Railroad’s Summary Judgment, Granted On Reconsideration, Reviewed De Novo

Donald Pence tripped as he walked across the railroad tracks, and fractured his wrist and shoulder. He sued the railroad for poorly maintaining the area. The railroad asked the trial court for summary judgment. The court denied the request, but on reconsideration gave the railroad summary judgment.

Pence appealed. The first question was the proper standard of review to apply to the summary judgment the railroad got on reconsideration. The First District Illinois Appellate Court acknowledged that orders from reconsideration requests often get reviewed by the abuse-of-discretion standard. But the order in this case was reviewed de novo [no discretion]. This is how the appellate court explained the ruling:

The purpose of a motion to reconsider is to bring to the court’s attention newly discovered evidence which was not available at the time of the hearing, changes in the law or errors in the court’s previous application of existing law … As a general rule we review a motion to reconsider for abuse of discretion … “But a motion to reconsider an order granting summary judgment raises the question of whether the judge erred in his previous application of existing law. Whether the court has erred in the application of existing law is not reviewed under an abuse-of-discretion standard … As with any question regarding the application of existing law, we review the denial of such a motion de novo.” …

The railroad’s summary judgment was affirmed because, the court ruled, Pence was not an intended user of the area in which he fell. The whole case, Pence v Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad, No. 1-08-3668 (2/3/10), is available here.