Williams v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2013 IL App (1st) 121901 (Mason)
Facts: Plaintiff obtains verdict against the defendant and third party defendant in an F.E.L.A. case. The defendant files a post-trial motion raising 45 different substantive basis as to why the verdict should be overturned or modified and also a 46th point seeking a set-off for taxes that would be paid for future wage loss. On April 18, 2012, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion on the 45 different substantive bases in an oral ruling but took the “taxation” issue under advisement and indicated it would issue a ruling in the future. On May 31, 2012, the defendant brought an emergency motion seeking leave to file supplemental authority relating to a remittitur claim that had been previously denied. The trial court reiterated that the only issue under advisement was the taxation issue but made a comment that it was appropriate for the defendant to bring new case law to the court’s attention. The trial court asked the parties to come back on June 6, 2012 and at the hearing on that date distinguished the case law that defendant provided and denied the defendant’s motion. The parties then fought over the wording in the order, with the defendant seeking language that made it appear as if the order related to all aspects of the post-trial motion and the plaintiff seeking the order to reflect a ruling limited only to the disability payment remitittur and taxation issue. The trial court sided with the plaintiff on the language in the order. On June 29, 2012, the defendant filed its notice of appeal.
Holding: The defendant’s request for a set off only serves to satisfy, not modify, the judgment and therefore did not serve to toll the time for filing the notice of appeal on the other grounds of the post-trial motion and because more than 30 days elapsed before the defendant filed it notice of appeal it was not timely and the appeal was properly dismissed. The fact that the trial court did not issue a written order denying the post trial motions does not make the oral ruling of April 18, 2012 any less final.
Filed in Trial Book Under: Notice of Appeal, Set-Off, SCR 272, Final and Appealable Order
Commentary: The defendant’s attorney is likely in hot water with the client over this case. This was a seven figure verdict and with 45 different grounds for new trial raised in the post-trial motion, the defendant clearly believed that they had a bad trial. In light of the claimed confusion over the finality of the oral ruling on April 12, 2012, it was incumbent upon the defendant’s attorney to get a clarification relating to the impact of the oral ruling. The opinion cites the recent case of Hernandez v. Pritikin on the issue that its a movant’s responsibility to obtain a ruling on his motion of he is to avoid forfeiture on appeal. I’m surprised that on a case of this magnitude that a written order wasn’t required by the trial judge, or at least requested by the defendant’s attorney. Making a clear and easy to understand record is a good practice to adopt and this case is a great example of the perils of permitting confusion to prevail without asking for clarification.
Useful Rules/Language from the Opinion:
Set-Offs: “As our supreme court has noted, a request for a setoff seeks to satisfy, not modify, the judgment entered by the trial court. Star Charters v. Figueroa, 192 Ill. 2d 47, 48 (2000)…..Because the request is not a motion directed against the judgment, it is not subject to the 30-day time limit applicable to post-trial motions.” (Emphases in original.) Star Charters, 192 Ill. 2d at 48-49.
Final and Appealable Orders and SCR 272: “Finally, the fact that the trial court did not issue a written order denying the posttrial motions does not make the oral ruling of April 18 any less final. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 272 provides that if, at the time of announcing final judgment, the judge requires the submission of a written order or if a circuit court rule requires the prevailing party to submit a draft order, the judgment is not final until the signed judgment is filed. Ill. S. Ct. R. 272 (eff. Nov. 1, 1990). However, Rule 272 further provides that if no such signed judgment is to be filed, the judgment is entered at the time it is entered of record.