No Punitive Damages Allowed In Statutory Replevin Action – IL 2d District

In Sensational Four, Inc. v. Tri-Par Die and Mold Corporation, 2016 IL App (2d) 150468, the food company plaintiff filed a replevin action against a manufacturer to recover  plaintiff’s injection molding equipment used to make jars and lids.

When the defendant failed to return plaintiff’s equipment despite a court replevin order to do so, plaintiff filed a rule to show cause motion and amended its complaint to assert various tort and contract claims.

The trial court claim found for the plaintiff after a bench trial and assessed punitive damages of $100,000 against the defendant for its “egregious” and malicious refusal to return the plaintiff’s equipment.  The defendant appealed on the basis that its due process rights were violated by the punitive damage award.

Held: Reversed.


Punitive damages aren’t favored in Illinois. Their purpose is to punish a defendant and deter others from acting with willful disregard for others’ rights.

Replevin is a statutory proceeding that requires a plaintiff to follow the replevin statute’s (see 735 ILCS 5/19-101, et seq.) provisions to the letter.

When construing a statute, a court looks first to the statutory language to divine the legislature’s intent.  And courts generally should not graft language on to a silent statute since this encroaches on the legislature’s drafting role.

Some statutes explicitly provide for punitive damages while others implicitly allow them. See Public Utilities Act (punitive damages expressly allowed); Nursing Home Care Act (implied punitives allowed where statute references “any other type of relief”). (¶ 25)

The Illinois replevin statute says nothing about punitive damages. It allows a plaintiff to recover damages sustained by the wrongful detention of the property in question along with costs and expenses related to the replevin. 735 ILCS 5/19-101, 120, 125. (¶¶ 26-28).  Nowhere does the statute mention punitive damages.

The Court reversed the punitive damage award since the replevin statute doesn’t explicitly allow punitive damages.  The Court noted that the legislature could have easily provided for a punitive damages remedy in the statute’s text if that was its intent.


This case serves as a straight-forward example of a court refusing to inject meaning into a statute whose text is clear.  Where a statute doesn’t specifically allow for punitive damages, a plaintiff will have difficulty convincing a court to award them.  By contrast, if the statutory language is open-ended, like the Nursing Home Care Act’s “any other type of relief” language, a plaintiff may have a claim for punitive damages if it can prove a defendant’s intentional and extreme conduct.

Corporate Officer Can’t Tortiously Interfere with His Company’s Contract; No Punitives for Breach of Contract – ND IL

In Richmond v. Advanced Pain Consultants, P.C., 2015 WL 4971040 (N.D.Ill. 2015), the plaintiff sued the defendants – two companies that operated suburban (Chicago) pain clinics and their doctor principal – claiming several thousand dollars in unpaid computer and accounting services plaintiff performed at the clinics over a several-month period.  The plaintiff brought claims for overtime under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and joined companion state law claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit and tortious interference with contract.  The defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claims arguing preemption and the failure to state a claim, among other things.

In dismissing some of plaintiff’s claims (and sustaining others), the Northern District stressed some vital pleading rules and substantive law principles that apply in Federal court litigation.

Federal Notice Pleading Requirements

Federal Rule 8(a)(2) requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing a pleader is entitled to relief.”  The plaintiff must provide enough factual context to rise above a speculative level so that a defendant has “fair notice” of what the plaintiff’s claim is.  However, “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action” are not enough to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion.

Preemption and Punitive Damages

The defendant first argued the plaintiff’s common law claims (breach of contract, quantum merit, tortious interference) were preempted by the FLSA.  FLSA preempts common law claims that seek to recover overtime or minimum wage compensation.  But if the plaintiff’s claim seeks something other than overtime or minimum wage payments, those claims aren’t preempted.  Here, several of the plaintiff’s claims were for “regular wages” (not overtime) and so were not preempted by FLSA.

The court next struck plaintiff’s punitive damages claim from his breach of contract suit.  Under Illinois law, contract law’s sole purpose is to compensate the nonbreaching party.  It does not seek to punish the breaching party or give an economic windfall to the plaintiff.  This is true even if the breach is intentional.  Punitive damages can only be allowed in the breach of contract setting where the breach is itself an actionable, independent tort (e.g. a civil conspiracy, fraud, etc.).  Since there was no independent tortious conduct over and above the breach of contract – failure to pay plaintiff for his office services – the court struck plaintiff’s punitive damages claims.

Tortious Interference Against A Single-Member Corporation

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s tortious interference claims against the individual defendant – the sole shareholder of the two corporate defendants.

