Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Steinbrecher v. Steinbrecher

September 27, 2001

JOHN STEINBRECHER ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
ROSEMARY STEINBRECHER, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald

UNPUBLISHED

Agenda 18-March 2001.

In November 1995, John Steinbrecher (John) filed suit under the Illinois partition act (735 ILCS 5/17-101 et seq. (West 1994)) against his two siblings, Jerome and Rosemary (Rosemary) Steinbrecher, to partition or sell three parcels of land located in Kendall County. At the close of the partition trial, the circuit court held that each sibling held an undivided one-third interest as tenants in common, but that the property could not be divided "without manifest prejudice." The circuit court ordered public sale of the entire property. Thereafter, the circuit court approved the offer of the highest bidder, Moser Enterprises, Inc. (Moser); confirmed the sale to Moser in open court; and directed that the deed be recorded in Moser's name. Rosemary never perfected a motion to stay judgment and filed her notice of appeal 49 days after the circuit court order. The appellate court determined that Rosemary's procedural errors did not bar her appeal. The appellate court vacated the sale of property to Moser and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. 312 Ill. App. 3d 289. We now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

BACKGROUND

On January 21, 1991, Francis Steinbrecher died intestate, survived by his three children, John, Jerome, and Rosemary. As heirs and beneficiaries of the estate of Francis Steinbrecher, John, Jerome, and Rosemary held title as tenants in common to three separate land parcels situated in Kendall County, totaling 409 acres. In November 1995, John filed suit under the Illinois partition act against Jerome and Rosemary in order to partition, or sell in the event partitioning was infeasible, the property.

In August 1996, pursuant to the partition act the trial court appointed a real estate consultant as commissioner to "evaluate the feasibility of partitioning" the property. *fn1 This commissioner surveyed the property and prepared a written "Appraisal/Commissioner Report" for the court.

At the partition trial in August 1997, consistent with his report, the commissioner testified that the property was incapable of equitable partition-in-kind between the three heirs. He stated that the property consisted of three noncontiguous parcels with widely varied characteristics. For example, the property contained farmland and wooded acreage on a flood plane. Moreover, the location and man-made obstacles such as a railroad track, a county road, and a running creek, further prevented an equal three-way division of the property. Neither Jerome nor Rosemary presented evidence to the trial court to refute the commissioner's testimony.

After reviewing the evidence, the trial court ruled that John, Jerome, and Rosemary each held an undivided one-third interest as tenants in common, that the property could not be divided without manifest prejudice, and that the property should be sold at a public sale.

In 1998, the exclusive listing agent approved by the court listed the property for a price of $4.5 million. In August 1998, after the trial court was notified by the agent of three offers to purchase, the trial court approved the $3.5 million offer of the highest bidder, Moser. In open court on September 24, 1998, the trial court confirmed the sale, directed a quitclaim deed be recorded in Moser's name, and entered a Rule 304(a) finding (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) regarding the sale to Moser. Pursuant to the sale, monies were disbursed, including the IRS liens, marketing and advertising fees, the mortgage, closing costs, and attorney fees.

On September 25, 1998, Rosemary filed a pro se "Motion for Stay of Judgment Pending Appeal and Rehearing Re: Deposition" which she noticed for hearing on October 2, 1998. On October 2, the trial court continued the motion for hearing to October 30, 1998. The trial court then addressed Rosemary:

"THE COURT: *** I told you a long time ago that I'm not going to hear this thing every other day. Just because you want to file a motion doesn't mean I'm going to hear it. I told you to file things once a month. We've set a date for a motion sometime later in this month.

Now, yet, you continually file motions. You continually get the-the Clerk's office has to bring this file down here. The other attorney has to come in. He was here all morning. And I've told you in the past I'm not going to hear this just because you want to file a motion and notice it up on whatever day you want to notice it up. Now, I will hear the-everything you have, whatever it is, on the next court date

Now if you do this again, I'm going to start imposing sanctions against you. We're not going to be disrupting everybody's life simply because you want to file a motion, especially when I've given you a date in the future.

ROSEMARY: Your Honor, the date in the future had nothing to do with this particular issue.

THE COURT: What difference does that make? It's [sic] court date where everybody is supposed to be here, correct? Do you think I'm going to sit here and have everybody come in here every day just because you want to file a motion and you want to be heard on this day because you happen to be available?

