Green v. Rogers

Decision Date30 July 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2-06-1055.,2-06-1055.
PartiesJohn GREEN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Steven ROGERS, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Presiding Justice GILLERAN JOHNSON delivered the opinion of the court:

On March 3, 2006, the plaintiff, John Green, filed a complaint against the defendant, Steven Rogers, then president of the Clarendon Hills Little League (CHLL), alleging causes of action for defamation per se and civil conspiracy. The plaintiff subsequently issued subpoenas to each of the individual members of the CHLL board. On May 10, 2006, the trial court quashed the subpoenas and stayed discovery pending resolution of a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. On July 13, 2006, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's first amended complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2006)). The plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider the May 10 and July 13, 2006, orders. On September 21, 2006, the trial court denied the plaintiff's motion to reconsider. The plaintiff appealed from these orders. This court reversed the trial court's determination and remanded the case for additional proceedings. Green v. Rogers, No. 2-06-1055, 324 Ill.Dec. 152, 895 N.E.2d 647 (2007) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). The defendant filed a petition for leave to appeal. Our supreme court denied the defendant's petition but, under its supervisory authority, directed this court to vacate our judgment and reconsider it in light of Imperial Apparel, Ltd. v. Cosmo's Designer Direct, Inc., 227 Ill.2d 381, 317 Ill.Dec. 855, 882 N.E.2d 1011 (2008). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for additional proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff lives with his wife and three children in the Village of Clarendon Hills (the Village). He is a practicing dentist and attorney, and from 2000 to 2004 he served in some capacity in CHLL. On March 3, 2006, the plaintiff filed a complaint asserting claims of defamation per se and civil conspiracy against the defendant. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged the following.

The plaintiff had been a volunteer for CHLL since 2000 and had managed, coached, and served as the minor league director. In December 2004, the plaintiff submitted his name to coach a CHLL team. In January 2005, the plaintiff announced that he was a candidate for Village trustee with the election to be held on April 5, 2005. On March 4, 2005, the defendant sent the plaintiff an e-mail stating that the CHLL board had decided not to assign the plaintiff as a coach for the year. The email stated that the board's "decision was based on a long pattern of behavior which [was] not consistent with what [the CHLL board felt was] acceptable for our coaches." Prior to March 4, 2005, the plaintiff had never been informed by CHLL of any conduct unacceptable for coaching and had never been disciplined or advised as to any complaints about his coaching.

On March 7, 2005, the plaintiff sent the defendant an e-mail indicating that he sought an immediate appeal of the board's decision. The defendant responded by letter that denied the plaintiff's request for an appeal hearing. On March 11, 2005, the defendant sent an e-mail to the plaintiff that clarified the board's ruling. The defendant explained that the board's decision barred the plaintiff from being a coach or manager only for the 2005 season. The plaintiff was still eligible to be a parent volunteer. On the same date, the plaintiff sent a reply indicating that he "respectfully disagreed" with the board's decision to "not allow [him] to coach [his] only son." The plaintiff implored the defendant to "do the right thing" and allow the plaintiff to coach his son. The defendant sent a reply indicating that the board declined to reverse its decision.

In March 2005, during the plaintiff's political campaign for trustee of the Village, the plaintiff was advised by two of his running mates that trustee Terry Pocius and Village resident Mary Church Brown informed them that the plaintiff was denied a coaching position with CHLL because of his temper and inappropriate behavior with children. Pocius and Brown also indicated that the defendant was the source of those comments.

The plaintiff alleged that on or about March 4, 2005, the defendant made and published statements about the plaintiff that he knew were false and were made to humiliate, embarrass, and harm the plaintiff as a candidate and damage his reputation in the community. Specifically, the defendant allegedly stated that the plaintiff: "(a) * * * exhibited a long pattern of misconduct with children which was not acceptable for CHLL coaches; (b) * * * abused players, coaches and umpires in CHLL; and (3)* * * was unfit to be assigned as a CHLL coach to insinuate to the community that the plaintiff was guilty of inappropriate behavior with children and others associated with CHLL." The plaintiff alleged that the defendant knowingly and intentionally made and published these defamatory statements about the plaintiff to the CHLL board, members of CHLL, and residents of the Village.

