Brett Wilson, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, Chicago
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Miller v. Thom: Fourth District Interprets Illinois Supreme Court Rule 9(d)(2) as Matter of First Impression
In Miller v. Thom, 2023 IL App (4th) 220429, the Fourth District Appellate Court interpreted Illinois Supreme Court Rule 9(d)(2) as a matter of first impression. Rule 9(d)(2) addresses the timeliness of e-filings and offers parties an option for relief if the court clerk rejects a filing resulting in the action being untimely. In its analysis, the Fourth District affirmed the circuit court’s denial of relief under the rule and held that Rule 9(d)(2) relief must be sought in the circuit court where the clerk originally rejected the filing.
Facts of the Case and Procedural Background
The decedent died on February 5, 2016, after receiving medical care from the defendants. The plaintiff, as the special administrator of the estate, filed an action against the defendants in Madison County. The plaintiff was granted a motion for a voluntary dismissal on August 17, 2018. About a year later, on August 14, 2019, the plaintiff filed a complaint in St. Clair County, which was rejected by the clerk eight days later with the notation: “Have to pay the fees for new case to be entered and jury demand that has been requested or there needs to be a waiver attched [sic].” 2023 IL App (4th) 220429 at ¶4. On August 23, 2019, the plaintiff refiled the complaint at issue in Sangamon County (note the difference in venue).
On March 2, 2020, the plaintiff filed a motion to transfer venue to correct an “inadvertent” error made in filing the August 23 complaint. The plaintiff argued the filing in Sangamon County was a result of accidently selecting that forum, instead of St. Clair County, in the e-filing process. In June 2020, during the proceedings on the matter of transferring venue, the plaintiff filed a response to the defendant’s motion to dismiss regarding timeliness. In response to the defendant’s statute-of-limitations argument, the plaintiff asserted that her complaint was timely refiled and that the clerical error should not bar her claim. The plaintiff did not mention S.Ct. Rule 9(d)(2) in her June 2020 response. After a July 2020 hearing, the circuit court granted the plaintiff’s forum non conveniens motion.
At a March 2022 hearing, the Sangamon County Circuit Court granted the plaintiff’s motion to file a supplemental brief on the motion to dismiss. It was at this point in the litigation that the plaintiff argued her complaint should be considered timely because the late filing was due to the circuit clerk rejecting the complaint and asserted, for the first time, that she had shown good cause for relief under S.Ct. Rule 9(d)(2).
On April 27, 2022, the court entered three separate written orders granting the defendants’ motions to dismiss. The plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal in compliance with S.Ct. Rule 303 to the Fourth District Appellate Court.
Section 13-217 of the Code of Civil Procedure
The defendants’ three motions to dismiss asserted that the plaintiff’s complaint was untimely under §13-217 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/1-101, et seq. Section 13-217 provides, in pertinent part, “the plaintiff, his or her heirs, executors or administrators may commence a new action within one year or within the remaining period of limitation, whichever is greater,” after the “action . . . is voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff.” 2023 IL App (4th) 220429 at ¶17, quoting 735 ILCS 5/13-217. In this case, the Madison County Circuit Court granted the plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal on August 17, 2018. Neither party asserted any period of statute of limitations remained at the time of the voluntary dismissal. Therefore, the plaintiff had until August 19, 2019, to refile her medical malpractice complaint to comply with §13-217. As noted above, the claim was not properly filed until August 23, 2019. The plaintiff did not dispute her claim was outside of the one-year window under §13-217 but did argue that the circuit court should have exercised its authority under S.Ct. Rule 9(d)(2) to cure the timeliness issue.
S.Ct. Rule 9(d)(2)
S.Ct. Rule 9 was adopted in June 2017 and addresses e-filing in civil cases. Unless an exemption applies, the rule requires all documents in civil cases to be filed electronically with the circuit clerk. Specifically, S.Ct. Rule 9(d) addresses the timely filing of documents in the case of e-filing. It states that “a document is considered timely if submitted before midnight (in the court’s time zone) on or before the date on which the document is due.” However, if a document is submitted on a day when the circuit clerk’s office is not open for business, the document will be file stamped as filed, unless rejected, on the next day the circuit clerk’s office is open for business. Importantly, Rule 9(d)(2) states, “[i]f a document is rejected by the clerk and is therefore untimely, the filing party may seek appropriate relief from the court, upon good cause shown.”
