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Piagentini v. Ford Motor Company

May 12, 2006

RONALD PIAGENTINI AND ANNETTE PIAGENTINI, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Bill Taylor, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Gallagher

MODIFIED UPON DENIAL OF REHEARING June 23, 2006

Plaintiffs, Ronald Piagentini and Annette Piagentini, appeal from an order of the trial court granting defendant, Ford Motor Company's motion for summary judgment based upon res judicata. We reverse and remand.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' claims against defendant, Ford Motor Company (Ford), arose from a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Chicago, Illinois. Plaintiff Ronald Piagentini was driving a 1987 Ford Bronco II that collided with another vehicle. Plaintiffs originally filed suit on November 10, 1994, against the alleged driver *fn1 of the other vehicle claiming that the driver sped through a red light. This case was numbered 94 L 14330 and will be referred to as Piagentini I. On March 2, 1995, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add Ford as a defendant.

Plaintiffs' eight-count amended complaint contained four counts against Ford. Counts I and II were brought by Ronald Piagentini. Count I sounded in strict liability in tort. Count II sounded in negligence. Both counts contained, in subparagraphs a, b, and c, allegations that the Bronco was designed with insufficient stability in swerving maneuvers and was unreasonably susceptible to rolling over. Additionally, both counts contained, in subparagraphs d, e, and f, allegations that the Bronco lacked an adequate seatbelt/occupant protection system. Counts V and VI were brought by Annette Piagentini for loss of society and repeated the theories in counts I and II.

On February 19, 1999, based upon plaintiffs' failure to disclose any expert witness testimony substantiating the allegations of stability and rollover defects, the trial court entered an agreed order for partial summary judgment on the stability and rollover allegations contained in subparagraphs a, b, and c. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint and granted plaintiffs leave to replead only those claims pertaining to allegations of a defective driver's seatbelt. *fn2 Neither plaintiffs nor Ford requested Rule 304(a) language (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)).

On March 19, 1999, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint and omitted the allegations pertaining to vehicle stability that were the subject of the partial summary judgment. Subsequently, on November 5, 1999, pursuant to section 2-1009 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1009)(West 2000), plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the remaining claims. The trial court granted the motion without prejudice and without costs. At no point in time did plaintiffs appeal the February 19,1999, order granting partial summary judgment.

On October 20, 2000, within one year of the voluntary dismissal, plaintiffs refiled this cause of action. The case was assigned a number of 00 L 12145 and will be referred to as Piagentini II. All previous allegations, including those related to the vehicle stability and rollover tendency, as well as its seatbelt/occupant protection system, were included. On January 2, 2001, apparently after realizing this error, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that did not contain any allegations related to the stability or rollover claims, but instead only contained allegations relating to a defective seatbelt/occupant protection system.

Three and a half years later, on May 13, 2004, which was also three months prior to the trial date, Ford filed a motion for summary judgment in which it invoked the equitable doctrine of res judicata. Ford argued that the February 19, 1999, court order granting partial summary judgment in Piagentini I, which disposed of only those allegations relating to the stability and rollover claims, operated as a bar to any and all causes of action filed after plaintiffs' voluntary dismissal taken on November 5, 1999. On July 27, after full briefing and argument, the trial court granted Ford's motion for summary judgment. The trial court subsequently denied plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration on November 29, 2004. This timely appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Our standard of review of a trial court's grant of summary judgment is de novo. City of Rockford v. Unit Six of the Policemen's Benevolent & Protective Ass'n, 362 Ill. App. 3d 556, 560, 840 N.E.2d 1283, 1287 (2005).

ANALYSIS

Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction bars any subsequent actions between the same parties or their privies on the same cause of action. Rein v. David A. Noyes & Co., 172 Ill. 2d 325, 334, 665 N.E.2d 1199, 1204 (1996). Res judicata is an equitable doctrine that is designed to prevent a multiplicity of lawsuits between the same parties where the facts and issues are the same. Murneigh v. Gainer, 177 Ill. 2d 287, 299, 685 N.E.2d 1357, 1363 (1997). ARes judicata promotes judicial economy by preventing repetitive litigation and [additionally] protects parties from being forced to bear the unjust burden of relitigating essentially the same case.* Arvia v. Madigan, 209 Ill. 2d 520, 533, 809 N.E.2d 88, 97 (2004). Equity dictates that the doctrine of res judicata will not be technically applied if to do so would create inequitable and unjust results. Best Coin-Op, Inc. v. Paul F. Ilg Supply Co., 189 Ill. App. 3d 638, 650, 545 N.E.2d 481, 489 (1989). Res judicata should not be applied ...


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