Where Court Decides Several Counts of Complaint But Not All Counts, The Time Period for Filing an Appeal on the Decided Counts Begin

Anthony Williams filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway Co. under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. §51) (2006) claiming an employment-related injury. BNSF filed a third-party complaint for contribution and contractual indemnification against third-party defendant Quality Terminal Services (QTS). At the jury trial, a verdict in favor of Williams was returned with total damages in the amount of $2,676,950. However, the jury assigned 50 percent of the negligence in the case to Williams and divided the remaining responsibility at 37.5 percent to BNSF and 12.5 percent to QTS. The jury also returned a verdict in favor of QTS on BNSF’s contractual indemnity claim.

BNSF appealed claiming that the circuit court erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict on the contractual indemnity claim. BNSF also maintained that the trial judge erred in refusing to allow evidence related to Williams’s termination of employment with BNSF. And finally, BNSF contended that the circuit court erred in allowing evidence of the loss of household services, including unsupported opinion testimony regarding the value of those services. 

At the outset, Williams and QTS argued that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to decide this appeal because BNSF did not file its notice of appeal within 30 days of the trial court’s oral ruling on all posttrial motion. Williams filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and QTS joined. The appellate court noted that in Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 237 Ill. 2d. 217, 251-52 (2010), the reviewing court has a duty to consider its jurisdiction and to dismiss the appeal if it determines that jurisdiction is wanting. 

In this case, the trial court issued an oral ruling denying all posttrial motions on April 18, 2012. There was no written ruling reflecting the court’s ruling. The only issue remaining after the oral ruling was BNSF’s request for a setoff against the judgment in the amount of taxes it would have to pay in the future for lost wages awarded by the jury to Williams. Williams and QTS argued that the setoff issue satisfies rather than modifies a judgment. The ruling did not toll the 30-day period for filing a notice of appeal and therefore, BNSF’s notice of appeal filed on June 29, 2012, 72 days after the denial of all posttrial motions, was untimely. 

After the jury’s verdict, BNSF filed its posttrial motion on January 26, 2012. The motion sought a new trial or alternatively a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on 45 different grounds. The motion also requested a setoff in the amount of taxes payable as a result of lost wages to be paid to Williams under the verdict. At the April 18, 2012, hearing on the post-trial motions, the trial judge orally ruled that the post-trial motions were denied, leaving open only the “taxation issue” raised by BNSF.  The court took that issue under advisement. The trial court stated that it would later issue an order “on [the tax setoff issue] probably within the next ten days or so.” No written order was written on April 18, 2012. On May 31, 2012, more than 30 days after the trial court’s April 18th ruling, BNSF filed an “emergency” motion for leave to file supplemental authority. On June 1, 2012, at a hearing on the emergency motion brought by BNSF, the trial judge commented that its motion seemed to assume that BNSF’s entire posttrial motion was under advisement.  That was not the case. The court had reiterated that the post-trial relief sought by BNSF had already been denied. The court also stated that a written ruling would be issued only on the remaining issue that being the tax issue. 

The written order of June 6, 2012 stated that, “For reasons stated by the Court, on record, on June 6, 2012, post-trial motions relating to disability payments + taxes are denied.”  The phrase “relating to disability payments + taxes” was inserted after the original order was written. The order also stated that it was “final and appealable” with the additional phrase, “regarding the verdict in this matter” crossed out. Those changes were made by the attorney for Williams. The case was recalled, and there was argument by BNSF’s attorney regarding this first written order regarding post-trial motions.

The appellate court stated in its opinion that the jurisdictional arguments made by Williams and QTS were well-taken. The trial court expressly denied all issues raised in BNSF’s post-trial motion on April 18, 2012, except for the setoff claim. There was nothing in the record to indicate that the parties, in particular BNSF, were waiting for a written order from the court. The appellate court found that BNSF’s request for a setoff did not toll the time for filing its notice of appeal from the court’s oral ruling denying its posttrial motions.

A request for a setoff seeks to satisfy, not modify the judgment entered by a trial court.  Star Charters v. Figueroa, 192 Ill.2d 47, 48 (2000).  The court concluded that a setoff request like that made by BNSF, is no different from any other credit sought by a judgment debtor, such as a credit for pretrial settlements with other defendants.  Because the setoff did not fall within the purview of §2-1202, BNSF was required to file its notice of appeal within 30 days after that date and its notice of appeal filed 72 days later was untimely. 

The fact that the trial judge did not issue a written order denying the posttrial motion, did not make the oral ruling on April 18any less final. Although Illinois Supreme Court Rule 272 provides that if, at the time of announcing final judgment, the judge requires the submission of a written order or if a circuit court rule requires the prevailing party to submit a draft order, the judgment is not final until the signed judgment is filed. Ill.SCt.R 272 (eff. Nov. 1, 1990). However, Rule 272 also states that if no signed judgment is to be filed, the judgment is entered at the time it is entered of record.  In this case, on April 18, the trial court unequivocally ruled that the posttrial motions were denied with the only exception being the tax setoff issue. The court also stated that it would  issue a written order only on the setoff issue. The court made no reference to a written order regarding the posttrial motions and did not ask the parties to prepare one. 

For those reasons, the appellate court dismissed this appeal as being untimely and  for lack of jurisdiction.

Anthony Williams v. BNSF Railway Company and Quality Terminal Services, No. 2013 IL App. (1st) 121901 (Sept. 25, 2013); No. 1-12-1901.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling worker injury cases, construction site accidents, business litigation and commercial lawsuits for individuals, families and businesses for more than 37 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Rosemont, Chicago (Hegewisch, Andersonville, Beverly, Bucktown, Dunning, Garfield Ridge, Greektown, Irving Park), Naperville, Aurora, Berwyn, Bolingbrook, Crystal Lake, Grayslake, Lake Forest and Elgin, Ill.

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