Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Robert V. Boharic, Judge, presiding.
The Honorable Justice Nickels delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Bilandic took no part in the consideration or decision of this opinion.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nickels
The Honorable Justice NICKELS delivered the opinion of the court:
The issue presented in this appeal is whether defendant Litgen Concrete Cutting & Coring Company (Litgen) may appeal certain final orders entered in a suit that was voluntarily dismissed where the action was later refiled in the circuit court. The appellate court held that, because the suit was refiled by plaintiffs, it lost jurisdiction to entertain Litgen's appeal. 283 Ill. App. 3d 36, 218 Ill. Dec. 551. This court allowed Litgen's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315), and the Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of Litgen. We reverse and remand to the appellate court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Plaintiffs brought numerous separate actions in the circuit court of Cook County. These separate suits were later consolidated by the circuit court. In these suits, plaintiffs sought to recover damages for fire losses incurred on April 15, 1989, when a Chicago building, housing multiple art galleries, was damaged by fire. Most plaintiffs were either artists or art gallery owners, and the property damage claims related generally to works of art damaged or destroyed by the fire. At the time of the fire, the building was under renovation.
Most complaints involved the same group of defendants. These defendants included: the owners and managers of the building, the general contractors retained to perform renovation work on the building, and the subcontractors involved in that renovation work. In general, each defendant was alleged to have been negligent in either causing the fire or contributing to the spread of the fire. Each defendant filed an answer in the circuit court denying liability. Most, if not all, defendants also filed third-party claims for contribution against the other defendants.
Before trial, plaintiffs collectively settled their suits with all defendants, except defendant Litgen. The multiple settlement agreements provided that plaintiffs would release their claims against all defendants, except Litgen. *fn1 They further provided that plaintiffs would assign their direct claims against Litgen to some of the settling defendants. Pursuant to the settlement agreements, plaintiffs assigned their claims against Litgen to Mesirow Realty Development and certain other settling defendants (the Mesirow parties). Based on this assignment, the Mesirow parties, not plaintiffs, are now the real parties in interest with respect to the claims against Litgen.
In separate orders, on June 14, 1994, July 19, 1994, and July 26, 1994, the circuit court found that the settlement agreements were made in good faith, as required by the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act. 740 ILCS 100/2 (West 1992). Based on these good-faith findings, the circuit court dismissed the contribution claims between Litgen and the settling defendants with prejudice. 740 ILCS 100/2 (West 1992). Plaintiffs' direct claims against Litgen remained pending in the circuit court. After the entry of the good-faith settlement orders, plaintiffs filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss their direct claims against Litgen, and these claims were dismissed without prejudice. The circuit court then dismissed the remaining claims pending in the circuit court.
After the voluntary dismissal, Litgen appealed to the appellate court. Litgen appealed the orders finding the settlements to have been made in good faith and dismissing its contribution claims. While the appeal was still pending, plaintiffs filed a new action against Litgen in the circuit court, as permitted by statute. See 735 ILCS 5/13-217 (West 1992). *fn2 Based on this refiling, the Mesirow parties filed a motion in the appellate court to dismiss Litgen's appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The appellate court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Litgen's appeal. The court stated that, although it initially had jurisdiction over Litgen's appeal, it was divested of jurisdiction by the refiling. Because of the refiling, the dismissal and good-faith orders were transformed from final orders into nonfinal ones. The appellate court also found that, although the contribution claims were dismissed with prejudice, Litgen would not be barred by res judicata from filing its contribution claims in the second action. The court therefore found that Litgen would not be prejudiced by waiting for the conclusion of the second action before being allowed to appeal.
Initially, we note that Litgen does not seek to appeal the order of voluntary dismissal itself. Instead, Litgen seeks to appeal the orders finding that the settlements were made in good faith and dismissing Litgen's contribution claims with prejudice. *fn3 Litgen argues that these were final orders because they disposed of Litgen's third-party claims. According to Litgen, once the case was voluntarily dismissed, these orders became appealable. Litgen further argues that plaintiffs' refiling of the action against Litgen did not alter this final and appealable status and that the appellate court therefore had jurisdiction to consider the merits of the appeal.
Resolution of this appeal requires consideration of Supreme Court Rules 301 and 304 (155 Ill. 2d Rs. 301, 304). Rule 301 allows appeals from final judgments as a matter of right. See also Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6. A judgment or order is "final" if it disposes of the rights of the parties, either on the entire case or on some definite and separate part of the controversy. Village of Niles v. Szczesny, 13 Ill. 2d 45, 48, 147 N.E.2d 371 (1958); see Waters v. Reingold, 278 Ill. App. 3d 647, 651, 215 Ill. Dec. 376, 663 N.E.2d 126 (1996); Citicorp Savings v. First Chicago Trust Co., 269 Ill. App. 3d 293, 296-97, 206 Ill. Dec. 786, 645 N.E.2d 1038 (1995). A dismissal with prejudice is usually considered a final judgment, including the dismissal of claims in a complaint ( J. Eck & Son, Inc. v. Reuben H. ...