Contempt Order Vacated Against Boiler Defendant; Discovery Order Stands Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District, December 5, 2017

ILLINOIS — Cleaver Brooks filed an appeal of the trial court’s ruling of a “friendly contempt” order against it. By way of background, the plaintiff filed suit against multiple defendants arguing that he sustained injuries from working with and around asbestos containing parts associated with boilers. At issue were thousands of index cards specific to Cleaver Brooks’ products. The plaintiff sought those index cards through discovery requests. Cleaver Brooks eventually produced certain index cards after multiple discovery hearings at the trial court level. However, Cleaver Brooks objected and sought a confidentiality order restricting the use of roughly 5000 of 90,0000 cards inspected by the plaintiffs. At hearing, Cleaver Brooks sought a “friendly contempt order” be entered against it. A $1.00 fine was imposed by the court against Cleaver Brooks. The defendant then noted this appeal.

Cleaver Brooks argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by requiring it to furnish the roughly 5000 index tabs. Specifically, Cleaver Brooks argued that the cards were not relevant and that the plaintiffs’ discovery requests were an improper fishing expedition designed to benefit other plaintiffs outside this matter. On the other hand, the plaintiffs argued that Cleaver Brooks waived that very argument when it handed over the index cards without an order in place limiting the production. Cleaver Brooks countered and took the position that the plaintiffs “forfeited their waiver argument” as the plaintiffs provided no authority. The court did not agree with Cleaver Brooks on the waiver position. However, Cleaver Brooks maintained that authority exists that production of documents does not waive a relevance objection. The courts stated that although the intent to preserve the relevance argument was present, Cleaver Brooks had failed to do so. The court was not convinced that Cleaver Brooks had demonstrated “an abuse of discretion” at the trial level. As for the relevancy issue, the court noted that the basic principle of discovery is to avoid surprises and to “better prepare for trial.”

Consequently, the court vacated the contempt order but affirmed the trial court’s discovery order. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Read the full decision here.


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