Illinois courts aim to foster efficiency and finality in litigation. One way they accomplish this is by protecting people from repetitive lawsuits and requiring plaintiffs to bring all their claims in a single case. Consolidation of claims is encouraged while piecemeal “claim splitting” is discouraged.
Code Section 2-619(a)(3) is a statutory attempt to streamline litigation. This section that allows for dismissal of a case where there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause.
Schact v. Lome, 2016 IL App(1st) 141931 provides a recent case illustration of this section in the context of an aborted medical partnership.
The defendant originally filed suit in 2010 against two of his former medical partners to void their attempt to dissolve a medical corporation operated by them. The parties litigated that case for over three years before the plaintiffs (who were the defendants in the 2010 case) filed suit in 2013 for fraud.
The 2013 fraud action alleged the defendant fraudulently induced the plaintiffs to agree to a distribution of the medical corporation’s assets knowing that he (defendant) was going to challenge the corporate dissolution.
According to the plaintiffs, the defendant received almost $50,000 in cash on top of some corporate equipment based on his promise to end the 2010 litigation. Plaintiffs claimed the defendant hoodwinked them into agreeing to the money and property disbursements based on the defendant’s assurance he would dismiss the prior lawsuit.
The trial court dismissed the fraud action based on the same parties, same cause rule. Affirming dismissal, the appeals court provided content to the “same cause” element of a Section 2-619 motion to dismiss.
- Illinois Code Section 2-619(a)(3) is a procedural device aimed at avoiding duplicative litigation. It applies where there is a pending case involving the same parties for the same cause.
- Lawsuits present the same cause when the relief sought is “based on substantially the same set of facts”;
- The salient inquiry is whether both cases arise from the same transaction or occurrence, not whether the two lawsuits have identical causes of action or legal theories;
- If the relief requested in each lawsuit relies on substantially the same facts, the “same cause” is met and can present grounds for dismissal.
In finding the same cause test met, the Court noted the 2010 dissolution action and the 2013 fraud suit were “inextricably intertwined.” Both cases involved a challenge to the plaintiffs’ earlier attempted breakup of the medical corporation. Both cases also centered on the defendant’s conduct in agreeing to a distribution of the corporate assets while at the same time contesting those distributions. Another commonality between the two suits was the damages claimed by the plaintiffs in the fraud action equaled the defense costs they incurred in the 2010 dissolution action. (¶ 37).
Since both lawsuits involved the same underlying facts, had similar issues and were based on the same conduct by the parties, the 2013 fraud action was properly dismissed since the 2010 dissolution action was still pending when the fraud case was filed.
Once again, considerations of judicial economy win out over opposing claims that two lawsuits are different enough to proceed on separate tracks.
Schact gives a broad reading to a somewhat nebulous basis for dismissal. The case stresses that the legal theories advanced in two lawsuits don’t have to be identical to trigger the same cause element of Section 2-619.
Schact’s lesson is clear: Where two lawsuits between the same parties share common issues and stem from substantially similar facts, a defendant will have a strong argument that the later-filed case should be dismissed under the same cause Code section.