Appellate Court reverses Matoesian's decision in AT&T class action

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 3, 2005, 3:46am

AT&T prevailed in an appeal to the 5th Appellate Court regarding a class action consumer fraud case filed by Sandra K. Ragan and Dennis Mangiaracino in 2002 in Madison County Circuit Court.

The Appeals Court reversed Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian’s ruling to deny AT&T’s request to compel arbitration and stay proceedings.

Presiding Justice James Donovan delivered the opinion of the court in which Clyde Kuehn and Terrence Hopkins concurred.

The case centered around fraud allegations, in which AT&T was accused of deceptively including a charge for the Universal Service Fund (USF). The fund subsidizes telecommunications services for low-income and rural telephone customers, schools, and libraries.

Donovan wrote: "The motion to compel arbitration and dismiss or stay the proceedings was heard on Dec. 18, 2002. At the close of the hearing, at which no evidence was presented, the circuit court of Madison County entered an order simply denying the motion. The order contains no findings of fact, conclusions of law, or reasoning. Defendant filed a timely notice of interlocutory appeal. We have jurisdiction over the instant appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 307.

"In an appeal from a denial of a motion to compel arbitration without an evidentiary hearing, the standard of review is de novo. Zobrist v. Verizon Wireless, No. 5-03-0691, slip op. at 4 (December 29, 2004); Travis v. American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Co., 335 Ill. App. 3d 1171, 1174, 782 N.E.2d 322, 325 (2002). We find that there is a valid arbitration agreement and that the parties' dispute falls within the scope of that agreement. As a result, we find that the trial court erred in failing to compel arbitration.

"As previously noted, the trial court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing and made no written findings to explain its ruling. As a result, we have no way of knowing what particular issue played any part in the court's ultimate ruling, Donovan writes.

"For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court of Madison County, and pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 366(a)(5) (155 Ill. 2d R. 366(a)(5)), we hereby grant defendant's motion to compel arbitration and to stay the judicial proceedings in Madison County, Illinois."

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