APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FIFTH DIVISION
510 N.E.2d 979, 157 Ill. App. 3d 708, 109 Ill. Dec. 911 1987.IL.853
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Charles Freeman, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE LORENZ delivered the opinion of the court. SULLIVAN, P.J., and MURRAY, J., concur.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE LORENZ
Plaintiffs Blanche Knighton, Essie Johnson, and Pearl Singleton appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County dismissing, on res judicata grounds, their complaint seeking recovery of certain items of personal property from defendant St. Jude Temple No. 1.
We find that the complaint was erroneously dismissed and therefore we reverse and remand.
The complaint at issue included a list of 10 religious statues along with other items of personal property allegedly detained by the defendant. The complaint did not specify which plaintiff claimed which items.
In a prior chancery action Sylvene Collins, then a trustee and secretary of St. Jude Temple No. 1, had filed a complaint for an injunction and for other relief against the church and certain church officers and employees, including two of the plaintiffs in this cause, Essie Johnson and Pearl Singleton. Generally, Collins' complaint alleged mismanagement of the church and misappropriation of church funds by the defendants in that action. Collins sought, inter alia, removal of the individual defendants as trustees and officers of the church, appointment of a receiver, and a court-directed election of a new trustee. Pursuant to court order a new election was held and on October 19, 1984, Judge Albert S. Porter entered a written order validating that election and requiring, inter alia, that "[no] church property shall be removed from the church premises without permission of the Trustee Board." On December 19, 1984, the chancery action was dismissed "with the right to reinstate."
In this action defendant St. Jude Temple No. 1 moved successfully to reinstate the chancery action and consolidate it with this action. Defendant then moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint on res judicata grounds, alleging that in the chancery action Judge Porter had orally ruled that all the property in the church belonged to the church. The sole evidence of this order presented by defendant was the affidavit of attorney Keith Davis. He averred that as the attorney for the defendants in the chancery action he had orally moved that certain individuals be awarded possession of "statues, altar pieces and other property" in the church. However, the Judge had ruled that "said property and all property on church premises" belonged to the church. Davis further averred that based on this ruling a judgment was rendered against defendants as evidenced by the written order of October 19, 1984. As we have previously noted, that order's only reference to church property is its requirement that no church property be removed from the premises without permission of the board of trustees. Finally, Davis averred that the statues and altar pieces specified in plaintiffs' complaint were the subject of that oral order. No mention was made of the other items of property sought by plaintiffs.
Based solely on this evidence the circuit court granted defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. Plaintiffs then submitted the deposition of Davis in support of their motion for reconsideration. In that deposition Davis stated that all plaintiffs in this action were present at the chancery hearing on October 19. The purpose of the hearing was to ascertain the status of the case and to obtain validation of the results of the court-ordered election. However, half an hour before the hearing Davis orally notified opposing counsel (the same counsel now representing defendant church), of his intent to orally move for possession of the property. No witnesses, no testimony, and no exhibits were presented at the hearing.
Davis contended that although he was not under oath at that hearing he was the one who identified each item of property for the court. At the time of the deposition he could not recall each item. Davis recalled that the court ruled that all property located on church premises belonged to the church either because it was donated by church members or purchased with church funds. However, Davis also stated that the written order of that date correctly summarized the ruling of the court covering this property. That order required only that church property not be removed from the premises. Davis, who drafted the order, could not explain why it made no mention of the oral order. After considering the additional evidence the circuit court denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration.
The sole issue before us is whether this action should have been barred under collateral estoppel principles. Under this doctrine, once an issue of ultimate fact has been determined in a valid final judgment, that issue cannot be litigated again between the same parties in a subsequent lawsuit. (People v. Grayson (1974), 58 Ill. 2d 260, 319 N.E.2d 43.) The party relying on this form of res judicata has the burden of establishing that the identical issue has been definitively adjudicated in a prior suit and that the party against whom the estoppel is asserted was a party or in ...