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How to determine when there is no just reason for delaying appeal pursuant to rule 304(a)

April 16, 2014 by in General

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) provides that, if 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 claims if the trial court makes an explicit written finding that there is no just reason for delaying either enforcement or appeal. To determine whether a Rule 304(a) finding is proper, courts use a two-part test: (1) whether the order is final; and (2) whether there is any just reason for delaying the appeal.

In most cases where a question of appellate jurisdiction under Rule 304(a) arises, the inquiry focuses on whether the order is final. In this case, however, there was no question that the order was final. The issue was whether there was any just reason to delay the appeal. To make that determination, a court will consider the following factors:

(1) the relationship between the adjudicated and unadjudicated claims; (2) the possibility that the need for review might or might not be mooted by future developments in the trial court; (3) the possibility that the reviewing court might be obliged to consider the same issue a second time; (4) the presence or absence of a claim or counterclaim which could result in set-off against the judgment sought to be made appealable; and (5) miscellaneous factors such as delay, economic and solvency considerations, shortening the time of trial, frivolity of competing claims, expense, and the like.

Courts will employ a pragmatic approach by using a severability analysis. Where the dismissed claims can be decided independently of each other — that is, they are not so inherently inseparable from, or closely related to, the remaining claims — then the trial court does not abuse its discretion in certifying that there is no just reason for delay of the appeal. However, significant factual overlap between the decided and the remaining claims means that they are not separate, and an appeal must be deferred until the latter are resolved.

In this case, the appellate court found that the trial judge made a Rule 304(a) finding because he believed that the dispositive question in the case was a “purely legal issue” and ought to be decided “once and for all” to provide guidance to lower court judges. Those concerns, however, were not enough to justify ignoring the proper factors for a Rule 304(a) finding.

The appellate court also noted that the trial judge’s comments suggest that he was actually invoking Rule 308, which permits permissive appeal of an interlocutory order certified by the trial court as involving a question of law “as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion” and where “an immediate appeal may materially advance the termination of the litigation.” Under Rule 308, the appellate court does not review the propriety of the order entered by the circuit court, but it is limited to answering the specific question certified by the trial court.

In this case, none of the procedures required under Rule 308 were followed and the appellate court found that the circuit court abused its discretion by entering Rule 304(a) finding. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

AT&T v. Lyons & Pinner Electric Co., Inc., 2014 IL App (2d) 130577.

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