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In re Parentage of Rogan M.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

March 7, 2014

In re PARENTAGE OF ROGAN M.
v.
John M., Respondent-Appellee. Keisha M., Petitioner-Appellant,

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 08 D 79237, Honorable Ellen L. Flannigan, Judge Presiding.

Hall, Justice and Lampkin, Justice concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

REYES, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Petitioner Keisha M. appeals the judgment of the trial court denying her petition to remove her minor child from Illinois to California. On appeal, Keisha argues: (1) the trial court applied the improper evidentiary standard; and (2) the trial court's finding that removal was not in the child's best interests was against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the following reasons, we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Rogan M. was born out of wedlock in 2006 to parents Keisha M. and John M. Following Rogan's birth, Keisha and John lived together with their son until their relationship ended in 2008. At that time, John moved out of their home while Rogan remained living with Keisha. Shortly after the couple's separation, Keisha filed a parentage action, which the parties resolved by agreement on March 26, 2009. Although Keisha and John never reached a formal decision on the issue of custody, [1] they agreed John would make monthly child support payments and provide Keisha with his tax returns and income information on a yearly basis.

¶ 4 The record reveals that in the years subsequent to the parties' separation, Keisha and John both maintained an active relationship with their son. The two parents alternated weekends with Rogan and, during the week, John would accompany Rogan to t-ball practice, karate lessons, or dinner. A change in Keisha's employment, however, would alter the parties' situation.

¶ 5 In 1998, Keisha began working with Harpo Studios as a producer for the Oprah Winfrey Show, eventually earning a position as an executive in the creative department with the studio. In November 2009, Oprah Winfrey announced she would soon be ceasing production of the show, leaving Keisha to question her future with Harpo Studios and consider searching for new employment. According to Keisha, she encountered difficultly finding suitable work in her field around Chicago and instead focused her search on California and New York, where she anticipated such opportunities would be more abundant. On June 27, 2011, 2½ weeks before her position with Harpo Studios was to formally end, Keisha filed a petition to remove Rogan from Illinois to California as she believed an offer of employment in the Los Angeles area to be imminent. Ultimately, the parties participated in a five-month trial on the issue of removal and, on July 31, 2013, the trial court denied Keisha's removal petition in a memorandum opinion and order. Keisha filed her notice of appeal on August 28, 2013.

¶ 6 Between the filing of the removal petition and the notice of appeal, the parties filed a number of additional petitions. On July 8, 2011, Keisha requested a modification of John's child support obligations. On November 9, 2011, John filed a petition for custody of Rogan. On September 18, 2012, Keisha filed a petition for attorney fees and costs. On August 27, 2013, John filed a petition to set a parenting schedule. The trial court declined to hear these issues pending the disposition of Keisha's removal petition and thus the petitions remained unresolved prior to the filing of the notice of appeal. Additionally on August 30, 2013, after Keisha filed her notice of appeal, John filed a petition to terminate or reduce his child support obligation.

¶ 7 ANALYSIS

¶ 8 John argues this court lacks jurisdiction to hear this matter on appeal. According to John, the order denying the removal petition is not a final judgment because numerous issues remain pending in the trial court. In addition, John asserts no exception applies to otherwise allow us to decide the case on its merits. The issue of jurisdiction is a purely legal question that we review de novo. In re John Doe Investigation, 2011 IL App (2d) 091355, ¶ 6.

¶ 9 Supreme Court Rule 301 provides "[e]very final judgment of a circuit court in a civil case is appealable as of right." Ill. S.Ct. R. 301 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994). A final judgment fixes absolutely and finally the rights of the parties in the lawsuit; it determines the litigation on the merits so that, if affirmed, the only thing remaining is to proceed with the execution of the judgment. In re Adoption of Ginnell, 316 Ill.App.3d 789, 793 (2000). To be final, a judgment must dispose of the litigation or some definite part of it. Id. If jurisdiction is retained for the future determination of matters of substantial controversy, the order is not final. Id. Absent an applicable exception, the appellate court does not have jurisdiction to review judgments, orders, or decrees which are not final. Department of Public Aid ex rel. Chiapelli v. Viviano, 195 Ill.App.3d 1033, 1034 (1990).

¶ 10 Rules 306 and 307 provide instances where certain interlocutory orders may be appealed, but neither party contends these exceptions apply. See Ill. S.Ct. R. 306 (eff. Feb. 16, 2011); R. 307 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). The remaining exceptions can be found in Rule 304. See Ill. S.Ct. R. 304 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). Under Rule 304(a), " [i]f multiple parties or multiple claims for relief are involved in an action, an appeal may be taken from a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the parties or claims only if the trial court has made an express written finding that there is no just reason for delaying either enforcement or appeal or both." Ill. S.Ct. R. 304(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). The parties did not seek a Rule 304(a) finding from the trial court in this case and we therefore do not have jurisdiction under this rule. The only remaining exception relevant to this matter falls under Rule 304(b)(6), which allows for an immediate appeal of "[a] custody judgment entered pursuant to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/101 et seq.) or section 14 of the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984 (750 ILCS 45/14); or a modification of custody entered pursuant to section 610 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS ...


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