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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 Norther Santa Fe Railway Company, Defendant-Appellant BNSF Railway Company, Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellant; Quality Terminal Services, LLC, Third Party Defendant-Appellee

Held [*]

Defendant railroad’s appeal from an award of damages to plaintiff pursuant to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act and a verdict against the railroad on its contractual indemnity claim was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, where the railroad failed to file its appeal within 30 days of the trial court’s oral order ruling on all posttrial motions, regardless of the railroad’s contention that the circumstances of the trial court’s oral ruling led to confusion, since the railroad should have sought clarification within 30 days of that ruling.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 06-L-8509; the Hon. Clare E. McWilliams, Judge, presiding.

Daley Mohan Groble, PC, of Chicago (Raymond H. Groble III, Sean M. Sullivan, and Jeffrey J. Scolaro, of counsel), for appellant.

Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Montgomery, LLC, of Chicago (James D. Montgomery, Jr., and John K. Kennedy, of counsel), for appellee Anthony Williams.

Fletcher & Sippel LLC, of Chicago (James A. Fletcher and Peter C. McLeod, of counsel), for appellee Quality Terminal Services, LLC.

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.

ΒΆ 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 ...


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