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Williams v. BNSF Railway Co.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

September 25, 2013

ANTHONY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, f/k/a Burlington Northern Railroad Company, f/k/a The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, d/b/a The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, Defendant-Appellant BNSF Railway Company, Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellant; Quality Terminal Services, LLC, Third-Party Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 06 L 8509 Honorable Clare E. McWilliams, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

MASON JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiff-appellee Anthony Williams filed suit against defendant-appellant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) pursuant to the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) (45 U.S.C. § 51) (2006), for an employment-related injury. BNSF filed a third-party complaint for contribution and contractual indemnification against third-party defendant-appellee Quality Terminal Services (QTS). The jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams and awarded total damages in the amount of $2, 676, 960. The jury assessed 50% of the negligence involved in the injury to Williams, 37.5% to BNSF and 12.5% to QTS. The jury also returned a verdict in favor of QTS on BNSF's contractual indemnity claim.

¶ 2 On appeal, BNSF contends that the circuit court erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict on the contractual indemnity claim where the evidence established that BNSF gave reasonable notice to QTS. BNSF further contends that the circuit court erred in refusing to allow evidence related to Williams' termination of employment with BNSF. Finally, BNSF contends that the circuit court erred in allowing evidence of the loss of household services, including unsupported opinion testimony regarding the value of those services.

¶ 3 Williams, joined by QTS, asserts that this court lacks jurisdiction because BNSF's notice of appeal was not timely filed. Williams and QTS also contend that BNSF has waived many of the issues it raises and that, in any event, the jury's verdict is supported by the evidence. For the reasons that follow, we dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

¶ 4 As an initial matter, both Williams and QTS argue that this court lacks jurisdiction to decide this appeal because BNSF did not file its notice of appeal within 30 days of the trial court's oral ruling on all posttrial motions. Williams filed a motion to dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction and QTS joined in the motion. Another panel of this court denied the motion on August 12, 2012.

¶ 5 BNSF first argues that the court should not address the jurisdictional arguments raised by Williams and QTS given the denial of their earlier motion to dismiss. However, as discussed below, the procedural posture of the case following trial is complicated and the record is unclear in certain respects. Thus, without an in-depth examination of the record and the issues raised by the motion to dismiss, it would have been difficult to discern the merits of the parties' respective positions. Further, because the motion to dismiss concerns jurisdiction over this appeal, it is appropriate for Williams and QTS to ask us to revisit the issue and, indeed, we have a duty to do so. See Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 237 Ill.2d 217, 251-52 (2010) (noting that "a reviewing court has a duty to consider its jurisdiction and to dismiss the appeal if it determines that jurisdiction is wanting" (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Archer Daniels Midland Co. v. Barth, 103 Ill.2d 536, 539 (1984))). Therefore, we will address our jurisdiction over BNSF's appeal.

¶ 6 The trial court issued an oral ruling denying all posttrial motions on April 18, 2012. No written ruling reflecting the court's ruling was ever entered. The only issue remaining after the oral ruling was BNSF's request for a setoff against the judgment in the amount of taxes it would have to pay in the future on lost wages awarded by the jury. Williams, joined by QTS, contends that because a setoff satisfies rather than modifies a judgment, it does not toll the 30-day period for filing a notice of appeal and, therefore, BNSF's notice of appeal filed on June 29, 2012, 72 days after the denial of all posttrial motions, was untimely.

¶ 7 Following the jury's verdict, BNSF filed its posttrial motion on January 26, 2012. The motion sought a new trial or, alternatively, judgment notwithstanding the verdict on 45 different grounds, including claimed errors in evidentiary rulings and jury instructions, and the court's failure to conclude that BNSF's demand for indemnification from QTS was timely as a matter of law. A ruling in favor of BNSF on any of the foregoing issues would have required the court to either grant a new trial or set aside the jury's verdict in favor of either or both Williams or QTS and vacate or modify the judgment accordingly.

¶ 8 In contrast, the forty-sixth issue raised in BNSF's posttrial motion – its request for a setoff in the amount of taxes payable as a result of lost wages awarded to Williams – if granted, would not have required the trial court to modify or set aside the judgment entered on the jury's verdict. Instead, the requested setoff, if allowed, would have served as partial satisfaction of the judgment.

¶ 9 The record reflects that at the conclusion of the hearing on posttrial motions on April 18, 2012, the trial court orally ruled that the posttrial motions were denied, with the exception of the "taxation issue" raised by BNSF, which the court took under advisement. The trial court stated that it would issue an order "on [the tax setoff issue] probably within the next ten days or so" and the parties would be notified at that time. No written order was entered on April 18.

¶ 10 On May 31, 2012, more than 30 days after the trial court's April 18 ruling, BNSF filed an "emergency" motion[1] for leave to file supplemental authority. BNSF's supplemental authority, Crowther v. Consolidated R. Corp., 680 F.3d 95 (1st Cir. 2012), related to a claim raised in its posttrial motion that it was entitled to a remittitur for the amount of disability payments received by Williams. This issue had already been rejected by the trial court in its April 18, 2012 oral ruling.

ΒΆ 11 On June 1, 2012, at a hearing on BNSF's motion, the trial court commented that BNSF's motion seemed to assume that BNSF's entire posttrial motion was under advisement and asked counsel for BNSF if he was unclear about the court's prior ruling. BNSF's counsel responded that in advance of the final, appealable written ruling on all issues, he wanted to submit new authority that he contended was on point with certain issues raised in BNSF's posttrial motion. The court reiterated that all posttrial relief sought by BNSF had already been denied, the only issue remaining being BNSF's claim for a setoff for future taxes. The court stated ...


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