By Richard Harris
Law Clerk to Hon. Susan F. Hutchinson, Illinois Appellate Court, Second District
The recent passing of our dear friend and colleague, Charlie Ingrassia, has been well documented in The Brief. As former editor and co-chair, “Charlie made The Brief a go-to resource for everyone who wants to learn more about recent developments in the appellate world.” John M. Fitzgerald, A Gentleman and a Scholar: Charlie Ingrassia (1979-2019)
, Feb. 18, 2019. Outside of his many contributions to the Appellate Lawyers Association, Charlie is also remembered as a “gifted writer and excellent strategist.” Austin Bartlett, Remembering Charlie Ingrassia
, Feb. 18, 2019. It is fitting, then, that Charlie’s keen eye for jurisdictional issues would win the day in his final case. Our sincere thanks to Lawrence S. Gosewisch, a partner at Charlie’s law firm, for sharing his memories of Charlie’s prevailing argument in Elite Storage Sols., LLC v. Ratajczak, 2019 IL App (1st) 172346-U.
“Charlie Ingrassia worked with me at Adler Murphy & McQuillen, LLP and he and Tim Parilla handled the Elite Storage case. We successfully moved to dismiss the case against our client and Charlie and Tim handled the appeal. Charlie’s years clerking for Justice Hutchinson in the Second District Appellate Court served him well and he always looked first at jurisdictional issues. When Charlie suggested we pursue a dismissal of the appeal on jurisdictional grounds, I was at first skeptical but as usual, I deferred to my appellate specialist. Charlie pursued the argument and the appeal was dismissed. This was a particularly rewarding result for Charlie, who was battling Stage IV cancer during the entire appellate process and during most of the trial court proceedings as well. The decision came down on February 15, 2019, the same day Charlie was scheduled for yet another surgery. We immediately emailed the decision to Charlie, who acknowledged the result, gave the credit to Tim, and said he was being rolled into surgery and would study the opinion later. Charlie passed away on February 17, 2019 without ever leaving the hospital. He loved being a lawyer and he was a great one. I am so glad Charlie knew that he prevailed for our client. It was very important to him. We miss him every day.”
Lawrence S. Gosewisch, Adler Murphy & McQuillen, LLP.
On the merits, Elite Storage involved the denial of an insurance claim due to an alleged lapse in coverage. The plaintiff entered into a contract with Precision Builders & Contractors, LLC (Precision), to provide equipment and services for a project in Elgin. As part of the contract, Precision agreed to procure an insurance policy naming the plaintiff as an additional insured. Precision procured the policy through Maciel Ratajczak and Mr. Insurance Agency (the Ratajczak defendants). The plaintiff was later named as a defendant in a separate lawsuit relating to an injury on the work site. After learning that its claim for insurance coverage was denied based on the alleged lapse in coverage, the plaintiff filed a complaint against Precision and the Ratajczak defendants for negligence and breach of contract.
Charlie’s law firm represented the Ratajczak defendants, who moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s second amended complaint. Notably, Precision did not join the motion. On July 12, 2017, the trial court entered an order dismissing the second amended complaint “in its entirety and with prejudice.” There was no mention, however, of the order being final and appealable under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a). On August 14, 2017, the plaintiff and the Ratajczak defendants filed a “joint and routine motion for entry of a final judgment.” The parties noted that the order of dismissal did not address Precision’s status as a named defendant. They requested the entry of an agreed order clarifying that the order of dismissal was a “final and appealable final judgment.” The agreed order was entered on August 22, 2017. On September 21, 2017, the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal from the order of dismissal.
In the appellate court, the Ratajczak defendants argued that the order of dismissal, dated July 12, 2017, was the final order in the case, thus triggering the 30-day period in which the plaintiff was required to file either its postjudgment motion or its notice of appeal. The Ratajczak defendants argued that, because the plaintiff failed to take either action within 30 days, the appeal should be dismissed for a lack of jurisdiction.
The appellate court agreed with the Ratajczak defendants for three reasons. First, although the order of dismissal did not address Precision’s status as a named defendant, there was no need for a Rule 304(a) finding. Ordinarily, when multiple defendants are named in an action, an order dismissing one of the defendants cannot be appealed absent an express finding under Rule 304(a) that there is no just reason to delay the appeal. However, before the plaintiff filed its second amended complaint, it brought a separate action against Precision seeking relief for the same issues. As a result, the second amended complaint made no claims and sought no relief of any kind against Precision. Because the Ratajczak defendants were the only parties against whom any relief was being sought, the trial court resolved the entire matter on the merits when it granted their motion to dismiss. Moreover, by dismissing the second amended complaint “with prejudice,” the trial court indicated that the plaintiff would not be allowed to amend its complaint to bring any future claims against any of the named defendants. Therefore, the order of dismissal was a final and appealable order.
Second, there was no revestment of jurisdiction on August 14, 2017, when the Ratajczak defendants joined the motion for entry of a final judgment. For the revestment doctrine to apply, the parties must: (1) actively participate in the proceedings; (2) fail to object to the untimeliness of the late filing; and (3) assert positions that are inconsistent with the merits of the prior judgment. Although the first two requirements were met, the third was not. The Ratajczak defendants did not assert a position that was inconsistent with the merits of the dismissal order. To the contrary, by seeking reaffirmation that the second amended complaint was dismissed in its entirety, the Ratajczak defendants merely asserted a position that was consistent with the dismissal order.
The third reason for the appellate court’s agreement with the Ratajczak defendants was the recognized principle that appellate jurisdiction cannot be conferred by laches, consent, waiver, or estoppel. Thus, by joining the motion for the entry of a final judgment, the Ratajczak defendants neither waived their jurisdictional argument nor were they equitably estopped from contesting appellate jurisdiction. For these reasons, the appellate court held that the agreed order on August 22, 2017, was entered more than 30 days after the final order, meaning that it was void and could not be appealed.
Although Elite Storage was filed as an unpublished order under Rule 23, its lessons should not be lost on appellate practitioners. The case teaches the importance of identifying the finality of an order that dismisses a complaint “in its entirety and with prejudice.” It also demonstrates a rare exception to the Rule 304(a) requirement in cases involving multiple defendants. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knew Charlie that he would recognize these nuances and persuade the appellate court that jurisdiction was lacking.
Well done, Charlie.