ROSEMARY: I thought time might be of the essence, in fairness to the parties.

THE COURT: I doubt, in this case, time is of the essence to anybody. As I said, do it again and I'm going to start imposing sanctions against you. Okay?"

On October 30, 35 days after the court's final judgment, Rosemary appeared for hearing on her stay of judgment motion. Additionally, Rosemary filed and presented for hearing a new motion, entitled "Motion to Declare Void the Sale of Property to Moser Enterprises, Inc." The trial court denied Rosemary's motion to void the sale and denied Rosemary's motion to stay the judgment. Rosemary never filed a motion with the appellate court to stay the judgment.

Despite the September 24, 1998, order granting right, title, and interest to Moser, Rosemary refused to vacate the Kendall County property. As a result, on October 30, 1998, Moser sought leave to intervene for the limited purpose of "enforc[ing] its right to possession." This was Moser's first appearance in the litigation. The trial court granted Moser's petition for leave to intervene, granted Moser's motion for possession, and ordered Rosemary to vacate the property on or before November 13, 1998.

On November 13, 49 days after Moser was granted exclusive possession of the property, Rosemary filed a notice of appeal. John moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction because the notice of appeal was untimely and because the appeal was moot pursuant to the protections afforded third-party purchasers under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 305(j) (155 Ill. 2d R. 305(j)).

The appellate court held that procedural errors did not bar Rosemary's appeal because the threat of sanctions voiced by the trial judge to Rosemary, a pro se litigant, *fn2 "were confusing and likely had the effect of keeping her from filing her motion" within the proper time period. 312 Ill. App. 3d 289, 297. By the term "her motion" the appellate court referred to Rosemary's October 30, 1998, "Motion to Declare Void the Sale," which it labeled a post-judgment motion. 312 Ill. App. 3d at 297. According to the appellate court, the October 30 post-judgment motion served to toll the period for appeal such that the notice of appeal filed on November 13, 1998, was timely. 312 Ill. App. 3d at 297. Additionally, the appellate court held that the issue was not moot because Moser's post-sale, post-judgment intervention on October 30, 1998, barred the application of Rule 305(j) and any protection it afforded nonparty purchasers. 312 Ill. App. 3d at 297-98. The appellate court then vacated the sale of the property and remanded for further proceedings to determine, again, whether the property could be partitioned without manifest prejudice. 312 Ill. App. 3d at 305.

Following entry of the appellate court judgment, Moser moved to intervene in order to file a petition for rehearing. On April 19, 2000, the appellate court granted Moser leave to intervene but denied its petition for rehearing. On May 24, 2000, Moser timely filed its petition for leave to appeal to this court. On July 5, 2000, John timely filed his petition for leave to appeal to this court. We granted the petitions and consolidated the appeals.

ANALYSIS

As an initial matter, John and Moser contend that the appellate court committed reversible error because it lacked jurisdiction due to Rosemary's failure to file a timely notice of appeal. Rosemary filed her notice of appeal on November 13, 1998, 49 days after the trial court entered its final judgment. They contend that the notice of appeal was untimely under Rule 303(a), and that her "Motion to Declare Void the Sale" filed on October 30, 1998, did not toll the time to file her notice of appeal because it was also untimely under section 2-1203(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (155 Ill. 2d R. 303(a); 735 ILCS 5/2-1203(a) (West 1998)). Moreover, they contend that even if the motion to void was timely, it did not toll the time to appeal because the motion was an insufficient post-judgment motion under section 2-1203(a). Anderson v. Resource Economics Corp., 133 Ill. 2d 342 (1990) (a post-judgment motion must include a request for at least one form of relief specified in section 2-1203 and allege grounds that warrant the relief); accord Beck v. Stepp, 144 Ill. 2d 232 (1991); but see Berg v. Allied Security, Inc., 297 Ill. App. 3d 891 (1998) (holding that section 2-1203 does not require specificity despite judicial dictum stating to the contrary), vacated & appeal dismissed, 193 Ill. 2d 186 (2000).

