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05/02/97 GREG FERGUSON AND DONNA FERGUSON v. SHELL

May 2, 1997

GREG FERGUSON AND DONNA FERGUSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SHELL OIL COMPANY, LLOYD DUTY, AND CHARLES W. ARESON, D/B/A ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION, DEFENDANTS AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, V. J. J. WUELLNER & SON, INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 92-L-69. Honorable Phillip J. Kardis, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Goldenhersh delivered the opinion of the court. Chapman and Maag, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldenhersh

The Honorable Justice GOLDENHERSH delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiffs, Greg Ferguson and Donna Ferguson, appeal from an order of the circuit court of Madison County finding that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs' motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion, even though said motion was filed within 30 days of the entry of judgment, because the motion was not ruled upon by the trial court within 30 days after judgment was entered. On appeal, plaintiffs contend that (1) the trial court had jurisdiction to rule on the motion for extension of time because the motion was filed within 30 days after the entry of judgment and (2) the "Special Appearance Requesting Clarification And Correction Of Court's Order" filed by defendants, Charles W. Areson, doing business as Environmental Sanitation, Shell Oil Company, and Lloyd Duty, was actually a general appearance vesting jurisdiction in the trial court to rule upon plaintiff's motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion. We reverse and remand.

FACTS

Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, Shell Oil Company, Lloyd Duty, and Charles W. Areson, doing business as Environmental Sanitation. These defendants then filed a third-party complaint against defendant, J.J. Wuellner & Son, Inc. For purposes of this appeal, we will refer to this entire group as defendants. On November 16, 1995, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs. On November 17, 1995, judgment was entered on the verdict.

On December 14, 1995, 27 days after judgment was entered, plaintiffs filed a motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion. The motion was set for January 4, 1996. On that date, defendants filed a special appearance objecting to jurisdiction. On January 12, 1996, the trial court denied plaintiffs' motion for extension of time. The trial court noted that the motion for extension of time was well taken and would normally have been granted; however, the court stated, "This court does not have jurisdiction and, therefore, refuses to grant Plaintiffs' Motion for Extension of Time in which to file a post[-]trial motion."

Defendants filed a "Special Appearance Requesting Clarification And Correction Of Court's Order," seeking modifications of the trial court's findings contained in the January 12, 1996, order. Based on defendants' new pleadings, plaintiffs renewed their motion for extension of time, asserting that this "Special Appearance was actually a general appearance conferring jurisdiction on the court.

On January 16, 1996, plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file a late notice of appeal with this court. Defendants objected. We denied the motion and dismissed the appeal. Ferguson v. Shell Oil Co., No. 5-96-0037 (February 1, 1996). On January 17, 1996, the trial court granted some of defendants' requested modifications by interlineation but once again refused to grant plaintiffs' motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion. Plaintiffs now appeal.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiffs contend that the trial court had jurisdiction to grant plaintiffs' motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion because this motion was filed within 30 days after judgment was entered. Plaintiffs urge that such motions need not be ruled upon by the trial judge within 30 days, so long as they are filed within 30 days. Plaintiffs contend that to rule otherwise would force a party to dash around within a particular time limit trying to find a judge to hear his or her motion and rule upon it, no matter how such efforts might interfere with trials, hearings, or the general and efficient operation of the courts. Plaintiffs point out that such efforts could involve an ex parte interruption of court proceedings to deal with matters more reasonably considered in the fullness of time with all parties notified, present, and ready to argue. Defendants respond that the failure of plaintiffs to obtain an extension of time within which to file their posttrial motion within 30 days after the entry of judgment deprived the trial court of jurisdiction or, stated differently, the trial court was correct in finding that it did not have jurisdiction to grant plaintiffs' motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion once 30 days expired from the date of judgment. Defendants insist that in the interest of certainty and finality of judgments we must affirm the trial court's determination. We agree with plaintiffs and hold that motions for extension of time in which to file a posttrial motion need not be ruled upon by a trial court within 30 days after the entry of judgment, so long as they are filed within 30 days after the entry of judgment.

Section 2-1202(c) of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) provides, in pertinent part:

"(c) Post-trial motions must be filed within 30 days after the entry of judgment or the discharge of the jury, if no verdict is reached, or within any further time the court may allow within the 30 days or any extensions thereof." 735 ILCS 5/2-1202(c) (West 1994).

The above statute makes no exceptions to the 30-day requirement for filing either a posttrial motion or a motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion. Putz v. Schulte, 104 Ill. App. 3d 128, 132, 432 N.E.2d 1070, 1073, 60 Ill. Dec. 171 (1982); Stauffer v. Held, 16 Ill. App. 3d 750, 751, 306 N.E.2d 877, 878 (1974). However, we agree with plaintiffs that the statute is open to interpretation as to whether a motion for extension of time to file a posttrial motion must be ruled upon within 30 days after the entry of ...


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