Cassidy v. China Vitamins, LLC

Decision Date29 September 2017
Docket NumberNo. 1-16-0933,1-16-0933
Citation89 N.E.3d 944,2017 IL App (1st) 160933
Parties Martin CASSIDY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHINA VITAMINS, LLC, Taihua Group Shanghai Taiwei Trading Company Limited, and Zheijiang Nhu Company Ltd., Defendants (China Vitamins, LLC, Defendant-Appellee).
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, of Chicago (Thomas A. Kelliher and Michael D. Carter, of counsel), for appellant.

SmithAmundsen LLC, of Chicago (Michael Resis, of counsel), for appellee.

JUSTICE LAMPKIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 Plaintiff Martin Cassidy filed this product liability action seeking damages for injuries he sustained when a flexible bulk container ripped and caused a stacked container to fall on him. The trial court dismissed the product liability action against defendant China Vitamins, LLC (China Vitamins), pursuant to the statutory provision that allows a nonmanufacturing defendant that identifies the product manufacturer to be dismissed from a strict liability in tort claim.

¶ 2 Eventually, the trial court entered a default judgment against defendant Taihua Group Shanghai Taiwei Trading Company Limited (Taihua Group), the manufacturer of the bulk container. In 2015, plaintiff moved the trial court to reinstate China Vitamins as a defendant, and the trial court ultimately denied that motion. The trial court also found there was no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal of that ruling.

¶ 3 On appeal, plaintiff contends that the law allows reinstatement of a nonmanufacturer defendant when an action against the manufacturer appears to be unavailing or fruitless. Plaintiff argues this exception applies in the instant case because the default judgment is not enforceable in the People's Republic of China (PRC), which will not recognize judgments entered in American state courts, and Chinese law does not follow Illinois damages law with respect to the elements of damages.

¶ 4 For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the trial court, which denied plaintiff's motion to reinstate defendant China Vitamins and improperly dismissed plaintiff's negligent product liability claim against China Vitamins. We remand this cause for further proceedings.

¶ 5 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 6 In 2007, plaintiff filed a three count complaint against China Vitamins, alleging it was liable under theories of strict product liability, negligent product liability, and res ipsa loquitur . Plaintiff alleged he sustained injuries at work on October 26, 2006, when a flexible bulk container ripped and leaked its contents, thereby becoming unstable among the other stacked containers and causing one of the stacked containers to fall on him and injure him.

¶ 7 In its April 2008 answer to the product liability counts, China Vitamins admitted that it distributed and sold a certain product stored inside the flexible bulk container but denied that it manufactured either the product or the container. China Vitamins also moved to dismiss the res ipsa loquitur count of the complaint for failure to state a cause of action because plaintiff did not allege that China Vitamins had exclusive control over the instrumentality that allegedly caused his injuries. Furthermore, China Vitamins filed a third-party negligence complaint against plaintiff's employer, seeking contribution as an alleged joint tortfeasor. The trial court granted China Vitamins' motion to dismiss and struck the res ipsa loquitur count of the complaint without prejudice pursuant to section 2-615(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) ( 735 ILCS 5/2-615(a) (West 2006)) and granted China Vitamins leave to file its third-party complaint. During discovery, China Vitamins identified Taihua Group as the manufacturer of the flexible bulk container.

¶ 8 Plaintiff was granted leave to file his October 2008 nine-count first amended complaint against defendants China Vitamins, Taihua Group, and Zheijiang Nhu Company Ltd. (Nhu) (the alleged manufacturer of the vitamins), alleging they were liable under theories of strict product liability, negligent product liability, and res ipsa loquitur . Plaintiff alleged that the bulk container was in an unreasonably dangerous condition when it left defendants' control; defendants' duty to exercise reasonable care for plaintiff's safety included a duty to exercise reasonable care in the design, manufacture, distribution, or sale of the bulk container; and the subject incident would not have occurred if defendants had used reasonable and proper care while the bulk container was under their control.

¶ 9 Defendant Nhu initially filed in August 2009 a special and limited appearance and motion challenging the court's personal jurisdiction. However, Nhu withdrew that motion in May 2010 and submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. In July 2010, the trial court entered an order of default against Nhu for failure to comply with orders regarding representation. The court struck Nhu's answer and deemed the allegations of the complaint admitted.

¶ 10 Meanwhile, defendant Taihua Group filed a general appearance in July 2009 and answer in August 2009, thereby waiving the service of process requirement and submitting itself to the court's jurisdiction. In its answer, Taihua Group admitted that it designed, manufactured, distributed, supplied and/or sold the flexible bulk container but denied any liability. On January 6, 2010, the trial court granted counsel for Taihua Group leave to withdraw as counsel and ordered Taihua Group to file a supplemental appearance by March 3, 2010. However, no supplemental appearance was filed.

¶ 11 Meanwhile, defendant China Vitamins' October 2008 answer denied any liability concerning the strict product liability and negligent product liability counts. China Vitamins moved the court to dismiss the res ipsa loquitur count pursuant to sections 2-615(a) and 2-619(a)(9) of the Code ( 735 ILCS 5/2-615(a), 2-619(a)(9) (West 2006)), arguing that plaintiff failed to state a cause of action and China Vitamins did not have exclusive control over the instrumentality that allegedly caused the injury. On November 20, 2008, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed and struck only the res ipsa loquitur count against China Vitamins.