It is a well-established proposition that jurisdiction only arises in the appellate court when a party timely files a notice of appeal. Berg, 193 Ill. 2d at 189; Archer Daniels Midland Co. v. Barth, 103 Ill. 2d 536, 538 (1984); 155 Ill. 2d R. 301. Under Rule 303(a), entitled "Appeals from Final Judgments of the Circuit Court in Civil Cases," a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after entry of a final judgment or within 30 days after the entry of an order disposing of the last pending post-judgment motion. 155 Ill. 2d R. 303(a). Section 2-1203(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure addresses the timing of the post-judgment motions referred to in Rule 303(a). According to section 2-1203(a), "[i]n all cases tried without a jury, any party may, within 30 days after the entry of the judgment or within any further time the court may allow within the 30 days or any extensions thereof, file a motion for a rehearing, or a retrial, or modification of the judgment or to vacate the judgment or for other relief." 735 ILCS 5/2-1203(a) (West 1998).

Whether Rosemary's notice of appeal was timely filed is dependent on whether her October 30, 1998, "Motion to Declare Void the Sale to Moser Enterprises, Inc." was a sufficient post-judgment motion under section 2-1203(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure, and whether Rosemary timely filed that motion. Only a sufficient post-judgment motion, timely filed, will toll the 30-day period for filing a notice of appeal.

In addressing these matters, the appellate court held that Rosemary's October 30 motion was essentially a motion to reconsider, which is a proper post-judgment motion under section 2-1203. As to the timeliness of the October 30 motion, the appellate court held that under the circumstances of this case, the motion was timely and it thus served to toll the 30-day appeal period. The appellate court explained that, although pro se litigants are presumed to know the procedural rules, "when, as here, a trial court threatens sanctions for the filing of motions, such a litigant must be given considerable leeway in meeting procedural requirements." 312 Ill. App. 3d at 297.

We need not decide whether Rosemary's October 30 motion was a proper motion under section 2-1203 or whether the trial judge's egregious comments excuse Rosemary's failure to file her motion within 30 days of the court's September 24, 1998, final order. Rather, we agree with John and Moser that Rosemary's appeal is moot, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 305(j), and that jurisdiction is therefore lacking. 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(j).

An appeal is moot when it involves no actual controversy or the reviewing court cannot grant the complaining party effectual relief. Barnard v. Michael, 392 Ill. 130, 133-34 (1945). Courts of review will generally not consider moot or abstract questions because our jurisdiction is restricted to cases which present an actual controversy. People ex rel. Sklodowski v. State, 162 Ill. 2d 117, 130-31 (1994); People ex rel. Partee v. Murphy, 133 Ill. 2d 402 (1990); Barnard, 392 Ill. at 133-34. If this court extends Moser Rule 305(j) protection, the issue is moot and any judgment or reversal by a reviewing court is without effect.

Pursuant to Rule 305(j), John and Moser argue that when the trial court granted right, title, and interest to a nonparty on September 24, 1998, and Rosemary failed to perfect a stay of that judgment, any order invalidating that judgment and sale is without effect. Whether Rule 305(j) renders this matter moot involves the application of law to undisputed facts. Therefore, our review is de novo. People v. Buss, 187 Ill. 2d 144, 204-05 (1999).

Rule 305(j) protects third-party purchasers of property from appellate reversals or modifications of judgments regarding the property, absent a stay of judgment pending the appeal. Rule 305(j) provides:

"If a stay is not perfected within the time for filing the notice of appeal, or within any extension of time granted under subparagraph (c) of this rule, the reversal or modification of the judgment does not affect the right, title, or interest of any person who is not a party to the action in or to any real or personal property that is acquired after the judgment becomes final and before the judgment is stayed; nor shall the reversal or modification affect any right of any person who is not a party to the action under or by virtue of any certificate of sale issued pursuant to a sale based on the judgment and before the judgment is stayed." 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(j).

Thus, Rule 305(j) requires (1) the property passed pursuant to a final judgment; (2) the right, title and interest of the property passed to a person or entity who is not part of the proceeding; and (3) the litigating party failed to perfect stay of judgment within the time allowed for filing a notice of appeal. 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(j). *fn3

We now apply those requirements to the instant case. First, on September 24, 1998, the right, title and interest to the Kendall County property passed pursuant to a final judgment. A final judgment disposes of the rights of the parties. In re Estate of French, 166 Ill. 2d 95, 101 (1995). Particularly, the final judgment "decides the controversies between the parties on the merits and fixes their rights, so that, if the judgment is affirmed, nothing remains for the trial court to do but to proceed with its execution." In re J.N., 91 Ill. 2d 122, 127 (1982); see also Black's Law Dictionary 847 (7th ed. 1999) (a final judgment is a "court's last action that settles the rights of the parties and disposes of all issues in controversy, except for the award of costs *** and enforcement of the judgment"). Where multiple parties are involved in the litigation, a court may enter a final judgment pursuant to Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)). A Rule 304(a) finding renders a judgment final, enforceable, and appealable.

