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Coleman v. Frierson

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The trial court granted a default judgment in favor of Coleman (Plaintiff) as a sanction against the Village of Robbins and other defendants over discovery violations. Defendants moved for a new trial, pointing to potential affirmative defenses that were not considered. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A default judgment is an appropriate sanction and, once entered, bars consideration of affirmative defenses to liability. 

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was dismissed from his job as a special investigator by the Village of Robbins. He sued the Village as well as individuals within the village government and police department for lost wages and emotional distress. As a result of continuous delinquent and reluctant discovery practices on behalf of the Defendants, the trial court imposed a sanction by entering a default judgment on the issue of liability. The trial was then held on the subject of damages, and Plaintiff was awarded $500,000. Defendants filed several motions for a new trial, including a motion claiming affirmative defenses that would have precluded a finding of liability. 

    Issue.

    Does the entry of a default judgment as a sanction for discovery violations preclude evidence of affirmative defenses? 

    Held.

    (Shadur, J.) Yes. A default judgment has the same effect as a full trial on the merits. Once the judgment is entered, evidence of affirmative defenses is irrelevant.  The default judgment was properly entered as a sanction for continuous discovery violations.  Once entered, the judgment forecloses the issue of liability, making further evidence regarding affirmative defenses irrelevant.  Motion denied. 

    Discussion.

    State and federal rules of evidence and procedure provide specific guidelines for parties seeking and providing discovery in the pretrial stage of a lawsuit.  Those guidelines include provisions for enforcing discovery procedures.  These sanction powers vary in severity, with the entry of a default judgment being the most serious.  In this case, the trial court had tried imposing lesser sanctions, to no effect, before finally issuing the default judgment against Defendants. 

     


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