Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Splitting Hairs.

Or, alternatively titled, "When is a postjudgment motion not a proper postjudgment motion?"

A notice of appeal must be filed no more than 30 days after the entry of the final order, or the appeal will not stand. It is a jurisdictional requirement. However, Rule 303(a)(1) states that the timely filing of a post-judgment motion defers the running of the 30 days, and the deadline for filing a notice of appeal is then 30 days from the resolution of the last timely and proper post-judgment motion.

In Heiden v. DNA Diagnostics Center, Inc., 2-07-0620 (November 13, 2009), the plaintiff filed suit against the DNA center for allegedly mishandling a blood vial as part of a paternity test. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

The plaintiff filed a "Motion to Reconsider Court Order and for Clarification of said Order" within 30 days. The plaintiff was concerned about a third party complaint for contribution that had been filed by the DNA Center. The court's order granting summary judgment did not specifically address what happened to that third party complaint. The plaintiff wanted language in that order specifically dismissing the third party complaint.

At hearing on the post-judgment motion, the court explained that because it was a third party complaint for contribution, it "fell on its own because there was nothing independent, no independent cause of action that would stand along against [the third parties]." There was some discussion on the record as to whether the plaintiff was asking the court to reconsider, modify, or clarify its prior order. The plaintiff's lawyer stated that he wanted clarification only, which the court did not feel was necessary, and the motion was denied. Within 30 days of that order, the plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court dismissed the appeal as not being timely. The court found that plaintiff's post-judgment motion was not of the proper format to extend the timeline. The court explained that a post-judgment motion extends the time for filing a notice of appeal only when it seeks rehearing, retrial, modification, or vacation of the judgement. Simply asking for clarification was not enough to extend the deadline to appeal.

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