Hudson v. City of Chicago: Illinois Supreme Court Redefines Res Judicata

On January 25, 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Hudson v. City of Chicago that the re-filing of a voluntarily dismissed claim may be barred under res judicata when there is a previous involuntary dismissal of a different claim in the case.

Res judicata refers to an issue before the court that has already been decided on by another court for the same parties. In Hudson, res judicata applied because at least one claim had been involuntary dismissed in the prior case. The Court held that res judicata bars

not only every matter that was actually determined in the first suit, but also every matter that might have been raised and determined in that suit.

Oftentimes an attorney voluntary dismisses a claim when one of its other claims were dismissed in order to re-work the remaining claims and then re-file. However, attorneys now have to be careful not to fall under the banner of res judicata and thereby miss out on refiling their claims. And res judicata can even bar refiling when cases are dismissed “without prejudice”, i.e. allowing for the refiling of suit against the defendant if the defendant doesn’t follow through with the terms of settlement.

Fortunately, the Court allowed for some exceptions to its ruling. Res judicata can only be applied when there has been an adjudication of merits in the original action. As defined by Supreme Court Rule 273 an adjudication of merits is

an involuntary dismissal of an action, other than for a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, for improper venue, or for failure to join an indispensable party.

So if a case was voluntarily dismissed for any of the three above reasons then its refiling is not affected by the Court’s ruling.

The Court goes on to assert that if a plaintiff

voluntarily dismiss[es] and refile[s] a claim after another part of the cause of action has gone to final judgment in a previous case, that plaintiff will have engaged in claim-splitting.

Claim splitting is when you split up a civil claim and file two lawsuits, typically in order to stay below the limit of how much money you can ask for in an individual claim. Claim-splitting is generally not allowed so as to avoid burdening the courts with duplicate lawsuits.

However, there are six instances where claim splitting is allowed. According to §26 of the Restatement of Judgments, claim-splitting will not bar a second action if (1) all parties have agreed upon it, (2) the court reserves plaintiff’s right to maintain the second action; (3) the plaintiff was limited from obtaining relief by the court’s jurisdiction; (4) the first action’s judgment was obviously inconsistent with statutes; (5) the involvement of a continuing or recurring wrong; or (6) policies for excluding a second action are clearly overcome.

However, despite these exceptions, attorneys now need to consider whether their case could be barred from refiling under Hudson because of res judicata. And if so, then they should carefully consider all options before voluntarily dismissing a claim.

Kreisman Law Offices offers in-depth legal advice on Illinois personal injury and Cook County medical malpractice lawsuits, specializing cities in the Cook County area, including Arlington Heights, Bolingbrook, Wilmette, and Calumet City.

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