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The Illinois Constitution confers on the appellate court jurisdiction to hear appeals from all final judgments entered in the circuit court. Ill. Const. art. VI, § 6. The Constitution also grants the Illinois Supreme Court the right to provide by rule for appeals to the Appellate Court from other than final judgments. Accordingly, absent a Supreme Court rule, the appellate court is without jurisdiction to review judgments, orders, or decrees that are not final.
This litigation began in 2010 when appellant Jane Blumenthal filed her verified complaint for partition pursuant to section 17-101 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The portion of the partition action relevant here was directed at the parties' South Kimbark residence which appellant jointly owned with appellee Eileen Brewer who had been her domestic partner since approximately 1981. Appellant’s complaint requested that a fair division and partition of the property be made between the parties according to their respective rights and interests. It further requested, in the alternative, that if the property could not be divided without manifest injustice to the parties in interest, then it should be sold by or under the direction of the court, with the proceeds of the sale to be divided among the parties. Appellee’s counterclaim was premised on the couple's domestic relationship, which appellee characterized as identical in every essential way to that of a married couple. As finally amended, the counterclaim contained five counts. In the circuit court, appellant successfully argued that all counts of the counterclaim were barred as a matter of law by this court's decision in the Hewitt case. Appellee contended that dramatic shifts in public policy had rendered this court's decision in Hewitt obsolete and that Hewitt no longer represented an accurate view of how Illinois law should treat such a claim today. Appellant responded that Hewitt was not based on a legislative policy to stigmatize or penalize cohabitants for their relationship, but was instead based on a statute that abolished common-law marriage in this jurisdiction and is now known as section 214 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage and Dissolution Act) (750 ILCS 5/214. In a detailed discussion, the appellate court found some merit in both parties' arguments but ultimately agreed with the appellee’s claims finding that the primary basis for the result in Hewitt ceased to exist. Accordingly, the appellate court vacated the circuit court's Hewitt-based dismissal of the counterclaim and remanded the matter to the circuit court to consider additional arguments raised by the parties. On appeal, the appellant argued that the circuit court’s order dismissing the appellee’s counterclaim was proper.
Was the appellate court’s reversal of the dismissal proper?
The court reversed in part, and vacated in part the appellate court’s judgment and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. However, the court held that the circuit court's action dismissing counts I, II, IV, and V did not qualify as a final order because the order was not appealable under Rule 304(a), and the appellate court's reversal of the dismissal was predicated on the exercise of jurisdiction it did not possess and the repudiation of legal precedent it had no authority to overrule. The court also ruled that transferring title and possession of appellant's interest in the medical practice group to appellee was unattainable under the Medical Corporation Act, 805 ILCS 15/1 et seq. (2010), and Medical Practice Act, 225 ILCS 60/1 et seq. (2010), because appellee was not a licensed medical doctor, and the funds were economically dependent on the marriage-like relationship and the Marriage and Dissolution Act, 750 ILCS 5/101 et seq. (2014), disfavored the grant of mutually enforceable property rights to knowingly unmarried cohabitants.