Nearly five years after their divorce, Mary Gutman filed a motion to continue and modify her maintenance award. Two months later, Daniel filed a motion to terminate maintenance. One month after that, Mary filed a petition to hold Daniel in contempt for having stopped the maintenance payments.
The trial court twice set a date for hearing on the competing maintenance petitions, but Mary did not attend either time. On the second hearing date, the court granted Daniel’s petition to terminate maintenance, dismissed Mary’s maintenance petition, and did nothing on the contempt petition. The trial court’s order did not contain language under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) that would have made the maintenance dismissals appealable interlocutory orders.
After her motions to vacate and to reconsider were denied, Mary appealed. But her Notice of Appeal was filed well more than 30 days after the trial court ruled on the maintenance petitions.
The Second District Illinois Appellate Court dismissed Mary’s appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The appellate court ruled that the pending contempt petition really was a separate claim for relief from the maintenance petitions. Therefore, the appellate court concluded, the order on the maintenance petitions was final and appealable, and should have been appealed within 30 days. Mary’s appeal, coming more than 30 days after the ruling, was late, depriving the appellate court of jurisdiction over the case.
Mary appealed that ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court, which took the case. There are two aspects of the Supreme Court’s opinion that are important to appellate practitioners. One, of course, is whether the appellate court was right to dismiss Mary’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
The other issue, which we’ll examine today, arose because another panel of judges from the same court “overruled” this opinion. So the first question for the supreme court was whether the appellate opinion in this case had any legal effect in view of the same court having “overruled” it. (For more on this stunning intra-district squabble, click here and here to read our reports from earlier this year.)
The supreme court ruled that one panel cannot overrule another panel. Nor can one district overrule another. Disagreeing opinions create conflicting authority but one does not overrule the other. Here’s what the supreme court said:
We find, however, that the decision before us has not been overruled. A panel, division, or district of the appellate court has no authority to overrule another panel, division, or district … Thus, despite its statement to the contrary, Knoerr [the second case] did not overrule this case. The Knoerr panel created a conflict of authority by disagreeing with a decision from another panel of a court of equal stature. We conclude, therefore, that the appellate court decision we are reviewing remains in effect.
So the supreme court still had to review the jurisdiction dispute. We’ll look at that part of the opinion next time. (No reason to hold your breath, though. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s dismissal, but for reasons quite different than the appellate court used.) If you just can’t wait to read it, click here for the full opinion, IRMO Gutman, No. 105648 (11/20/08). And click here to read our first report of the appellate opinions in IRMO Gutman and IRMO Knoerr.