October 13, 2011

Unique Paralegal Position Open

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This is a part time position with flexible hours. Most of the work will be done remotely, with just a bit of on-site work necessary at World Headquarters in the west Chicago suburbs.

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October 13, 2011

Village Has Jurisdiction To Appeal Abandonment Of Eminent Domain Case

The Village of Bellwood, Illinois thought it wanted seven private properties for its own. Bellwood condemned the properties and brought an eminent domain case against the property owners. All of the parties agreed to an amount the property owners would be paid by Bellwood for the properties. The trial court ordered (1) Bellwood would take title upon payment to the property owners, (2) each party waived their right to appeal, and (3) the settlement order was final.

Bellwood reneged on the deal before it paid the property owners. Bellwood claimed the eminent domain statute allowed it to back out of the agreement and to abandon its eminent domain case any time before it took ownership of properties. But the trial court denied Bellwood’s request to abandon the case because “you can't just go out and make agreements and then all of a sudden back out on them.”

Bellwood appealed, but the property owners contested appellate jurisdiction. They argued (1) the appeal waiver in the trial court’s order prevented Bellwood from appealing, and (2) the order denying Bellwood’s request to abandon the lawsuit was not final and appealable.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court disagreed with the property owners and ruled there was appellate jurisdiction. The appeal waiver in the trial court’s order did not preclude Bellwood’s appeal because Bellwood contested the order disallowing its abandonment of the case, not the actual settlement order. And the order was final and appealable, the appellate court ruled, because it disposed of the issues between the parties. This is how the appellate court explained it:

Here, we find that the order denying Bellwood's motion to abandon is a final and appealable order because it disposed of the rights of the parties and terminated the litigation. The circuit court's order denied Bellwood's motion to abandon the eminent domain proceedings and set the parties' rights and obligations in accordance with the agreed orders. All that was left for the court to do was to execute the judgment on the agreed orders.

Further, we cannot construe the parties' waiver of the right to appeal in the agreed orders as a waiver of Bellwood's right to appeal from the denial of its motion to abandon. Bellwood is not attacking or contesting the agreed orders; rather, Bellwood is contesting only the denial of its motion to abandon, an order separate and distinct from the agreed orders. Therefore, the parties' waiver of the right to appeal as provided for in the agreed orders does not affect Bellwood's right to appeal the denial of its motion to abandon.

In the end, the appellate court ruled that Bellwood could abandon the eminent domain case. Read the whole case, Village of Bellwood v. American National Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago, 2011 IL App (1st) 09311, by clicking here.

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October 9, 2011

Railroad’s Appeal Doomed For Incomplete Appellate Record

Harry Balough was injured in his work maintaining a railroad car. So he sued his employer, the railroad company. A jury awarded him damages of $500,000, but also found he was 40 percent responsible for his injury. So Balough’s award was reduced to $300,000.

Balough then asked the trial court to reinstate the $500,000 verdict. He argued that the statute he sued under did not allow for reduction of a verdict because of his own contributory fault. The trial court agreed, and entered a verdict for the larger amount.

The Railroad appealed, but did not put the facts for the jury’s finding nor for the trial court’s legal ruling into the appellate record. The First District Illinois Appellate Court agreed with trial court’s legal ruling that Balough’s contributory fault could not serve to reduce his full damage award. The appellate court also ruled that presumptions of fact fell in Balough’s favor because it was the Railroad’s burden, as the party appealing, to assure there was an adequate appellate record. Here’s how the appellate court explained it:

[B]ecause Metra [Railroad] failed to present an adequate record, we must presume the trial court's determination was correct. Metra failed to include in the record the following: the jury instructions on the LIA; instructions regarding the two different general verdict forms; the alternative verdict form A; a transcript or bystander's report of any discussion during the jury conference regarding the special interrogatories; and a transcript or bystander's report of any explanation or discussion by the court regarding the special interrogatories and verdict forms before the jury. In the absence of a more complete record regarding the basis for the court's order denying defendant's motion, we must presume that the court's action "was in conformity with the law and was properly supported by evidence," and that any doubts arising from an incomplete record should be resolved against the appellant …

We note that Metra offers no explanation for its failure to include a report of proceedings of the trial court's reading of the instructions to the jury or of any explanation or discussion of the special interrogatories and verdict forms before the jury." An issue relating to a circuit court's factual findings and basis for its legal conclusions obviously cannot be reviewed absent a report or record of the proceeding.

You can read the whole opinion, Balough v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., No. 1-09-3053 (5/19/11), by clicking here.

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