(c)(2) should be reversed because such holding was unnecessary: the State acknowledged that the police violated defendant's Fourth Amendment rights in gathering the samples and that his aggravated DUI conviction should be reversed so that it was unnecessary to consider the facial validity of the statute. In addition, the provision was facially constitutional because it could sometimes operate constitutionally: when police obtain a warrant, when the suspect consents to testing, and when police document case-specific exigent circumstances. Second, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing the reckless homicide jury instruction because defendant's driving was so dangerous under the circumstances that it was not unreasonable to conclude that he could not have had only the lesser (reckless) understanding of the riskiness posed by his driving. Third, the majority erred in reducing the failure-to-report conviction on unbriefed self-incrimination grounds, and sufficient evidence supported the Class 1 conviction: it was reasonable to infer defendant failed to report within 30 minutes from his later denials that he was in the car at the time of the collision.

Defendant defends the three holdings. First, defendant argues that the constitutionality of the statute must be addressed because there are no nonconstitutional grounds to resolve his challenge to the chemical testing. In addition, he asserts that because section 11-501.2(c)(2) does not direct officers to seek a warrant, denies drivers the ability to revoke their implied consent, and implicitly codifies a per se exigent circumstance of the type rejected in McNeely, it is facially unconstitutional. Second, defendant claims that the trial court improperly considered some evidence not relevant to recklessness and erroneously ignored other evidence of recklessness, reflecting an abuse of discretion in rejecting the reckless homicide jury instruction. Third, his failure-to-report was correctly reduced to a Class 4 felony because inferring his failure to report from his later denials of involvement infringed on his right against self-incrimination.

Jones v. Pneumo Abex, No. 123985, 124002 (cons.)

The issue in this case is whether the clear and convincing evidence standard for proving civil conspiracy at trial also applies when the court is evaluating a motion for summary judgment.

The plaintiff sued the defendants, Pneumo Abex and Owens-Illinois, for his injuries related to lung cancer, which he claims was caused by asbestos exposure. His theory was that these defendants, who were not the plaintiff’s employers, entered into a civil conspiracy with other manufacturers of asbestos-containing products to conceal information from the public that showed the harmful effects of asbestos. The plaintiff’s case is one of many filed against these defendants and others across the state on this theory.

The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff did not present clear and convincing evidence that they engaged in this civil conspiracy. They relied on two decisions issued by the Fourth District Appellate Court—Rodarmel v. Pneumo Abex, 2011 IL App (4th) 100463 and Gillenwater v. Honeywell International, 2013 IL App (4th) 120929—which held that under nearly identical circumstances, under a clear and convincing evidence standard, there was insufficient evidence to establish that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the challenged information from the public. The circuit court agreed with defendants and granted summary judgment, noting that the case was “indistinguishable” from the Fourth District cases “on the material issues.”

The Fifth District Appellate Court reversed. It did not disagree with the conclusions reached in the cited cases. Rather, it distinguished them on their procedural posture—those cases were decided on motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict after all trial evidence was presented. It found that on a motion for summary judgment, there was sufficient evidence presented to allow a fact finder to conclude that the defendants engaged in a civil conspiracy.

In their petitions for leave to appeal, the defendants argue that the appellate court failed to apply the clear and convincing standard when evaluating the evidence on summary judgment and erred in finding that issues of fact existed. They argued that the evidence presented was the same as that presented in Rodarmel and Gillenwater, in which the Fourth District held that the so-called parallel conduct was insufficient by itself to establish a civil conspiracy as a matter of law.

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