The Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld a lower court’s decision to award more than $40,000in damages to a woman injured when she fell inside an East St. Louis Shriners building.
A company operating a nightclub within the premises had appealed against the judgement, claiming it was not properly served with process papers.
However, a three judge panel unanimously ruled in favor of Michelle Pickens, affirming default judgement of $42,837 against Aahmes Temple #132 LLC, the operators of the nightclub.
Justice David Overstreet delivered the opinion of the court.
On May 21, 2015, the plaintiff filed a one-count complaint against the defendant alleging she sustained injuries at the facility when she slipped on a substance on the floor.
The court entered the judgement after the defendant failed to file an appearance or answer to the complaint.
Nine months later, the defendant filed a motion to quash the judgment, claiming it was never served with process.
But, according to court papers, the private investigator charged with serving process did so at the Collinsville address listed for the registered agent of the company, Jesse Gurley.
It emerged that three individuals named “Jesse Gurley” had lived at the address at various times: Jesse Gurley III, Jesse Gurley IV, and Jesse Gurley V.
The defendant intended that its registered agent was to be Gurley IV, but "the defendant’s designation of its registered agent did not include a suffix to distinguish which of the Jesse Gurleys located at its registered office was its registered agent."
According to the private investigator, the person who answered the door identified himself as Jesse Gurley, accepted the service of the summons and complaint. He did not indicate that he was the incorrect person or that he did not understand what was presented to him, the investigator testified.
The person who accepted the service of process was Gurley III, the father of the supposed registered agent.
Overstreet held that the defendant and her investigator complied with the requirements of the Limited Liability Company Act.
"In the present case, as noted above, the defendant’s articles of organization set forth ‘Jesse Gurley’ as its registered agent and set forth Gurley III’s home address as its registered office," Overstreet wrote.
"Although Gurley IV testified that the defendant intended to name him as its registered agent, not Gurley III, the defendant’s articles of organization failed to make such a distinction.
"Had the defendant identified its registered agent as Jesse Gurley IV or had the process server served Gurley III at a location other than the defendant’s registered office, our conclusion might be different."