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Village of Franklin Park v. Ogilvie

OPINION FILED APRIL 21, 1982.

THE VILLAGE OF FRANKLIN PARK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

RICHARD B. OGILVIE, TRUSTEE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. GEORGE J. ZIMMERMAN, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE WHITE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company (railroad) appeals from orders entered by the circuit court of Cook County denying its amended motion to vacate default judgments. The relevant facts follow. Between December 1976 and January 1979 the Village of Franklin Park (village), a municipal corporation, filed over 200 complaints in the circuit court against the railroad for violation of the village's municipal code. The Municipal Code of the Village of Franklin Park provides in chapter 19 "Miscellaneous Offenses and Provisions" and in section 19-17 "Railroad not to obstruct grade crossings":

"(a) It is unlawful for a railroad corporation to permit any train, railroad car or engine to obstruct public travel at a railroad-highway grade crossing for a period in excess of ten (10) minutes, except where such train, railroad or engine cannot be moved by reason of circumstances over which the railroad corporation has no control."

The actual violations occurred between December 24, 1976, and September 29, 1978. On December 19, 1977, the railroad petitioned for reorganization in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois under section 77 (chapter VIII) of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 (11 U.S.C. § 205 (1976)). *fn1 On the following day, the bankruptcy court entered an order which provided, among other things, that:

"10. All persons and all firms and corporations, whatsoever and wheresoever situated, located or domiciled, hereby are restrained and enjoined from commencing or continuing any court or other proceeding against the Debtor, * * * subject, however, to the further order of this court made in accordance with the provisions of Rule 8-501 of the Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure except that this order shall not operate (a) to stay the commencement or prosecution to judgment of any claim or action for damages caused by the operation of trains, buses, or other means of transportation, or * * *." (Emphasis added.)

There are 210 proceedings for violations of section 19-17 involved in this appeal. Of these 210, judgments for the village were entered by default in 112 of the cases on December 29, 1977, and in 98 of the cases on May 24, 1979. Fines were imposed on each of the judgments. Thus, all of the default judgments were entered after the filing of the petition for reorganization, although proceedings against the debtor were commenced and the actual road blockages occurred both before and after the filing of the petition.

Subsequently, on January 18, 1980, Richard B. Ogilvie, trustee of the railroad, filed a motion to vacate the default judgments entered on December 29, 1977, and May 24, 1979. An amended motion to vacate these default judgments was filed on March 7, 1980, and it is from the denial of this motion that this appeal is taken.

The railroad argues on appeal that the court proceedings below were stayed during the pendency of the railroad reorganization and that the failure of the plaintiff to obtain the permission of the reorganization court to bring these 210 actions to judgment is a jurisdictional defect which requires reversal of the judgments entered by the circuit court. Conversely, appellee village contends that the trial court had jurisdiction of the person and of the subject matter in entering the judgments against the railroad. According to the village, the judgments were therefore valid, and should be submitted to the bankruptcy court to determine whether they will be enforced.

If the court below lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter when it entered the judgments, as the Milwaukee Road contends, then the judgments entered by that court were void. (People ex rel. Scott v. Janson (1974), 57 Ill.2d 451, 459, 312 N.E.2d 620.) Since a void judgment may be set aside at any time (Johnson v. Hawkins (1972), 4 Ill. App.3d 29, 31, 280 N.E.2d 291), the two-year limitation and other requirements of section 72 of the Civil Practice Act will not prevent relief to the railroad if the judgments entered against it were void. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 72(3), (6).

Section 77 of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 (11 U.S.C. § 205 (1976)) *fn2 is applicable to the facts of this case. (See Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, 11 U.S.C.A. § 403(a) (transition) (1979); In re Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific R.R. Co. (7th Cir. 1981), 654 F.2d 1218, 1220 n. 2.) Under section 77(a), in railroad cases the reorganization court has "exclusive jurisdiction of the debtor and its property wherever located." (See also In re Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific R.R. Co. (7th Cir. 1981), 654 F.2d 1218, 1220.) Subsection (j) gives a judge in a reorganization proceeding discretion to enjoin or stay suits, in the following words:

"In addition to the provisions of section 29 of this title for the staying of pending suits against the debtor, the judge may enjoin or stay the commencement or continuation of suits against the debtor until after final decree; * * * Provided, That suits or claims for damages caused by the operation of trains, buses, or other means of transportation may be filed and prosecuted to judgment in any court of competent jurisdiction and any order staying the prosecution of any such cause of action or appeal shall be vacated. * * *" (11 U.S.C. § 205 (j).)

Bankruptcy Rule 8-501(a) (11 U.S.C.A. Bankruptcy Rule 8-501(a) (1977)) provides:

"A petition filed under Rule 8-102 or 8-103 shall operate as a stay of the commencement or the continuation of any court or other proceeding against the debtor, or the enforcement of any judgment against it, * * * except that this rule shall not operate (1) to stay the commencement or prosecution to judgment of any claim or action for damages caused by the operation of trains, buses, or other means of transportation, * * *."

Parties affected by this stay are given ample means under subdivisions (c) and (d) of the rule to obtain relief from the stay. (See Advisory Committee's Note to Rule 8-501.) Thus, in the instant case, the commencement or continuation of suits against the debtor was stayed by both the order of the bankruptcy judge and Rule 8-501. The stay order ...


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