Voluntary Dismissals and the Evolution of Illinois’ Rule Against Claim Splitting
Cohen, Robert A.
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Under Illinois’ rule against claim-splitting, a plaintiff is generally prohibited from maintaining separate and subsequent lawsuits where it raises different theories or different prayers for relief which arise out of the original cause of action. Recently, the rule has been applied harshly in multiple-count actions where a plaintiff has invoked a statutory voluntary dismissal after a partial adjudication. The Illinois Supreme Court has held that such litigation conduct amounts to claims-splitting but it adopted exceptions where the rule is relaxed. Unfortunately for practitioners, it appears that the court failed to adhere to its own test. Their resulting interpretation has led to the erosion of the Illinois voluntary dismissal statute, and has created confusion in the appellate court as to how the rule and its exceptions should be applied. This article tracks the history of claims-splitting law, examines the misapplication of the law in recent supreme court case law and seeks to better understand factors the appellate court has weighed as its panels have become fractured. The article next strongly urges that the Illinois voluntary dismissal statute and Illinois Supreme Court Rules be amended to address these types of cases and lastly provides suggestions on how practitioners might deal with the rule’s consequences.