July 27, 2010

Claim Of Privilege In Discovery Dispute Reviewed De Novo

Discovery orders in Illinois generally are not immediately appealable. But a party can get an immediate appeal by refusing to comply with the order and then being held in contempt of court for doing so. The contempt order is immediately appealable.

The Second District Illinois Appellate Court recently stated this rule and identified the standard of review when a party refuses to comply with discovery based on privilege. “Berkman's appeal of the contempt order requires us to review the underlying discovery order … On appeal, Berkman challenges the trial court's determination that neither the attorney-client privilege nor the fifth amendment privilege shielded the requested documents from discovery. Although discovery orders are generally reviewed for abuse of discretion, we review the trial court's determination of whether a privilege applies de novo …”

The whole case, Mueller Industries v. Berkman, No. 2-09-0134 (3/23/10), is available here.

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July 27, 2010

“Sellers Exception” Dismissal In Airplane Crash Product Liability Case Not Final And Appealable

Illinois law allows the seller of a product to get out of a product liability lawsuit after identifying the manufacturer of the product. But even if the dismissal is with prejudice, the dismissal order is not final and immediately appealable. The First District Illinois Appellate Court recently said it did not have jurisdiction to consider the injured parties’ appeal from a dismissal of a seller of an aircraft that had identified the manufacturer.

Section 2-621 directs the dismissal of the seller, unless the seller had knowledge of the product defect or participated in the design of the product. But it also allows for the seller to be brought back into the case if an action against the manufacturer would be, as the court stated, “impossible or unavailing.”

Because the seller was subject to being reinstated, the dismissal order did not dispose of the rights of the parties. The order therefore was not final, and not appealable at that time. “Until plaintiff files and the [trial] court rules on a motion for vacation of the order dismissing plaintiff's strict liability claims against Air 1st [product seller] and reinstatement of those claims pursuant to section 2-621, we have no jurisdiction to consider the court's dismissal of those claims.”

Read the whole case, South Side Trust and Savings Bank of Peoria v. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, No. 1-09-0148 (3/31/10), by clicking here.

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July 24, 2010

Appeal Notice Timely In Medical Malpractice Case Despite Limited Reconsideration Motion

Tina Hemminger died from cervical cancer. Her husband, Daniel, sued Tina’s doctors, lab technician, and the hospital where she was treated for medical malpractice in failing to diagnose Tina’s cancer.

Three of the five defendants asked the trial court for summary judgment based on two arguments: (1) that they were immune from suit because they were municipal entities or government employees, and (2) the statute of limitations barred the lawsuit.

The trial court gave summary judgment to the three defendants, and made a finding under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal of the judgment). Within the 30-day deadline, Daniel asked the trial court to reconsider the summary judgment. His reconsideration request raised only the statute of limitations issue, and not the immunity question. The trial court denied Daniel’s request.

Daniel appealed within 30 days of the time the trial court denied the request for reconsideration. The appeal asked for reversal of the immunity and the statute of limitations rulings.

The three defendants asserted that the appellate court did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal of the immunity issue. They argued that Daniel’s appeal of the immunity ruling was late because (1) he did not address it in his reconsideration request, so the time to appeal it was not tolled, and (2) the appeal was filed more than 30 days after the trial court issued the summary judgment, making it late. The guts of the argument was that the immunity ruling and the statute of limitations ruling were separate orders that required individual notice of appeal, even though both were contained in a single order.

The Third District Illinois Appellate Court disagreed the three defendants. The appellate court ruled that Daniel’s one notice of appeal covering both issues was timely because the reconsideration request applied to the entire summary judgment ruling. Here’s how the appellate court explained it:

[T]he single order granting the motion for summary judgment on both issues says, "This ruling is final and appealable pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) … The Rule 304(a) language is unambiguous. Defense counsel drafted the order that he argues is really two separate orders. Defense counsel cannot argue that it means something other than what it says. Plaintiff filed a single motion to reconsider a single order granting summary judgment. This tolled the time for filing a notice of appeal with respect to the order … We conclude that this court has jurisdiction to hear plaintiff's appeal.

The appellate court acknowledged “we would have a different case” had the trial court “entered summary judgment on each issue separately, each with its own Rule 304(a) finding.” Read the whole case, Hemminger v. Nehring, No. 3-08-0751 (4/6/10), by clicking here.

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July 9, 2010

Personal Injury Plaintiff Forfeits Review For Failure To Attach Proposed Amendment

Jill Hamer was touring Chicago on a Segway, a mechanical device with wheels that transports riders while they stand on the machine. Jill fell and injured herself while riding the Segway up a hill. So she sued City Segway Tours of Chicago for compensation for the injuries.

City Segway asked the trial court for summary judgment based on a release Jill signed before taking the tour. Jill opposed City Segway’s request. She also asked for leave to file an amended complaint to allege willful and wanton conduct by City Segway. But Jill did not attach her proposed amended complaint to her request. The trial court gave City Segway summary judgment and denied Jill’s request to file an amended complaint. So Jill appealed.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the order denying Jill’s motion to file an amended complaint. The court explained: “… [B]y failing to include the amended complaint in the record on appeal, Hamer has forfeited her right to have this court review the trial court’s denial of her motion for leave to amend her complaint.”

The lesson is: Include the proposed amended pleading in your motion for leave to file it. You risk forfeiting an appeal of an adverse ruling if you do not include the proposed amended pleading in your motion.

The appellate court also affirmed the order granting City Segway summary judgment. Get the whole case, Hamer v. City Segway Tours of Chicago, 1-08-3371 (6/10/10), by clicking here.

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July 8, 2010

Interests Of Justice Overcomes School Board’s Preemption Forfeiture

After a collective bargaining agreement expired, a school board decreased health care benefits to teachers who took early retirement under the agreement. The teachers sued the school board for the full benefits. The trial court gave the teachers summary judgment, and the school board appealed.

The school board did not raise a federal preemption defense in the trial or appellate courts. The Second District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that preemption was subject to forfeiture because “this preemption affects only the applicable law, not the appropriate forum or jurisdiction …”

But in this case, the appellate court ignored the forfeiture because “[W]e believe that the interests of justice and the development of a sound body of precedent require the application of federal common law here … We observe with respect the United States Supreme Court's statements regarding the importance of a uniform body of law in cases involving the interpretation of collective bargaining agreements … Accordingly, throughout this opinion we look to federal law in addressing the substantive issues raised by the parties, although we include citations to Illinois law where the issue is purely procedural or reference to state law may be helpful.”

In the end, the teachers’ summary judgment was affirmed. Read the whole opinion, Haake v. Board of Education for Township High School Glenbard District 87, No. 2-09-0103 (3/15/10), by clicking here.

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