Notice Of Appeal More Than 30 Days After 304(a) Finding Still Vests Appellate Jurisdiction

This insurance coverage case has a unique twist on when an interlocutory order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) may be appealed.

John J. Rickhoff Sheet Metal Co. filed a third-party complaint against Meridian Mutual Insurance Co and the Horton Group, Inc. Meridian and Horton asked the trial court to dismiss Rickhoff’s third-party complaint, which the court did.

Rickhoff then asked the court to reconsider the dismissals. The trial court denied Rickhoff’s request as to Meridian, and entered Rule 304(a) language [no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal] permitting an interlocutory appeal within 30 days. The trial court took the reconsideration request as to the Horton dismissal under advisement. More than 30 days later, the court also denied that request to reconsider, and made a similar Rule 304(a) finding.

Rickhoff appealed both dismissals within 30 days after the trial court denied the Horton reconsideration request. By that time, more than 30 passed from the time the court made its Rule 304(a) finding as to Meridian. So Meridian asked the appellate court to dismiss Rickhoff’s appeal because it was filed too late, depriving the appellate court of jurisdiction.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court disagreed with Meridian. The court said it had jurisdiction because Rickhoff’s whole third-party action was a “single piece of the action,” so it was okay to wait to appeal Meridian’s dismissal until after the ruling on Horton’s. Here’s how the appellate court viewed it:

In determining the effect of Rule 304(a) findings, our supreme court has made clear that its interpretations have been governed by its policy disfavoring piecemeal appeals … Further, our examination of the record in the case at bar discloses that the intent of the court and the parties was to treat the third-party action as a single piece of the action, albeit separate from the primary action commenced by State Farm, as to both third-party defendants. The court resolved both third-party defendants’ motions to dismiss in a single order, and Rickhoff filed a single motion to reconsider as to both third-party defendants. Moreover, the allegations regarding the third-party complaint as well as the grounds for its dismissal against both third-party defendants involved the conduct of both third-party defendants. The record thus discloses that the trial court exercised its discretion to determine whether to sever the third-party complaint from the initial complaint filed by State Farm … We therefore find that the Rule 304(a) finding entered by the circuit court on December 14, 2007, should be strictly construed as to apply only to sever the third-party action from the primary action filed by State Farm …

As a result, Rickhoff’s notice of appeal, which was filed less than 30 days after the order disposing of the portions of Rickhoff’s motion to reconsider that related to Horton, was timely as to both Meridian and Horton. Thus, jurisdiction exists over Rickhoff’s appeal of the dismissal of its third-party complaint against Meridian.

This opinion also lists six factors the court should consider in deciding whether to grant an interlocutory appeal. (“a paramount consideration is efficient judicial administration”). The whole thing, State Farm Fire & Casualty v. John J. Rickhoff Sheet Metal, No. 1-08-1933 (8/19/09), is available by clicking here.