Thursday, August 18, 2016

Splitting from the Second District, the First District Clarifies That a “Motion to Reconsider” Seeking to Amend a Pleading Following Dismissal with Prejudice Does Not Extend the Time for Filing a Notice of Appeal

By Jonathan B. Amarilio
Associate, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP

The case of Brennan v. Travelers Home & MarineInsurance Company, 2016 IL App (1st) 152830, recently presented the appellate court with an interesting question: “What happens when, following the dismissal of a complaint with prejudice, the plaintiffs file a postjudgment motion titled ‘Motion to Reconsider,’ but seek as relief only permission to file an amended complaint?” Justice Neville, with Justices Hyman and Simon concurring, answered that question, holding that a motion for leave to file an amended complaint does not extend the time for filing a notice of appeal because the motion does not qualify as a motion directed against the judgment, regardless of its title. Id. ¶ 2. But that was not the most intriguing part of the opinion.

The facts of the case, which concern an automobile insurance dispute, are not particularly remarkable. What is more interesting is that, in reaching its decision, the reviewing court weighed in on an apparent—but previously unnoticed—conflict between a nearly half-century old Supreme Court case, Fultz v. Haugan, 49 Ill. 2d 131 (1971), and a much more recent appellate court case, Muirfield Village-Vernon Hills, LLC v. K. Reinke, Jr. & Co., 349 Ill. App. 3d 178 (2d Dist. 2004). Unsurprisingly, the court found it was compelled to follow the Supreme Court’s decision in Fultz and reach the holding described above.

In Fultz, the Supreme Court’s holding was straightforward. “A motion for leave to file an amended complaint is not … a motion ‘directed against the judgment,’ ” and therefore, the filing of such a motion does not toll the 30-day period for filing a notice of appeal under Supreme Court Rule 303. Fultz, 49 Ill. 2d at 136. However, in Muirfield Village, the Second District reasoned that because the plaintiff requested leave to amend following dismissal of his claim, which necessarily included a request to reinstate the case, the plaintiff was really seeking to modify or vacate the trial court’s judgment, and therefore, the motion was properly understood as one “directed against the verdict” for purposes of Rule 303. Muirfield Village, 349 Ill. App. 3d at 185.

Observing this difference, and the fact that Muirfield Village did not discuss Fultz, the court in Brennan found that the divide between the cases could not be bridged or otherwise explained. “Every time a plaintiff files a motion for leave to file an amended complaint after the circuit court has dismissed the complaint with prejudice, the plaintiff implicitly requests reinstatement of the case and modification of the dismissal order …. If the request for such relief makes the motion one ‘directed against the judgment,’ then every postjudgment motion for leave to file an amended complaint would count as a motion directed against the judgment.” 2016 IL App (1st) 152830, ¶ 12.

Given the vintage of Fultz and the now clear district split, this case may well be further appealed for purposes of clarification. Either way, practitioners would do well to follow Brennan (and Fultz) for now.

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