In this case, all issues in controversy concerned the disposition of the Kendall County property. The trial court confirmed the sale of that property, directed a quitclaim deed be recorded, and entered a Rule 304(a) finding regarding the sale on September 24, 1998. Under Rule 304(a), this was a "final judgment" and therefore satisfies the first element of Rule 305(j).

Second, the property passed to a nonparty to the litigation, Moser. A party is defined as "[o]ne by or against whom a lawsuit is brought." Black's Law Dictionary 1144 (7th ed. 1999). This includes a person who has a stake or standing in the lawsuit and one who is entitled to enforce rights from the final outcome of the litigation. Greer v. Illinois Housing Development Authority, 122 Ill. 2d 462, 492-93 (1988).

Under Rule 305(j) a person or entity is deemed a nonparty at the time of the judgment and sale. Its language compels this conclusion. Specifically, in regard to minors or persons with disabilities, the text provides that "[t]his paragraph applies even if the appellant is a minor or a person under legal disability or under duress at the time the judgment becomes final." 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(j). Thus, the rule clearly evaluates and assigns status at the time of the judgment and sale.

John initiated his partition claim in November 1995. On September 24, 1998, the trial court approved the offer, ordered the quitclaim deed entered in Moser's name, and entered a 304(a) finding. When Moser acquired title pursuant to the judgment and sale, and at all times prior, neither was it "[o]ne by or against whom a lawsuit is brought" nor did it have a stake or standing in the partition lawsuit. Moser was a mere purchaser of the property. At the time of the judgment and sale, therefore, Moser was a nonparty for purposes of Rule 305(j).

Consistent with the appellate court's opinion, Rosemary contends that when Moser intervened in the circuit court on October 30, 1998, to secure its right to possession it became a "party" to the litigation and lost the protections afforded to nonparty purchasers under Rule 305(j). We reject this argument and hold that post-sale, post-judgment intervention does not bar the application of Rule 305(j). As discussed, status attaches at the time of the sale and judgment. Stripping the protection of Rule 305(j) because of subsequent efforts by a party to secure exclusive possession of the property would render an absurd result. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Yapejian, 152 Ill. 2d 533, 541 (1992) (whenever possible, this court shall avoid interpretations that render absurd or unjust results). Such a holding would deny recourse to parties who in good faith purchase property pursuant to a judicial sale, but are unable to secure right to possession and use of that property. This outcome would force parties to choose court intervention, and lose the protection of Rule 305(j), or engage in self-help to secure possession.

Finally, as required under Rule 305(j), Rosemary failed to perfect a stay of judgment in order to bar its application. A stay of judgment is collateral to the judgment and does not affect or alter the issues on appeal. See In re Estate of Goodlett, 225 Ill. App. 3d 581, 587 (1992). The Illinois Supreme Court rules provide clear direction regarding stay of judgments and the recourse available in the event a trial court denies a stay of judgment. Rule 305(d) authorizes litigants to make a motion in the reviewing court for a stay of judgment following denial of the same motion by the trial court. 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(d). As noted by our appellate court, even if the motion before the trial court was denied in error, the recourse remains unchanged, and the party must renew the motion in the appellate court. In re Estate of Bork, 145 Ill. App. 3d 920, 930 (1986); Horvath v. Loesch, 87 Ill. App. 3d 615, 620 (1980). Rule 305 requires that a litigant must "show that application to the trial court is not practical, or that the trial court has denied an application or has failed to afford the relief that the applicant requested." 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(d). Moreover, under Rule 305(j), a stay must be "perfected within the time for filing notice of appeal." 155 Ill. 2d R. 305(j).

