By: Carson Griffis
When it comes to appellate jurisdiction, labels may not tell the whole story. That is the lesson from the Illinois Appellate Court’s recent decision in Gateway Auto, Inc. v. Commercial Pallet, Inc., 2023 IL App (1st) 230185, which held that, although an order was characterized as “final and appealable” by the circuit court, it was not immediately appealable under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a).
The plaintiff, Gateway Auto, Inc., leased a building in Chicago from Les Hagan. The building next door was owned by 1300-08 W. Randolph, LLC (“Randolph”), which began negotiating with Hagan about purchasing the building that Gateway was renting. Gateway filed suit, eventually amending its complaint to assert a single claim of tortious interference with prospective business relations against Hagan, Randolph, and one of Randolph’s agents. While Gateway’s action was pending, it was evicted from the building. Hagan and Randolph then filed counterclaims against Gateway for its failure to pay rent and removal of fixtures from the building prior to its eviction. Randolph also filed a motion to dismiss Gateway’s claim against it, which the circuit court granted, disposing of the only claim against Randolph with prejudice. Gateway filed a motion to reconsider the grant of Randolph’s motion to dismiss, which the circuit court denied, adding, “This is a final and appealable order.” Gateway then filed a notice of appeal from the orders granting Randolph’s motion to dismiss and denying its motion to reconsider.
Randolph argued that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction because the counterclaims remained pending, so there was no final judgment disposing of all claims against all parties. In response, Gateway argued that the court had jurisdiction under Rule 304(a), which allows for appeals from “a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the parties,” because the grant of Randolph’s motion to dismiss finally disposed of all claims against Randolph. Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 304(a). And, Randolph argued, the circuit court’s statement that its order was “final and appealable” satisfied Rule 304(a)’s requirement that the circuit court make “an express written finding that there is no just reason for delaying either enforcement or appeal or both.” Id.
The appellate court dismissed Gateway’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court recognized that the order granting Randolph’s motion to dismiss was final because it disposed of the only claim against Randolph. But, the court explained, that order was not appealable under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 301 because the counterclaims remained pending in the circuit court. And although the circuit court’s order denying the motion to reconsider said that it was “final and appealable,” it did not refer to immediate appealability, the justness of delaying an appeal, or Rule 304(a) itself. Accordingly, the circuit court’s statement did not satisfy Rule 304(a)’s express written finding requirement.
In reaching that conclusion, the appellate court agreed with the reasoning of Palmolive Tower Condominiums v. Simon, 409 Ill. App. 3d 539 (1st Dist. 2011), which also held that a finding that an order was “final and appealable” was insufficient to invoke Rule 304(a). And the court declined to follow Com-Co Insurance Agency v. Service Insurance Agency, 321 Ill. App. 3d 816 (1st Dist. 2001), which held that a statement that an order was “final and appealable” implicitly recognized that an immediate appeal was proper under Rule 304(a).
Gateway Auto is a reminder that a lack of clarity can be the difference between the existence and absence of appellate jurisdiction. Requesting and drafting circuit court orders that strictly follow the language and requirements of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules is thus critically important.
Carson is counsel in the Litigation & Investigations group at Croke Fairchild Duarte & Beres, where his practice focuses on complex commercial litigation in both trial and appellate courts.