Pending Appeal Of Judgment Not A Bar To Adjudication Of Attorney’s Lien; Insufficient Record Dooms Appeal

Richard Moenning was injured when he got off a passenger railroad car. He sued Union Pacifc Railroad Company, the operator of the train, for negligence and for willful and wanton misconduct. Union Pacific got a directed verdict on the willful and wanton claim. But a jury gave Moenning a favorable verdict on the negligence claim — $250,000, which was reduced to $125,000 because Moenning was 50 percent at fault for his injury.

Moenning then asked for a new trial and for sanctions against Union Pacific for having denied it was negligent. The trial court denied both requests. Unhappy with the result, Moenning appealed the verdict and the denial of his post-trial requests.

Moenning’s lawyer in the trial court was Norman Lerum. Lerum had served an attorney’s lien for one-third of a settlement or judgment payable to Moenning. While Moenning’s appeal was pending, Lerum petitioned the trial court to adjudicate and enforce his lien.

Moenning objected to the lien. But the trial court granted Lerum’s petition. Moenning asked for reconsideration, but he did not ask for a hearing within the 90-day period required by the local rules. So the trial court denied Moenning’s request.

Moenning then appealed the trial court order that enforced Lerum’s lien. Each of his arguments was rejcted by the First District Illinois Appellate Court.

First, the trial court could adjudicate Lerum’s lien even though Moenning’s appeal from the judgment still was pending. The appellate court found the attorney’s lien was collateral to the judgment, so the trial court did not lose power to consider the lien despite the pending appeal from the judgment. Here’s how the appellate court analyzed the issue:

In this case, plaintiff [Moenning] had filed a notice of appeal from the judgment entered in his personal injury suit and the denial of his posttrial and sanctions motions. In his brief, plaintiff argued error as to the jury’s finding that he was 50% at fault and the directed verdict as to his wilful and wanton claim. The petition to adjudicate the attorney’s lien did not address
these issues or challenge the judgment, which was subject to the earlier notice of appeal. The circuit court’s orders granting the petition to adjudicate the attorney’s lien and denying the motion to reconsider did not affect or alter the issues that were then on appeal.

Second, Moenning argued that the trial court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to enforce Lerum’s lien because it had not been properly perfected. But Moenning did not file a transcript of the hearing in the trial court or a bystander’s report of the proceeding. So the appellate court rejected Moenning’s argument because it was his responsibility to provide a sufficient record on appeal. The appellate court explained:

We do not have a record of the issues that were addressed or the arguments and evidence that were presented or considered by the trial court in granting the petition to adjudicate the lien and in making its finding that the lien was properly perfected. Under these circumstances, and based on the record on appeal, we cannot conclude that the trial court’s December 2, 2009 order [enforcing the lien] was in error.

Read the whole case, Moenning v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 2012 IL App (1st) 101866, by clicking here.