The Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed Madison County Associate Judge Donald Flack’s ruling granting a motorist $2,259.12 following a Collinsville collision.
Justice Judy Cates delivered the Rule 23 decision on Dec. 29 affirming Flack’s bench ruling in favor of plaintiff Melodye Lynn Portell and against defendant James Taylor.
Justices Thomas Welch and Richard Goldenhersh concurred.
Portell filed a one-page small claims complaint pro se on Feb. 8 in the Madison County Circuit Court. She claims Taylor owed her $2,259.12 for damages resulting from a car accident.
Taylor was served with summons requiring him to appear for a hearing on March 30. Rather than appear for the scheduled hearing date, Taylor filed an answer denying the allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint.
In his affirmative defense, Taylor argued that any property damage the plaintiff sustained was a result of her own negligence.
He included a counterclaim against Portell, alleging she struck his vehicle, causing property damage that did not exceed $1,500. He filed his pleading on March 11, 2016.
Portell did not file a responsive pleading to the affirmative defenses and counterclaim. Instead, the matter was scheduled for a bench trial on April 6.
Cates notes that no transcript of the proceeding was provided, and the only evidence regarding how the accident occurred is a copy of the police report.
The report states that on March 22, 2015, Portell’s vehicle was in the inside lane on Collinsville Road in Collinsville, waiting in traffic due to an event at Fairmount Park. Portell claimed traffic was moving slowly and she thought Taylor was letting her merge into his lane of traffic.
Taylor allegedly sped up, and his driver’s side mirror scraped the rear passenger quarter panel of the plaintiff’s car.
The record also contains a one-page form order indicating that the circuit court considered the dispute on the merits at the hearing and entered judgment in favor of Portell, awarding her damages of $2,259.12 plus an additional $98 in court costs.
The appellate court held that while Taylor properly filed a common law record on appeal, he failed to include a transcript of the proceedings because no court reporter was present during the bench trial.
“The appellant bears the burden of preparing a full and complete record on appeal so that we have a sufficient basis for reviewing the decision of the trial court,” Cates wrote.
On appeal, Taylor argues that the trial court should have entered judgment in his favor because Portell failed to answer the counterclaim. At the very least, Taylor requested that the case be remanded with directions ordering Portell to file an answer to the counterclaim or remanded for a new hearing.
However, the appellate court held that Taylor’s argument lacks merit as the plaintiff was not required to file an answer to the defendant’s counterclaim.
“Here, there is nothing in the record to suggest that the trial court ordered the plaintiff to file an answer to the defendant’s counterclaim,” Cates wrote.
The appellate court further held that the plaintiff’s appearance at the hearing served as a denial of all allegations against her.
As for Taylor’s request for a new hearing, the appellate court held that his argument is without merit “as the defendant entirely overlooks his responsibility as the appellant to provide this court with a full and complete record on appeal.”
“While it is true that no transcript of the proceedings is available, the defendant failed to present this court with an acceptable alternative report of proceedings.
“The appellant’s duty to present an adequate record on appeal is not alleviated because the case was a small claims action, and any doubt in the record is resolved against the appellant.
“Based upon the scant record before us, we are left with no choice but to presume that the order entered by the trial was in conformity with the law and had an adequate factual basis,” Cates wrote.
Madison County Circuit Court case number 16-SC-499