On October 2, 1998, Rosemary filed a "Motion for Stay of Judgment Pending Appeal and Rehearing Re: Deposition." This motion was denied by the trial court on October 30, 1998. Contrary to the requirement in Rule 305(j), Rosemary never renewed her motion to stay in the reviewing court. *fn4 Therefore, under Rule 305(j), Moser's rights in the Kendall County property are protected and the relief Rosemary sought-a judgment voiding the sale to Moser-cannot be granted. Rather, her appeal is moot.

Rosemary's pro se status does not alter this result. Pro se litigants are presumed to have full knowledge of applicable court rules and procedures, including procedural deadlines with respect to filing motions. See Domenella v. Domenella, 159 Ill. App. 3d 862, 868 (1987) (construing Rule 303(a), holding that pro se defendants must comply with the same rules of procedure as would be required of litigants represented by an attorney). Moreover, despite Rosemary's pro se status, the record does not indicate that she was ignorant of court rules and procedures. In fact, the record shows that Rosemary litigated this matter, including the filing of motions, responses, and court appearances, for several years prior to the trial court's final judgment. Rule 305(d) clearly explained her recourse following the dismissal of her motion to stay in the trial court. This court cannot excuse her failure to follow procedure in order to bar the application of Rule 305(j).

Public policy of this state supports our conclusion. Illinois law protects the integrity and finality of property sales, including judicial sales. Dixon v. City National Bank, 81 Ill. 2d 429, 433 (1980); Checkley & Co. v. Citizens National Bank, 43 Ill. 2d 347, 350 (1969); Blancett v. Taylor, 6 Ill. 2d 434, 438 (1955); Shultz v. Milburn, 366 Ill. 400, 405 (1937); Levy v. Broadway-Carmen Building Corp., 366 Ill. 279, 282-83 (1937); Smith v. Herdlicka, 323 Ill. 585, 592-93 (1926); Crist v. McCoy, 287 Ill. 641, 647 (1919); Osmond v. Evans, 269 Ill. 278, 284 (1915); Conover v. Musgrave, 68 Ill. 58, 62 (1873). Indeed, it extends this protection to purchasers who without notice at the time of the purchase buy in good faith. This finality and permanence is relied on by both purchasers and others in connection with the purchase of the property, including financial institutions, title insurers, realtors, and tenants. Absent this policy, no person would purchase real property involved in a judicial proceeding, if afterwards he incurred the hazard of losing the property due to facts unknown to him at the time of the sale. A party may avoid the harshness of this rule by complying with the procedural mechanisms available, such as a motion to stay enforcement of the judgment and sale.

The dissent suggests that this court ignore the plain language of Rule 305(j) and strong public policy favoring the finality and permanence of judicial sales to address alleged procedural irregularities occurring during the sale. This opinion declines to address or outline those irregularities because they are secondary to Rule 305(j).

The dissent maintains that the trial court lacked authority to order the sale because it failed to comply with the Act, and that this rendered the judgment "void." According to the dissent, failure to follow the Act is fatal to the circuit court's jurisdiction. The Act, the dissent argues, gives the circuit court the "inherent authority"to adjudicate the controversy and, therefore, failure to follow procedure under the Act divests the court of jurisdiction and renders the order "void." See slip op. at 26-28 (Freeman, J., dissenting), citing In re M.M., 156 Ill. 2d 53 (1993); People v. Wade, 116 Ill. 2d 1 (1987); Peck v. Peck, 16 Ill. 2d 268 (1959); Armstrong v. Obucino, 300 Ill. 140 (1921); Woodward v. Ruel, 355 Ill. 163 (1933); Maloney v. Dewey, 127 Ill. 395 (1889). According to the dissent, if the judgment is "void" Rule 305(j) would not apply.

The dissent mistakenly relies upon a rule of law not applicable to the present circumstances. The "inherent authority" requirement existed before reform to the judicial system in 1964. Effective January 1, 1964, the General Assembly amended article VI and replaced limited jurisdiction: "Circuit Court[s] shall have unlimited original jurisdiction of all justiciable matters." Ill. Const. 1870, art. VI, §9 (amended 1964); accord Ill. Const. 1970, art VI, § 9 ("Circuit Courts shall have original jurisdiction of all justiciable matters except when the Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction"). This amendment created a single integrated trial court vested with jurisdiction to adjudicate all controversies. Zamarron v. Pucinski, 282 Ill. App. 3d 354, 360 (1996). Thus, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.