By Louis J. Manetti
Attorney, Codilis and Associates, PC
An appeal’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction is usually unremarkable. But in Oruta v. B.E.W., 2016 IL App (1st) 152735, the First District Appellate Court’s dismissal marked the fourth time—in the same case—that it ejected the plaintiff from the Appellate Court because it lacked jurisdiction.
The court-characterized “bizarre” litigation began when Larry Oruta filed a lawsuit against several defendants to enforce a workers’ compensation judgment “that never existed.” Oruta v. B.E.W., 2016 IL App (1st) 152735, ¶ 5. Then, Oruta filed a garnishment against a bank, and the trial court issued an $80,000 turnover order in Oruta’s favor. Id. But when the court learned that no judgment actually existed, it vacated the turnover order and commanded Oruta to give back any money he may have received. Id. Oruta filed the first appeal, seeking review of the order vacating the turnover order. Id. However, the Appellate Court noted that Oruta filed the appeal before the final order in the underlying case had been entered, so the first appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 6.
Back in the circuit court, Oruta failed to comply with the court’s mandate that he return any ill-gotten turnover funds. Id. ¶ 9. Eventually, the court found him in civil contempt, and months later it reaffirmed in an order that he would be in civil contempt until he returned the money. Id. Three weeks later, however, the court ordered Oruta’s immediate release from custody. Id. This caused Oruta to file the second appeal, in which he sought review of the order reaffirming the civil contempt and the order mandating his release from custody. Id. ¶ 10. But the Appellate Court found that the appeal from the continued contempt order was untimely because it was not filed within 30 days, and that the incarceration was terminated by the time Oruta appealed, so the second appeal was dismissed. Id.
Then, in the circuit court, Oruta tried to reinstate garnishment proceedings. Id. ¶ 12. He claimed he had obtained a final judgment, and, in support, he produced a “near-illegible” order. Id. ¶ 13. The circuit court found that it never entered the purported order and struck it. Id. Oruta filed the third appeal and sought review of the order striking the purported order. Id. The Appellate Court once again dismissed the appeal because it held that the order did not finally dispose a claim against any party. Id. ¶ 14.
Finally, Oruta filed a motion in the circuit court that asked the court to refund a Workers’ Compensation Commission bond. The circuit court denied the motion (id. ¶ 16), and Oruta strung out the same bond argument across various motions. Id. ¶¶ 18-22. Eventually, the circuit court denied the requests for lack of jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 24. Oruta appealed.
In its decision, the Appellate Court immediately noted that Oruta’s brief lacked a table of contents and citations to the record, and that it could dismiss the appeal on those grounds alone. Id. ¶¶ 28-36. Turning to the merits of the appeal, the Court found that, while there was evidence that a bond was taken out in 2012, there was no indication that the bond still existed. Id. ¶ 40. Further, the Court noted that it had no more jurisdiction than the circuit court did, and circuit courts only have jurisdiction over workers’ compensation decisions if strict statutory procedures are followed. Id. ¶ 42. The record failed to show that Oruta followed these procedures, so the Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 45.
In essence, Oruta is an appellate cautionary tale. From appealing non-final orders, to failing to file a timely notice of appeal, to appealing orders that do not dispose any party’s claim, to the failure to perfect jurisdiction in the lower court and filing non-conforming appellate briefs, Oruta shows the gamut of pitfalls that can lead to an appellant’s case being dismissed.