Chicago Blackhawks’ motion to dismiss a former player’s negligence lawsuit denied in Cook County circuit court

A Cook County judge denied the Chicago Blackhawks’ motion to dismiss a former player’s negligence lawsuit, paving the way for the case to reach the discovery phase.

The former member of the Hawks’ 2009-10 “Black Aces” squad, identified in the suit as “John Doe,” has sued the Hawks over allegations that the team was negligent in how it handled sexual assault and harassment complaints in 2010 against then-video coach Brad Aldrich.

Doe was a Black Aces teammate of Kyle Beach, who sued the team in 2021 over similar allegations against Aldrich before reaching a settlement.

Arguments at Wednesday’s hearing at the Richard J. Daley Center centered on whether the statute of limitations ran out before Doe filed suit.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cushing ruled that at this stage of the legal process — when facts alleged in the suit are accepted as in good faith — the suit has met the burden for “fraudulent concealment” and the plaintiff learned of that concealment in October 2021, when law firm Jenner & Block published an independent investigation the team commissioned.

“I absolutely agree with the way the judge saw things … and the rationale as to why this case should continue,” Jason Friedl, a senior attorney with Chicago-based law firm Romanucci & Blandin, told the Tribune.

“Time is not running on a cause of action until that concealment comes to light. As we alleged here, that concealment came to light with the release of the Jenner & Block report, which concluded Hawks management at that time covered up Aldrich’s alleged misconduct to protect a Stanley Cup run.”

Friedl later told the Tribune, referring to the Hawks’ motion to dismiss: “Whether it’s 2010, 2021, when Kyle Beach came forward or today, their pattern is to deny it as much as possible.”

Asked for a response Thursday, the Hawks declined to comment on pending litigation and referred to their response to the suit on Nov. 4.

It said, in part, “The Blackhawks take allegations of workplace misconduct and organizational response very seriously, and it’s why, over two years ago, we commissioned an extensive independent investigation into the troubling events that occurred in 2010.

“We’ve changed as a result of what happened and implemented numerous positive improvements throughout our organization to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our players and employees.”

Cushing agreed with the plaintiff’s position that John Doe had a five-year window to file suit from that point.

The Hawks argued that it should’ve been limited to a two-year window, the normal time for filing suit after discovering you have a claim, which would’ve meant that Doe’s suit, filed on Nov. 2, 2023, came too late. That’s what makes the ruling on fraudulent concealment an important factor — it extended the deadline for Doe.

Much of both sides’ arguments on that point focused on Doe’s conversation with then-Hawks mental health coach James Gary.

For now, the judge accepted the plaintiff’s good-faith argument that Gary, acting as an agent of the Hawks and a therapist, made “affirmative misrepresentations” to Doe, including how the team’s investigation into Aldrich would be handled.

The suit alleges that Gary misled Doe about an investigation into Aldrich and tried to convince him that he provoked Aldrich’s advances and that he should “move on with his life.”

The judge found that “silence by a person in a position of trust concerning the facts,” such as a previous allegation by Beach, was pleaded in the suit and could be considered concealment.

Patrick Collins, the Hawks attorney, argued during the hearing that Doe doesn’t explain what was hidden from him during his conversation with Gary.

Cushing set a deadline of April 30 for the Hawks to contest any of the allegations or statements of fact in a more detailed response. From that point, both parties will be able to conduct discovery and depose witnesses leading up to a summary judgment hearing.

At that hearing, after revisiting some of the same arguments and listening to new ones, the judge might decide between dismissing the suit or proceeding with a jury trial.

The Black Aces were a team of Hawks prospects who were brought up from the Rockford IceHogs and traveled with the NHL team during the playoffs in case of injuries.