Articles Posted in Real Party In Interest

Z.L., a minor who had been adopted as an infant, had reactive attachment disorder. The disorder apparently did not manifest until a few years after his adoption, when Z.L. became disruptive in the household.

The State filed a petition to adjudicate wardship, with the intent to place Z.L. in a foster home. Although they were designated as respondents to the the State’s petition, Z.L.’s parents agreed with the State and the petition. Only Z.L.’s Guardian Ad Litem opposed the State’s petition.

The trial court ruled that good cause did not exist to grant the State’s petition. Z.L.’s parents appealed the trial court’s decision. The State did not appeal, although it did file a brief supporting Z.L.’s parents. And while the GAL was named as an appellee, the GAL did not file an opposing brief.

The first question for the appellate court was whether Z.L.’s parents were proper parties to bring the appeal. The Fourth District Illinois Court of Appeals ruled that Z.L.’s parents could appeal, even though technically they were respondents to the petition in the trial court. “While the trial court’s ruling meant Jeff and Emily retained their parental rights, the ruling in this case was adverse to their interests insomuch as they were seeking the trial court’s permission to voluntarily relinquish those rights. Because the parents were parties to the proceedings in the trial court, had a substantial interest in the outcome of those proceedings, and that outcome was adverse to their interests, they have the right to pursue this appeal.”

The next issue was whether the parents should win by default because the GAL, the only party who opposed placing Z.L. in a foster home, did not file a brief. The Fourth District Appellate Court ruled that the absence of the GAL’s brief did not give Z.L.’s parents an “automatic” win. The court is not “compelled to serve as an advocate for an appellee,” nor “required to search the record for the purpose of sustaining the judgment of the trial court.”

But the court stated that it “may decide the merits of appellant’s arguments on appeal where the record is simple, the claimed errors are such that they may be decided based on appellant’s brief, and the record supports our finding in favor of appellant.” In this case, “Because respondents’ and the State’s briefs sufficiently present the issue for review, we will decide the merits of this appeal from the facts and legal arguments before us without the aid of a brief from the GAL.”

Ultimately, the appellate court ruled that Z.L.’s parents had good cause to be relieved of parental responsibilities. The whole case, In re Z.L., No. 4-06-0998 (2/15/08), is available by clicking here.

This dispute began 27 years ago when Robert Melvin applied for black lung benefits. After “amazingly protracted proceedings,” the Benefits Review Board upheld an award to Melvin’s widow. However, Melvin’s former employer, Old Ben Coal Company, and its parent company, were liquidated by a bankruptcy court. Although Old Ben and its parent had no assets, Mrs. Melvin’s award was to be paid by the Department of Labor out of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Old Ben petitioned the appellate court for review of the award. How does a defunct corporation that has been liquidated in bankruptcy do that? And why?

Here’s the explanation Old Ben’s attorneys gave. Horizon Natural Resources owned Old Ben at one time. Standard Oil of Indiana owned Horizon. B-P America bought Standard Oil. St. Paul Travelers Insurance Company issued a surety bond to Standard Oil. Old Ben’s lawyers said that a federal statute may allow the Department of Labor to recover from St. Paul the sums it paid to Mrs. Melvin. So St. Paul and B-P were paying Old Ben’s lawyers to dispute the award to Mrs. Melvin.

But St. Paul and B-P were not parties to the lawsuit, and never tried to intervene. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the petition because Old Ben was not a real party in interest – being defunct and liquidated out of bankruptcy, Old Ben had nothing to gain or lose from the petition for review. And if B-P or St. Paul had a legal interest to protect, they should have intervened in the case. They “could not protect that interest by directing [their] lawyer to represent a named party that was not a real party in interest.”

Get the whole case, Old Ben Coal Co. v. Office of Workers’ Compensation Insurance, No. 06-2189 (1/25/07), by clicking here.