SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
CROWE, Judge, et al., Respondents
518 N.E.2d 116, 119 Ill. 2d 111, 115 Ill. Dec. 591 1987.IL.1887
Original action for writ of mandamus.
JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MILLER
These consolidated actions, complaints for writs of mandamus, raise a common question concerning the finality of dismissal orders entered under section 2-621 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-621). That statute is applicable to product liability actions and permits a nonmanufacturer defendant, such as a retailer or other link in the distribution chain, to be dismissed from the proceedings once the product manufacturer has been identified and sued. The statute also provides that in certain circumstances a dismissal order may be vacated and a previously dismissed defendant reinstated. In the proceedings at issue here, the trial Judge granted the motions of two retailer defendants for dismissal under section 2-621 and entered findings under Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (107 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) purporting to make the dismissals immediately appealable. We granted the plaintiffs leave to file their complaints for mandamus (107 Ill. 2d R. 381), and they argue here that the trial Judge had no authority to make the orders appealable under Rule 304(a).
According to the complaints for mandamus, the plaintiffs' decedents died in 1982 as a result of ingesting cyanide-laced capsules of a product known as Extra-Strength Tylenol. The plaintiffs -- Dennis M. Kellerman, John F. Eliason, Teresa Janus, and Tadeus Janus -- then brought separate actions in the circuit court of Cook County against the product manufacturer, McNeilab, Inc., a division of Johnson & Johnson Company, and against the owners of the retail stores where the product had been purchased, Jewel Companies, Inc., and F.W. Woolworth Company. Jewel and Woolworth were originally dismissed under section 2 -- 621, but in January 1986 the causes were transferred to a different circuit Judge, the Honorable Brian M. Crowe, who initially granted the parties' motions for reconsideration on a number of issues. On May 2, 1986, Judge Crowe granted motions by Jewel and Woolworth for dismissal under section 2 -- 621. At a later proceeding the two retailers asked that the dismissal orders be made immediately appealable under Supreme Court Rule 304(a), and Judge Crowe entered findings to that effect on June 12, 1986, in the Janus actions and on July 2 and 3, 1986, in the Kellerman and Eliason actions. The instant controversy arises from the Rule 304(a) findings.
Section 2-621 provides a method by which a nonmanufacturer may be dismissed from a product liability action at an early stage in the proceedings and therefore avoid incurring the costs that arise from defending such actions. The statute provides that a nonmanufacturer "shall upon answering or otherwise pleading file an affidavit certifying the correct identity of the manufacturer of the product allegedly causing injury, death or damage." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-621(a).) Once the product manufacturer has been sued and has answered or otherwise pleaded, the trial court is to dismiss the certifying defendants. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-621(b).) A defendant is not to be dismissed from the action, however, if it shares some responsibility for the creation of the defect in the product or had actual knowledge of its existence. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-621(c).) Moreover, when an action against the product manufacturer would be impossible or unavailing, the plaintiff may at any time move for reinstatement of a previously dismissed defendant. Thus, section 2-621(b) provides that on motion of the plaintiff a dismissal order may be vacated if an action against the product manufacturer is time-barred, if the incorrect manufacturer was certified by the defendant, if the manufacturer no longer exists, is not subject to jurisdiction in the State, or is not amenable to process, or if the manufacturer would not be able to satisfy a judgment or settlement. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-621(b).
In the actions here, defendants Jewel and Woolworth certified the identity of the product manufacturer and moved for dismissal under section 2 -- 621. The trial Judge granted the motions and, at the request of those defendants, entered special findings under Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (107 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) to the effect that there was no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal of the orders. The plaintiffs contend that the trial Judge had no discretion in these cases to make Rule 304(a) findings. The basis for the plaintiffs' argument appears to be not so much that the dismissal orders were non-final -- which would make Rule 304(a) inapplicable -- but that the findings were unnecessary here and served only to encourage the prosecution of piecemeal appeals.
Supreme Court Rule 304(a) provides:
"If multiple parties or multiple claims for relief are involved in an action, an appeal may be taken from a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the parties or claims only if the trial court has made an express written finding that there is no just reason for delaying enforcement or appeal. Such a finding may be made at the time of the entry of the judgment or thereafter on the court's own motion or on motion of any party. The time for filing the notice of appeal shall run from the entry of the required finding. In the absence of such a finding, any judgment that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties is not enforceable or appealable and is subject to revision at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims, rights, and liabilities of all the parties." 107 Ill. 2d R. 304(a).
By its terms, Rule 304(a) applies only to final judgments or orders; the special finding contemplated by the rule will make a final order appealable, but it can have no effect on a non-final order. (See Crane Paper Stock Co. v. Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Co. (1976), 63 Ill. 2d 61, 66-67; Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 110A, par. 304, Historical and Practice Notes, at 164 (Smith-Hurd 1985).) If the orders entered here by the trial Judge in granting the retailers' motions for dismissal under section 2 -- 621 were not final, then the special finding under Rule 304(a) was to no purpose and did not make them appealable.
We do not believe that an order granting a defendant's motion for dismissal under section 2 -- 621 should be deemed final. "To be final and appealable, a judgment or order must terminate the litigation between the parties on the merits of the cause, so that, if affirmed, the trial court has only to proceed with execution of the judgment. [Citations.] While the order need not dispose of all the issues presented by the pleadings, it must be final in the sense that it disposes of the rights of the parties, either upon the entire controversy or upon some definite and separate part thereof. [Citations.]" (Village of Niles v. Szczesny (1958), 13 Ill. 2d 45, 48.) A dismissal under section 2 -- 621 does not dispose of the rights of the parties. Rather, the statute clearly contemplates the possibility of further action, for section 2 -- 621(b) provides that in the prescribed circumstances -- if an incorrect ...