The Fourth District explained review of the circuit court’s determination of whether the movant showed good cause under Rule 9(d)(2) was under the abuse of discretion standard. Further, a circuit court “abuses its discretion when its ruling is arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable or when no reasonable person would adopt its view.” 2023 IL App (4th) 220429 at ¶21, quoting Hachem v. Chicago Title Insurance Co., 2015 IL App (1st) 143188, ¶34, 46 N.E.3d 879, 399 Ill.Dec. 560. However, with the interpretation of Illinois Supreme Court Rules, the review is de novo.
Interpreting Rule 9(d)(2) as a Matter of First Impression
The Fourth District noted the court uses the same standard for interpreting Supreme Court Rules as it does for interpreting statutes. Accordingly, the primary goal of the court is to give effect to the intent of the drafters. In doing so, the court said the most reliable way to ascertain intent is to give the language of the statute its plain and ordinary meaning. In this case, the court analyzed “clerk” in S.Ct. Rule 9(d)(2) and determined that the rule logically referred to the circuit court in which the officer took clerical action. Thus, the appropriate court to seek relief should be the court where the clerk rejected the filing. Applied to the facts, the plaintiff’s complaint was rejected in St. Clair County and refiled in Sangamon County. Ultimately, the court held that the denial of relief under Rule 9(d)(2) was proper as the plaintiff sought relief in Sangamon County instead of St. Clair County. A proper showing of good cause needed to be brought in St. Clair County for that court to grant relief.
Although the court determined the plaintiff’s failure to seek relief in the proper venue settled the matter, the court addressed a few of the defendants’ other arguments. First, the court noted that Rule 9(d)(2) does not contain a time limit for seeking relief but that timing could be considered in determining whether the plaintiff has shown good cause. Applied to the facts, the defendants filed motions to dismiss in late 2019 and 2020, both asserting the plaintiff’s complaint should be dismissed because it was filed after the statute of limitations had expired. The plaintiff did not request Rule 9(d)(2) relief until March 2022. The court concluded that the circuit court could have properly considered the plaintiff’s lengthy delay in seeking relief as a basis for its denial.
Last, the Fourth District disagreed with the defendants’ argument that relief under Rule 9(d)(2) must be sought in a stand-alone motion. The court noted that the rule itself was silent on the issue and opined that “[a]s long as the request for relief is set forth and supported by any necessary supporting evidence, we fail to see why it must be brought in a stand-alone motion.” 2023 IL App (4th) 220429 at ¶28.
Implications of the Decision
Although the Fourth District did not reach the issue of whether the lower court abused its discretion in its finding of no good cause shown for relief, the decision offers a bright-line rule for future litigation. Namely, parties seeking relief under S.Ct. Rule 9(d)(2) must seek relief in the circuit where the clerk rejected the filing. This ruling demonstrates that even a sympathetic plaintiff who seemingly made a small and inadvertent mouse-clicking error cannot escape the harsh repercussions of strict rule interpretation.
Further, the decision left the door open for litigants seeking relief under Rule 9(d)(2) to push the limits of what the court will consider a timely request. Because the Fourth District did not supply abundant commentary on what it would consider an untimely request for relief, it remains to be seen how much time a party has to seek such relief. The only glimpse the court gave into this temporal analysis was a brief discussion of two First District cases in which each plaintiff filed their Rule 9(d)(2) request in six days and four days after receiving their respective rejections from the clerk. The Fourth District noted that both of the requests were made “promptly in response to a notification [of] the e-filing rejection.” 2023 IL App (4th) 220429 at ¶26. This brief analysis from the court demonstrates that a party has at least a week, but the analysis does not reveal much more.
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