¶ 12 In 2011, China Vitamins moved for summary judgment and requested dismissal of the strict product liability and negligent product liability counts, on grounds that it was only a distributor of bulk vitamins manufactured by Nhu; was not involved in the construction, design, or manufacture of the flexible bulk container at issue; never had possession or control of the flexible bulk container; had no actual knowledge of the defect; and did not create the defect. China Vitamins, which is headquartered in Bedminster, New Jersey, imported the vitamins into the United States for sale to customers. When an order for vitamins was placed, the vitamins were loaded into containers in China, shipped to the west coast of the United States, and then sent by rail direct to the customer. A container load usually consisted of "totes," which each weighed 1000 kilos or approximately one metric ton. China Vitamins argued it was entitled to dismissal of both the strict and negligent product liability counts pursuant to section 2-621 of the Code ( 735 ILCS 5/2-621 (West Supp. 1995), amended by Pub. Act 89-7 (eff. Mar. 9, 1995)), as a nonmanufacturer defendant sued in a "product liability action based on any theory or doctrine."1

¶ 13 On January 9, 2012, the trial court denied China Vitamins' motion for summary judgment and instead dismissed both the strict and negligent product liability counts against China Vitamins without prejudice pursuant to section 2-621(b) of the Code. Also on January 9, 2012, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion for a default against Taihua Group based on its failure to retain counsel to file a supplemental appearance. After a prove-up hearing, the trial court entered on June 14, 2012, a default judgment against Taihua Group for $9,111,322.47. There was no adjudication of any cause of action against defendant Nhu.

¶ 14 Plaintiff issued citations to discover assets against Taihua Group but those citations were quashed on May 23, 2013 for lack of proper service against a foreign resident and foreign business entity. Between August 2013 and May 2015, plaintiff issued third-party citations to discover assets in pursuit of collection of the default judgment in Illinois, but those citations were dismissed because the third-parties were not holding assets that belonged to or were due and owing to Taihua Group.

¶ 15 On July 24, 2015, plaintiff moved to reinstate China Vitamins pursuant to section 2-621(b)(3) and (4) of the Code, arguing that Taihua Group was outside the personal jurisdiction of Illinois courts and not subject to or obligated to respond in a state court action under international law. The trial court initially granted the motion to reinstate China Vitamins but thereafter vacated that order when it granted China Vitamins' motion to reconsider. The trial court found that plaintiff failed to meet the conditions for reinstatement under section 2-621(b) of the Code and ruled that the order was final and appealable pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016). Thereafter, the trial court denied plaintiff's motion to reconsider and again made Rule 304(a) findings.

¶ 16 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 17 On appeal, plaintiff argues China Vitamins should be reinstated as a defendant based on section 2-621(b)(4) of the Code because Taihua Group, the manufacturer defendant, "is unable to satisfy any judgment as determined by the court." 735 ILCS 5/2-621(b)(4) (West 1994). Plaintiff asserts that Taihua Group has not paid the default judgment entered against it, an Illinois state court judgment is not enforceable in the PRC, and Taihua Group, which submitted to the jurisdiction of the Illinois state court, refuses to respond to this...

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5 cases
  • Cassidy v. China Vitamins, LLC
    • United States
    • Illinois Supreme Court
    • October 18, 2018
    ...'s interpretation of section 2-621(b), instead requiring evidence that the manufacturer was "judgment-proof" or "execution-proof." 2017 IL App (1st) 160933, ¶¶ 33-34, 418 Ill.Dec. 110, 89 N.E.3d 944.¶ 3 This court is now tasked with interpreting section 2-621(b)(4) in light of our rules of ......
  • Duerr v. Bradley Univ.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Central District of Illinois
    • March 10, 2022
    ...institution[s]" but to "affiliate[s] of a financial institution" as well. 740 ILCS 14/25(c) ; see Cassidy v. China Vitamins, LLC , 418 Ill.Dec. 110, 89 N.E.3d 944, 953–54 (Ill. App. Ct. 2007) ("Terms of art abound in the law, and the entire phrase ... is a term of art ...." (emphasis added)......
  • Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding Co.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • November 9, 2020
    ...The Illinois legislature enacted Public Act 89-7, which was known as the Tort Reform Act, in 2005. Cassidy v. China Vitamins, LLC , 418 Ill.Dec. 110, 89 N.E.3d 944, 950-51 (Ill. App. 2017). Public Act 89-7, inter alia , amended subsection 5/13-213(b) to provide that the statute of repose ap......
  • Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding Co.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • August 16, 2022
    ...in force is the law as it was before the adoption of the unconstitutional amendment." Cassidy v. China Vitamins, LLC , 418 Ill.Dec. 110, 89 N.E.3d 944, 950 (Ill. App. Ct. 2017) (applying a pre-1995 version of a statute amended by the 1995 Tort Reform Act and held unconstitutional by Best ).......
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