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The Board of Trustees of the Rend Lake Conservancy District v. the City of Sesser

November 3, 2011

THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE REND LAKE CONSERVANCY DISTRICT,
PLAINTIFF AND COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLEE,
v.
THE CITY OF SESSER, AN ILLINOIS MUNICIPAL CORPORATION,
DEFENDANT AND COUNTERPLAINTIFF-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of an Illinois River Conservancy District, Franklin County. No. 10-LM-06 Honorable Barry L. Vaughan, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

NOTICE The text of this decision may be changed or corrected prior to the filing of a Petition for Rehearing or the disposition of the same.

JUSTICE WELCH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Goldenhersh and Stewart concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Before us is an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010), from the circuit court of Franklin County, which certified the following question for our review: whether the amount of damages sought by a defendant/counterplaintiff in its counterclaim is limited to $50,000 because the plaintiff/counterdefendant filed the initial complaint as an "LM" case. Although this case has a fairly convoluted procedural history, we summarize the facts as simply as possible.

¶ 2 The plaintiff/counterdefendant, the Board of Trustees of the Rend Lake Conservancy District (the Board), treats water and distributes it to more than 30 municipalities and water districts in southern Illinois. One of those municipalities is the defendant/counterplaintiff, the City of Sesser (the City). A dispute arose between the parties as to the amount of water being used by the City and the amount of money due from the City to the Board for that water. The City alleged that the water meter provided by the Board, and required to be properly maintained by the Board, was defective and malfunctioning, resulting in the City being billed for more water than it used. The Board denied this allegation and alleged that the City had not paid for all of the water it had used.

¶ 3 We note that the time periods during which the City claimed the meter was malfunctioning and the months during which the Board claimed the City did not pay its bill in full do not coincide. Nevertheless, the claims are related in that the City claims it underpaid current bills in order to recoup some of the monies it overpaid in previous years when the meter was malfunctioning. Thus, the two claims may arise out of the same set of operative facts, and certainly the parties are the same.

¶ 4 On December 29, 2009, the City filed an action in the circuit court of Franklin County against the Board alleging breach of contract and seeking damages for the Board's failure to properly maintain the water meter. The complaint alleged and sought damages in the amount of $201,782.96 and was docketed as No. 09-L-62.

¶ 5 On January 14, 2010, the Board filed a separate action against the City seeking monies due for water provided to the City. This complaint sought damages in the amount of $32,991.11 and was docketed as No. 10-LM-06.

¶ 6 On May 6, 2010, the City filed a motion to consolidate the two actions into No. 09-L-62. The Board objected and the motion was denied.

¶ 7 On June 7, 2010, the City filed its answer to the Board's complaint and a counterclaim that raised the same claim as the City had raised in its separate action, No. 09-L-62. The counterclaim sought damages in the amount of $201,782.96.

¶ 8 On July 6, 2010, the Board filed a motion to dismiss the City's counterclaim because the same action between the same parties was already pending in No. 09-L-62. In response, on August 24, 2010, the City voluntarily dismissed No. 09-L-62, leaving only its counterclaim. Accordingly, the Board's motion to dismiss the counterclaim was denied.

¶ 9 On September 10, 2010, the City filed a motion to have the case redocketed from an "LM" case to an "L" case because the amount in controversy in the counterclaim exceeds $50,000. Ultimately, the circuit court refused to redocket the case as an "L" case and entered an order limiting damages on the counterclaim to an amount not to exceed $50,000. The City filed a motion pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a), asking the circuit court to certify a question of law for interlocutory appeal. Over the Board's objection the court did so. We allowed the appeal.

ΒΆ 10 We address first the standard of review. Generally, an appeal under Supreme Court Rule 308 is limited to the question that is identified by the circuit court. Adams v. Harrah's Maryland Heights Corp., 338 Ill. App. 3d 745, 747 (2003). When, as in the case at bar, the circuit court has not heard testimony, the standard of review for a permissive interlocutory ...


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