To state a claim for tortious interference with contract, a plaintiff must allege: (i) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract between a plaintiff and another; (ii) defendant’s awareness of the contractual obligation; (iii) defendant’s intentional and unjustified inducement of a breach of contract; (iv) breach of the contract by the third party caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct.

A colorable tortious interference claim requires the involvement of at least three entities: (1)-(2) the parties to the contract and (3) the person inducing the breach.

Here, the individual defendant was the sole officer and manager of the two defendant medical offices who had unchallenged authority to make all hiring and firing decisions for the two entities.  The court noted that the two corporate defendants wouldn’t exist without the individual defendant.  There were no other shareholders or parties who had an interest in the corporate defendants.  Since the individual defendant was the only operator and stakeholder in the corporate defendants, he could not tortuously induce a breach of (effectively) his own contract with the plaintiff.


The case provides some useful damages law reminders including that in a breach of contract suit, punitive damages normally can’t be recovered.  The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach is itself an intentional tort for a punitive claim possibly to lie.

Advanced Pain Consultants also makes clear that an officer of a corporation cannot tortiously interfere with a contract involving that corporation where that officer is the only shareholder of the corporation and has sole responsibility for the corporation’s business.


Expert Witness Testimony In Federal Court

Here’s a case that’s a little dated (2012) but still post-worthy for its detailed discussion of punitive damages and the standards for expert testimony admissibility in Federal court.

In Baldonado v. Wyeth, 2012 WL 1520331, the Northern District partially granted a motion to bar plaintiff’s economics expert from testifying on plaintiff’s punitive damages and a defendant pharmaceutical company’s net worth in an injury suit involving one of defendant’s hormone replacement products.

In support of her case, the Plaintiff offered the  expert opinions of an economist who offered opinions on both the defendant’s net worth and the amount of punitive damages due the plaintiff.

In partially granting the defendant’s motion to bar the testimony, the court provides a nice gloss on the required showings for getting expert opinions into evidence in Federal courts.

Punitive Damages and Expert Testimony

– Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, a witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (1) the expert’s knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (2) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (3) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (4) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case;

– Federal district courts employ a three-part test before admitting expert testimony: (1) the expert must be qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education; (2) the expert’s reasoning or methodology underlying his testimony must be scientifically reliable; and (3) the expert’s testimony must assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or to determine a factual issue;

 – A damages expert should not give an opinion on the amount of punitive damages the jury should award;

 – a punitive damage amount is for the jury to decide based on the facts of this case and the applicable punitive damages law.

See FRE 702.

The court found that the Plaintiff’s economist improperly testified that the jury should assess punitive damages between $6.4 billion and $7.1 billion based on defendant’s daily profit rate for the drug in question and his review of SEC guidelines for punitive damages in antitrust cases.

Since it was improper for the expert to opine on the specific punitive damages to be awarded as well as what damages calculation formula to apply, the court granted the motion to bar the expert from testifying on the proper measure for punitive damages.

Punitive Damages and ‘Net Worth’ Testimony

The court next addressed whether plaintiff’s expert could opine that the defendant pharmaceutical giant was worth about $62 billion.  In the context of punitive damages and in the accounting realm, “net worth” means the excess of a company’s total assets minus total liabilities.

In Illinois, a plaintiff can present evidence of a corporate defendant’s net worth where punitive damages are at issue.  A defendant’s profits or net worth is relevant where a plaintiff alleges a claim that may merit punitive damages.

But because of their penal nature, punitive damages are disfavored and courts cautiously avoid assessing punitives unless clearly they are clearly warranted.  While the amount of punitive damages is a question for the jury, the threshold decision of whether the facts of a particular case justify the imposition of punitive damages is for the judge to decide.

The Court ultimately ruled that a further hearing was necessary to probe the basis for the expert’s net worth finding.  Since the expert appeared to substitute a “market capitalization” (number of outstanding shares times share value) analysis instead of a straight assets-minus-liabilities one to measure the defendant’s net worth, the expert’s underlying methodology wasn’t sound enough to get his report into evidence without an additional hearing.


1/ Where an expert offers damages and net worth testimony, especially for a global corporate defendant, his predicate methodology must be based on sound data for his testimony to be admissible;

2/ While a defendant’s net worth is relevant to the punitive damages question, a court must still make a threshold decision that a given case warrants punitive damages;

3/ The plaintiff who seeks a punitive damages award has the burden of showing how he or she arrived at the ultimate net worth valuation for a defendant.