Postdissolution Petitions Present New Claims, But Not New Actions

We continue with IRMO Duggan. (For Part One, with an explanation of the case facts, see blog entry of 10/29/07, directly below.) The next question the court took on was whether Tamara’s support petition and Darrell’s petition to set a visitation schedule presented (1) new claims in the same action, or (2) new and separate actions. Recall that Darrell appealed the child support order while his petition to set a visitation schedule still was pending. And the trial court did not issue a Rule 304(a) order (no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal of the judgment).

If the petitions presented new actions, as Darrell argued, then he could appeal the support order even if there was no ruling on the visitation petition. Indeed, he would have to. But Tamara argued that the petitions were different claims in the same action. If Tamara were right, then a Rule 304(a) order would be necessary to provide the basis for jurisdiction for Darrell to appeal the child support judgment while the visitation petition still was pending. (Rule 304(a) language is necessary to appeal a final order of fewer than all pending claims.)

The appellate court ruled that the petitions were “appropriately treated as new claims within the dissolution action. This approach enables the trial court to better serve the needs of families caught up in the often-painful aftermath of divorce by considering all of the relevant pre- and postdissolution proceedings together, rather than in isolation, and is consistent with the previous decisions of Illinois courts.”

So why did the court engage in so lengthy an analysis of this question, or even decide it at all? After all, Darrell was on the losing side here, but his appeal was saved by the retroactive application of the amendment to Rule 303(a), which allows a prematurely filed Notice of Appeal to establish appellate jurisdiction. (See blog entry for 10/29/07, directly below, for a fuller explanation.) Perhaps the court was not confident the retroactivity ruling would survive Illinois Supreme Court review. So providing an answer to the “one claim or new actions” question would obviate more briefing in the appellate court in the event of a reversal in the Illinois Supreme Court on the retroactivity question.

Next we’ll look at the special concurrence, which takes issue with the majority on the appellate jurisdiction issues. You can get the whole opinion, IRMO Duggan, No. 2-06-0061 (10/16/07), by clicking here.