An Illinois Appellate Court breathed new life into a petition by Chicago Bears legend Richard Dent to learn the identities of the anonymous individuals who he claims published defamatory statements about him. According to Dent’s Illinois Supreme Court Rule 224 petition, these defamatory statements ultimately cost Dent and his business a marketing contract with the energy supplier Constellation NewEnergy.
Dent played as a defensive end in the NFL from 1983-1997, including 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. He was the MVP in the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl victory, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Also named as a petitioner in the case was Dent’s company, RLD Resources, which Dent founded after his football career ended.
According to the petition, three unidentified people allegedly defamed Dent by accusing him of groping a woman and engaging in drunken behavior. These allegedly defamatory comments prompted an investigation by Constellation that ultimately caused the company to terminate its contractual arrangements with Dent.
The case dates back to September 2018 when two attorneys representing the energy supplier visited Dent’s office and told him that certain allegations had been made against him. Specifically, they allegedly told Dent, a female Constellation employee had accused Dent of making inappropriate sexual comments to her and groping her at two separate Constellation-sponsored events.
The attorneys also informed Dent that a man complained to Constellation that he had observed Dent at a hotel in Chicago collecting materials for a Constellation-sponsored event and that Dent was drunk and disorderly at that time. The attorneys refused to reveal the identities of these individuals but informed Dent that they would be reviewing the energy supplier’s contracts with Dent based on these allegations. In October 2018, Constellation sent Dent and his company a notice that it was terminating all contracts with them.
In response, Dent and RLD Resources filed a petition in the Cook County Circuit Court, asking the trial court to order Constellation to disclose the names and addresses of the people who allegedly made the defamatory statements about Dent. In June 2019, the trial court dismissed the Rule 224 petition with prejudice, determining sua sponte to dispose of the petition for failure to comply with Rule 224. Specifically, the court found that a Rule 224 petition was an inappropriate vehicle to attempt to learn the names of the individuals because Dent knew the identities of the Constellation respondents and their attorneys and that Rule 224 was satisfied once a petitioner has identified someone who may be sued and held liable for damages.
On appeal, the appellate found that the trial judge acted too soon in dismissing Dent’s petition. Specifically, the appellate court rejected the trial court’s interpretation of the purpose and limitations of a Rule 224 petition. The First District rebuffed the trial court’s conclusion that a Rule 224 petition is only appropriate in circumstances when a petitioner does not know the identity of any parties that could potentially be liable for the alleged defamation.
The Court explained that the “plain language of Rule 224 allows a petitioner to engage in discovery to ascertain the identity of multiple persons and entities who may be responsible in damages.” However, the Court noted, Rule 224 pre-suit discovery was not automatically precluded where a petitioner knew at least one name of a potentially liable party. To support this conclusion, the Court cited multiple cases where it had authorized a Rule 224 petition where the petitioner knew at least one identity of a potential defendant.
The First District ultimately reversed, finding that the trial court’s dismissal did not comport with the intent of Rule 224 to assist a potential plaintiff in seeking redress against people or entities if the potential plaintiff meets the requirement to demonstrate the reason why the proposed discovery seeking the identity of certain individuals is necessary. Moreover, the Court found that the petition adequately alleged facts that if proven would state a claim for defamation per se. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
The Court’s full opinion is available here.
Whether you are being accused of defaming someone or you believe that someone else has defamed you, it is important to consult an experienced slander law and cyber-smear law attorney. Our DuPage County defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to address matters of public concern. Our results speak for themselves. Here you can read a federal court decision where we successfully defended our client against a libel per se claim asserting the innocent construction defense and arguing that the statements were nonactionable opinion. We also recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit regarding our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16 million libel per se lawsuit.
Our Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills defamation attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicagoland area including in Wilmette and Winnetka who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating websites in order to publish defamatory content about our business clients. Beyond slander and libel law, our Chicago and Cook County defamation, libel, and slander lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. We serve clients throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland area. You can contact us online here or call us on our locally at 630-333-0333.