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Robertson v. Winnebago County Forest Preserve

November 20, 1998

JOHN ROBERTSON AND MELANIE ROBERTSON, CO-SPECIAL ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF MELINDA ROBERTSON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT, ROCKFORD PARK DISTRICT, ROCKFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT 205, AND ROCKFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES. ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF MELINDA ROBERTSON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT, ROCKFORD PARK DISTRICT, ROCKFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT 205, AND ROCKFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS SECOND DISTRICT

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County.

No. 96--L--254 No. 97--L--154

Honorable Galyn W. Moehring, Judge, Presiding.

Plaintiffs, co-special administrators of the estate of Melinda Robertson, deceased, filed a wrongful death action against defendants, Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (Forest Preserve), Rockford Park District (Park District), Rockford School District 205 (School District), and Rockford Board of Education (Board), following the drowning death of Melinda. Pursuant to defendants' motions, the trial court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice on the ground that defendants were immune from liability pursuant to section 3--110 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/3--110 (West 1996)). The trial court then denied plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, to vacate, and for leave to file an amended complaint at law. In a separate action that has been consolidated on appeal, plaintiffs filed a survival action against the same defendants based upon the same incident. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' survival action, finding that the survival action was barred by section 3--110 of the Tort Immunity Act and also was barred on res judicata grounds. Plaintiffs now appeal the dismissal of both actions and also appeal the trial court's denial of their motion for reconsideration, to vacate, and for leave to file an amended complaint in the wrongful death action.

Before discussing the merits of plaintiffs' appeal, we must first address whether we have jurisdiction to hear this appeal. See Mar Cement, Inc. v. Diorio Builders, Inc., 153 Ill. App. 3d 798, 800 (1987). Defendants Park District, School District, and Board contend that this court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiffs' appeal in the wrongful death case because plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, to vacate, and for leave to file an amended complaint was not a valid postjudgment motion. After plaintiffs had filed their notice of appeal in the wrongful death case but prior to the filing of plaintiffs' brief, the Park District filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. This court denied the Park District's motion. However, as noted by the Park District, this court's denial of a motion to dismiss an appeal prior to briefing and argument is not final and may be revised at any time before Disposition of the appeal. Hwang v. Tyler, 253 Ill. App. 3d 43, 45 (1993). This court has an obligation to consider its jurisdiction at any time and, if jurisdiction is lacking, should dismiss an appeal. Hwang, 253 Ill. App. 3d at 45.

Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 303(a)(1), a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after entry of the final judgment appealed from, or if a timely posttrial motion directed against the final judgment had been filed, within 30 days after entry of the order disposing of the last pending postjudgment motion. 155 Ill. 2d R. 303(a)(1). In order to qualify as a postjudgment motion, the motion must request at least one of the forms of relief specified in section 2--1203 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--1203 (West 1996)), it must specify the grounds that would warrant granting the relief requested, and it must be filed with the clerk. Sho-Deen, Inc. v. Michel, 263 Ill. App. 3d 288, 291 (1994).

Section 2--1203 provides that in cases tried without a jury any party may, within 30 days after entry of the judgment, file a motion for a rehearing, a retrial, a modification or vacation of the judgment, or other relief. 735 ILCS 5/2--1203 (West 1996). The Illinois Supreme Court has held that a motion for leave to amend is not a valid postjudgment motion cognizable by the circuit court or capable of extending the time for filing a notice of appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 303(a)(1) (155 Ill. 2d R. 303(a)(1)). Andersen v. Resource Economics Corp., 133 Ill. 2d 342, 346 (1990). This is because a motion for leave to amend is not "directed against the judgment" within the meaning of Rule 303(a)(1), nor is a motion to amend encompassed within the relief specified in section 2--1203 (formerly Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 110, par. 68.3(1)). Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d at 347, citing Fultz v. Haugan, 49 Ill. 2d 131, 135-36 (1971).

In Andersen, the supreme court declined to find that a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint was a valid postjudgment motion. Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d 342. The motion for leave to file a third amended complaint stated that plaintiff would plead new and distinct allegations that would state a substantively different theory and would cure any defects in prior complaints. Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d at 344. The plaintiff claimed that his motion for leave to file a third amended complaint was in the nature of a posttrial motion. Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d at 344. The supreme court noted that the plaintiff's motion did not request modification or vacation of the judgment at issue, nor did it offer any points warranting modification or vacation of the judgment. Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d at 347. The supreme court stated that the motion was "nothing more than a title and an ambiguous prayer for relief with absolutely no substance in between" (Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d at 347) and to call the motion a postjudgment motion "would be to blindly adhere to nomenclature at the expense of reality." Andersen, 133 Ill. 2d at 347.

Because the nature of a motion is determined by its substance rather than its caption (J.D. Marshall International, Inc. v. First National Bank of Chicago, 272 Ill. App. 3d 883, 888 (1995)), we must examine the body of plaintiffs' motion in order to determine whether it was a valid postjudgment motion. Plaintiffs' motion provided as follows:

"Plaintiffs, JOHN ROBERTSON and MELANIE ROBERTSON, Independent Administrators of the Estate of MELINDA ROBERTSON, Deceased, hereby move for reconsideration, to vacate and for leave to file Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint at Law. In support, plaintiffs state: 1.This lawsuit arises from the death of Melinda Robertson, a nine-year-old [sic] girl, in a school sponsored canoeing trip on the Kishwaukee River in Winnebago County, Illinois on May 10, 1996. 1.Plaintiffs filed the original Complaint in this matter on August 21, 1996.

1.Motions to Dismiss were filed by each of the named defendants; these Motions were fully briefed.

1.On March 13, 1997, this court granted each defendant's Motion to Dismiss based solely upon Section 3-110 of the Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/3-110; Plaintiffs' Complaint was dismissed with prejudice. *** 1.No action should be dismissed unless it is clear that plaintiff can prove no set of facts which will entitle him ...


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