In an Order dated November 7, 2018, the Appellate Court of Illinois First District Second Division (“Illinois Appellate Court”) applied res judicata in dismissing some of the plaintiff’s Illinois medical malpractice claims. The Illinois Appellate Court held that the involuntary dismissal of plaintiff’s hematology medical malpractice counts constituted a final adjudication on the merits of those counts, but it did not likewise constitute a final adjudication on the merits of the plaintiff’s remaining radiology medical malpractice counts for purposes of res judicata because no identity of parties exists.
The doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction bars any subsequent actions between the same parties or their privies on the same cause of action. Res judicata is an equitable doctrine that is designed to prevent a multiplicity of lawsuits between the same parties where the facts and issues are the same.
For res judicata to apply, three requirements must be satisfied: (1) a final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) an identity of a cause of action; and (3) an identity of the parties or their privies. If an element is not satisfied, res judicata does not apply.
With respect to the third requirement, where a defendant is a party to an action based upon vicarious liability, his identity merges with that of the defendant whose conduct he is being held liable.
In the Illinois medical malpractice case the Illinois Appellate Court was deciding, the Illinois medical malpractice plaintiff had filed two separate medical malpractice cases against defendant Rush University Medical Center (“Rush”) under a theory of vicarious liability for negligent medical treatment provided by radiologists and hematologists at Rush. In 2010, the plaintiff filed an Illinois medical malpractice complaint against the radiologists and Rush. In 2013, the plaintiff filed an Illinois medical malpractice complaint against the hematologists and Rush. In July 2013, the circuit court consolidated the two cases.
Shortly thereafter, the circuit court dismissed the 2013 hematology complaint with prejudice because it was not timely filed. The circuit court denied the plaintiff’s motion to reconsider the dismissal and she appealed. The proceedings before the circuit court as to the plaintiff’s radiology claims were not stayed.
In January 2014, the plaintiff amended the original 2010 Illinois medical malpractice complaint, incorporating the existing radiology counts as well as the hematology counts that were pleaded in the 2013 medical malpractice complaint.
In July 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of the 2013 Illinois medical malpractice complaint. Thereafter, Rush moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s 2010 amended complaint in its entirety, asserting that the hematology counts were barred by res judicata and that the radiology counts were precluded by the rule against claim-splitting. The circuit court granted Rush’s motion to dismiss the hematology counts, but denied its motion to dismiss the radiology counts.
The plaintiff then voluntarily dismissed the 2010 amended complaint containing the remaining radiology counts, without prejudice. When the plaintiff refiled those counts, Rush moved to dismiss on the basis of res judicata and claim-splitting. The circuit court denied Rush’s motion, but granted its motion for certification pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. July 1, 2017).
The circuit court then issued the following certified question: “Whether the involuntary dismissal of the plaintiff’s counts against an institutional defendant and its hematologists constitutes a final adjudication on the merits for purposes of res judicata and claim splitting to bar her remaining counts against the same institutional defendant and its alleged radiologists that she subsequently voluntarily dismissed and then refilled?”
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 273 (eff. Sept. 1, 2018) provides: “[u]nless the order of dismissal or a statute of this State otherwise specifies, an involuntary dismissal of an action, other than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, for improper venue, or for failure to join an indispensable party, operates as an adjudication upon the merits.” Accordingly, for purposes of Rule 273, if the circuit court involuntarily dismisses a plaintiff’s action, other than for one of the rule’s three exceptions, the dismissal is deemed to be on the merits.
The Illinois Appellate Court stated that the involuntary dismissal of the plaintiff’s hematology counts constituted a final adjudication on the merits of those counts because none of the exceptions under Rule 273 applied. Furthermore, the dismissal was a final adjudication on the merits because the Illinois Appellate Court had previously affirmed that judgment.
However, the Illinois Appellate Court held that the involuntary dismissal of the hematology counts did not constitute a final adjudication on the merits of the plaintiff’s radiology counts for purposes of res judicata because no identity of parties exists: the plaintiff’s 2013 medical malpractice complaint was pleaded against the hematologists and Rush as their apparent principal, while the plaintiff’s 2010 medical malpractice complaint was pleaded against the radiologists and Rush as their apparent principal. The Illinois Appellate Court stated that to the extent Rush argues that because it was a party to both actions and thus an identity of parties exists, this argument ignores that Rush’s capacity as a defendant to each action was based solely upon vicarious liability. Therefore, Rush’s identity merged with that of the hematologists and radiologists respectively. Stated differently, in the 2013 medical malpractice complaint, Rush and the hematologists were considered to be one defendant, whereas in the 2010 medical malpractice complaint, Rush and the radiologists were considered to be one defendant. Accordingly, no identity of parties exists.
The Illinois Appellate Court held: “Because Rush has failed to satisfy the third element of res judicata, we need not proceed further in our analysis. Accordingly, the involuntary dismissal of plaintiff’s hematology counts does not bar her remaining radiology counts under res judicata.”
Source Heredia v. Rush University Medical Center, 2018 IL App (1st) 172076-U.
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