MOUNT VERNON – Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey unreasonably prevented household product maker S.C. Johnson from pursuing a Wisconsin judgment in Wisconsin, Fifth District appeals judges ruled on June 18.
"Because the trial court's ruling had no basis in the pleadings and the facts of this case, no reasonable person could adopt the view taken by the trial court in this case," Justice Stephen Spomer wrote.
S.C. Johnson seeks to block a pending divorce between trucking company owner Thomas Buske and wife Sara Buske, calling it a sham.
S.C. Johnson alleges that the divorce would keep it from collecting a judgment it won against Thomas Buske in Racine, Wisc., the company's home.
In December Bailey enjoined S.C. Johnson from collecting the Wisconsin judgment.
On appeal Spomer and Justices Melissa Chapman and Bruce Stewart agreed that Bailey overstepped his authority by a long shot.
Spomer quoted an Illinois Supreme Court decision, Pfaff v. Chrysler, holding that a judge may enjoin litigation in another state "only when prosecution of the foreign action would result in gross wrong or oppression, or when a clear equity is presented which requires such restraint to prevent a manifest wrong and injustice."
Spomer wrote that Bailey reached his decision "without so much as a nod to Pfaff."
He wrote that "without any allegation, let alone finding, that fraud, gross wrong or oppression would result from Johnson continuing with its legitimate collection efforts in Wisconsin and other states, the trial court enjoined Johnson from doing so.
"The trial court also did not find that a clear equity was presented which required the injunction to prevent a manifest wrong and injustice.
"Indeed, on the basis of Sara's pleadings and the evidence before it, the trial court could have made no such finding, nor could it have found that fraud, gross wrong, or oppression would result from continued collection efforts."
Bailey also bungled by blocking a separate action that S.C. Johnson initiated in Madison County to enforce the Wisconsin judgment, according to Spomer.
Spomer wrote that "although the trial court's order states that the court is aware that Johnson has a valid judgment in both Madison County and Wisconsin, the order nevertheless includes no provisions to protect Johnson's interest with regard to those judgments."
"The order does not embody a scheme or method of imposing a reasonable time limitation or otherwise protecting Johnson's interests, nor does it provide a rational explanation for how Sara would be harmed if Johnson were allowed simply to record its interests in Thomas's assets, as Johnson desires.
"Because the trial court's ruling fails to in any way protect the legitimate interests of Johnson, no reasonable person could adopt the view taken by the trial court in this case."
Bailey has held four hearings on the divorce since signing the injunction.
At a June 12 hearing he dismissed S.C. Johnson's claim of collusion against the Buskes but said he would consider its allegations in deciding whether to dissolve the marriage.
On June 19 Bailey ruled that Sara Buske could divorce Thomas Buske on the grounds of mental cruelty. He ruled there were not grounds for irreconcilable differences.