Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment for Storeowner Based on Judicial Estoppel in Premises Liability Claim

stop sign postIn a recent opinion from the Second District of the Appellate Court of Illinois, the plaintiff appealed a lower court’s ruling granting the defendant summary judgment based on the doctrine of judicial estoppel. According to this widely recognized legal principle, a party is precluded from taking a position in a legal proceeding that is contrary to a position he or she has taken in an earlier legal proceeding.

The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff asserted three causes of action against the defendant, alleging that he suffered injuries while shopping at the defendant’s store. Before filing the complaint against the store, the plaintiff and his wife filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. In the filing, the plaintiff stated that he had no “[o]ther contingent and unliquidated claims of any nature” and denied having any “other property of any kind not already listed.” Some time thereafter, the plaintiff amended the bankruptcy petition to list the alleged claim against the store as a potential claim of an unliquidated nature. As for an estimated value of the claim, the plaintiff listed $15,000. The plaintiff chose this amount based on section 12-1001(h)(4) of the Code of Civil Procedure, which provides an exemption for a debtor to receive payment not exceeding $15,000 on a claim for personal injury to the debtor.

The bankruptcy court discharged the plaintiff’s petition before the plaintiff initiated the lawsuit against the store. In response, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claims, stating that the plaintiff had no standing to sue because the rights to the claim belonged to the bankruptcy trustee. In response, the plaintiff stated in an affidavit that at the time he filed for bankruptcy, he was unsure whether he would pursue legal action against the store. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on judicial estoppel.

The plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court first summarized the legal framework for judicial estoppel, which it articulated in a five-step test:

  1. Taking two positions
  2. That are factually inconsistent
  3. In separate judicial or quasi-judicial administrative proceedings
  4. Intending for the trier of fact to accept the truth of the facts alleged, and
  5. Succeeded in the first proceeding and received some benefit.

Even when all five factors exist, the court has discretion in deciding whether to estop the non-moving party. Applied to the case at hand, the appellate court concluded that the first element was not satisfied because the plaintiff had not taken inconsistent positions in the bankruptcy proceeding and the litigation. Accordingly, the court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant and remanded the proceeding.

If you have suffered injuries due to another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Knowing the extent of your legal rights and whether other legal issues in your life may affect those rights is absolutely critical. At Therman Law Offices, our premises liability attorneys have provided knowledgeable and reliable legal counsel to victims throughout Illinois, and we are prepared to assist you. To schedule your free consultation, contact our personal injury lawyers at 312-588-1900 or contact us online to get started.

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