SPRINGFIELD – Defendants who apparently win lawsuits must
obtain final orders or the suits can start up again, the Illinois Supreme Court
ruled on May 19.
The Justices validated a suit against dairy cooperative
Prairie Farms similar to one that lay idle in Madison County court from 2007 to
They found plaintiffs Michael and Denise Richter properly
dismissed the first suit and filed the second within a year as the statute of
Unlike the first, the second will proceed in Macoupin County
Attorney Paul Marks, who represents the Richters, reacted positively to the court's decision.
"We are grateful for the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court and look forward to further proceedings,” he said.
The Richters sued Prairie Farms in 2006, alleging improper
cancellation of their milk marketing agreement and their membership in the
Their original lawyer, David Antognoli of Edwardsville, sought
shareholder remedies and alleged fraud under state law and common law.
Prairie Farms moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to
state a claim.
Former circuit judge Daniel Stack denied the motion to
dismiss the shareholder claim in 2007, and he dismissed the fraud counts
He gave the Richters 30 days to amend the complaint.
They moved for an extension, and he gave them four months.
In 2010, Stack retired and the case passed to Circuit Judge
Antognoli withdrew from representation of the Richters in 2011.
In 2012, Marks and Todd Sivia of Edwardsville appeared
as counsel for the Richters and moved to extend a deadline for disclosing
Hylla granted 30 days, and in 30 days they asked for two
They moved to continue the case, and Hylla denied the motion
on Sept. 7, 2012.
They moved to dismiss the complaint voluntarily, without
prejudice, and Hylla signed an order on the spot.
Marks and Sivia filed the second suit a day less than a year
later, seeking shareholder remedies and fraud under common law but not state
They added claims of misrepresentation and breach of
Prairie Farms moved to transfer the suit to Macoupin County,
home of the plaintiffs, and Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian granted the motion.
After transfer, Prairie Farms moved to dismiss complaint as
“res judicata,” a matter already adjudicated.
In 2014, Circuit Judge Patrick Londrigan reviewed Madison County
docket entries and dismissed the complaint.
Fourth District appellate judges in Springfield reversed
Londrigan last June, finding Prairie Farms should have put a definite end to
The Supreme Court granted review and heard argument this
All seven Justices agreed with the Fourth District decision.
Justice Thomas Freeman wrote that the dismissal order in the
first suit did not automatically become final when plaintiffs failed to amend
“Although nearly five years elapsed between the time
plaintiffs were granted leave to file an amended complaint and their voluntary
dismissal, defendant did not seek a final order dismissing Richter I with
prejudice, definitively ending the action,” Freeman wrote.
He wrote that an order dismissing the counts of a complaint
but granting leave to amend is not final because it does not terminate the
litigation between the parties.
The Justices did not hand Prairie Farms a complete defeat,
for they ruled that it is free to assert a defense under the doctrine of laches.
The doctrine bars recovery by a litigant whose unreasonable
delay in bringing an action prejudices the rights of the other party.
Londrigan did not rule on a laches defense, and the Fourth
District declined to address the issue.
“We agree and do likewise,” Freeman wrote.
“The circuit court is in the best position to make the
relevant factual findings based on the totality of the circumstances of this