The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant conspired with others to knowingly allow such defamatory statements to be disseminated beyond the CHLL board. The defendant denied the plaintiff an opportunity to respond to the false charges. The defendant also failed to set forth any specific behavior of the plaintiff that justified barring him as a coach. The plaintiff alleged that in January 2006 he again submitted his name to coach a CHLL team and his application was again denied. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant's defamatory statements had damaged his reputation in the community and his reputation as an attorney and dentist. Additionally, the plaintiff has had to endure public ridicule and personal embarrassment.

In count I of the plaintiff's complaint, alleging defamation per se, the plaintiff realleged the foregoing facts and alleged that the defendant intentionally made defamatory and false statements about the plaintiff to one or more third parties, including the CHLL board, members of CHLL, and residents of the Village. The defendant's statements allegedly impugned the plaintiff's character and integrity as a dentist and an attorney and disparaged his reputation as a competent coach for youth sports. In count II, for civil conspiracy, the plaintiff realleged the foregoing and further alleged that the defendant engaged in a scheme with other members of the CHLL board and with the plaintiff's political opponents to prevent the plaintiff from being assigned as a CHLL coach, to harm the plaintiff's reputation, and to embarrass him politically and in the community. The plaintiff requested compensatory and special damages in excess of $50,000 and punitive damages in excess of $100,000.

On April 14, 2006, the plaintiff issued subpoenas to each of the individual members of the CHLL board. The subpoenas each contained 28 demands for production of documents. On April 26 and 27, respectively, the defendant filed a motion for a protective order to stay discovery and a motion to quash the subpoenas, on behalf of all of the parties to whom the subpoenas were served. In his motion to stay discovery, the defendant indicated that he would be filing a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. The defendant argued that the trial court had the power to stay discovery in order to prevent unnecessary annoyance and expense. The defendant requested that the trial court stay discovery until the defendant's motion to dismiss was resolved. On May 2, 2006, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to section 2-619.1 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2006)).

On May 10, 2006, a hearing was held on the defendant's motions to quash the subpoenas and stay discovery. The plaintiff's counsel indicated that the subpoenas would provide information that the plaintiff would like to use in an amended complaint. Defense counsel argued that there was no point in allowing such extensive discovery until there was a ruling on the defendant's motion to dismiss. The trial court noted that the documents being subpoenaed from the members of the CHLL board would be available through the defendant since he was the president of the board. The trial court did not find it appropriate to subpoena information from third parties until it was clear whether the information would be available from the defendant. The trial court granted the motion to quash and the motion to stay discovery.

On June 5, 2006, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to amend his complaint and a motion to vacate the protective order staying discovery. In addition to the original allegations, the amended complaint alleged that the CHLL board held a meeting on March 4, 2005, to select coaches and managers for the 2005 season and that the defendant made the allegedly defamatory statements about the plaintiff to the board members and other Village residents at that meeting. The plaintiff named the board members as David Killpack, Hartwell Morse, Eric Nolan, Steve Garnett, and Doug Denlinger. The plaintiff specified that two of the Village residents were Terry Pocius and Mary Church Brown. The plaintiff also alleged that he had submitted his name to be a coach in January 2006. The plaintiff incorporated the original allegations and further alleged that the defendant had made the same defamatory statements to the board members and Village residents at a February 27, 2006, CHLL board meeting held to select coaches for the 2006 season. The plaintiff added an additional count for defamation per se based on the defendant's February 27, 2006, statements. In sum, counts I and II of the amended complaint were for defamation per se and count III was based on civil conspiracy.

On June 12, 2006, oral argument...

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