By: Carson Griffis*
One of the key questions in perfecting an appeal is determining when final judgment is entered. In most circumstances, it’s clear. But in some cases, a judge’s oral pronouncement can it more difficult to determine if a final judgment has been entered.
Rocha v. FedEx Corp., 2020 IL App (1st) 190041, illustrates such a situation. In Rocha, the circuit court made an oral pronouncement that it was granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to some of the counts of the plaintiff’s complaint, but also said that it planned to reduce that ruling to writing. The remaining counts later went to trial, where the defendant prevailed. The circuit court entered a judgment on the jury’s verdict, but still did not put its summary judgment ruling in writing. More than 30 days later, the plaintiffs moved to vacate the judgment entered on the jury verdict and requested an extension of time to file a post-trial motion. The defendant then requested that the circuit court enter an order nunc pro tunc to reflect the oral summary judgment ruling and decline to exercise jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ post-trial motion because more than 30 days had passed since judgment had been entered. The circuit court entered the order granting summary judgment nunc pro tunc, stating that its oral pronouncement was clear and plaintiffs should have taken its oral pronouncement as the entry of summary judgment at the time it was made. Thus, the circuit court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to vacate and extend the time to file a post-trial motion. Plaintiffs then filed a notice of appeal.
The defendant argued that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction because a final judgment disposing of all of the plaintiff’s claims had been entered when the court entered judgment on the jury’s verdict. Accordingly, the defendant argued, the plaintiff’s failed to file a timely post-trial motion that would have extended the time to file their notice of appeal, thus rendering their notice of appeal untimely. The plaintiffs, citing Illinois Supreme Court Rule 272, argued that the circuit court’s oral pronouncement regarding the defendant’s motion for summary judgment did not constitute a final disposition of those counts of its complaint. Rather, final judgment had not been entered until the circuit court entered its written order granting the defendant summary judgment.
The appellate court agreed with the plaintiffs because, while it was clear that the circuit court was going to grant the motion for summary judgment when it made its oral pronouncement, it was unclear that it intended to enter final judgment at that time. Because the circuit court stated that it planned to later reduce its ruling to writing, it had suggested that final judgment would not be entered until it issued a written order. And although the circuit court later entered its written order nunc pro tunc to the date of its oral pronouncement, the appellate court held that an order cannot relate back in time if doing so would render a notice of appeal untimely. Thus, the appellate court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ appeal.
For practitioners, Rocha highlights the importance of seeking clarity in any oral pronouncements and, when appropriate, requesting that any oral pronouncements be reduced to writing as soon as possible.
*Carson Griffis is an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Appeals Division of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. No comments made in this post are made on behalf of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, nor do they reflect the views or opinions of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.