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Taking the long way around to appellate jurisdiction

July 2, 2013 by in General

Thirty days after the trial court dismissed the amended complaint, the plaintiff e-filed its motion to reconsider. The plaintiff filed a paper copy of the motion about 30 days after that, and the trial court heard and denied it the same day. The plaintiff then e-filed its notice of appeal 30 days after the order denying the reconsideration motion.

Under the e-filing rules of the 18th Judicial Circuit Court (DuPage County), the case did not qualify for e-filing. Thus, the appellate court held that the plaintiff’s e-filing of the motion for reconsideration violated the local rules and was a nullity. At that point, the plaintiff appeared to be sunk. The deadline to file a notice of appeal passed on the same day that he filed the motion inasmuch as there was no properly-filed postjudgment motion that would extend the time to appeal.

Furthermore, the circuit court’s rules expressly prohibit e-filing appellate documents and notices, even in cases that are otherwise eligible for e-filing. So the notice of appeal was not only untimely, it was also a nullity because the plaintiff e-filed it in violation of the local rules. Due to the “plaintiff’s blatant disregard of supreme court rules and local rules governing e-filing,” the Second District appellate court found hat it was without jurisdiction and it dismissed the appeal in VC & M, Ltd. v. Andrews, 2012 IL App (2d) 110523.

The appellate court issued a certificate of importance under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 316 certifying two questions to the Illinois Supreme Court: (1) whether a postjudgment motion filed electronically in violation of a circuit court rule tolls the time for an appeal under Rule 303; and (2) whether the 18th Judicial Circuit rules prohibits e-filing the notice of appeal. As to the first question, the supreme court held that the manner in which a motion is physically submitted to the trial court does not constitute a jurisdictional defect. Because the defendants did not claim that they were prejudiced, the supreme court concluded that “the plaintiff’s procedural failure in initially e-filing its motion to reconsider before filing the paper copy did not render the initial filing a nullity, depriving the trial court of the ability to consider the motion, and failing to toll the time for filing a notice of appeal under Supreme Court Rule 303(a).”

As to the second question, it should be noted that the 18th Circuit’s rules have since been amended to explicitly permit e-filing a notice of appeal. However, under the rule as it existed at the time relevant to the case, the supreme court found that the local rules plainly prohibited e-filing notices of appeal. However, the court also found a loophole. The circuit rules provide that, during the e-filing pilot project in the 18th Circuit, the court clerk was to create and maintain a paper file of all e-filings in a parallel manual court file. Because a paper copy of the notice of appeal apparently did exist (although the appellant did not file any paper version of the notice), the notice was deficient only in form and not substance, so that it was sufficient to confer jurisdiction. The supreme court remanded the case to the appellate court to consider the appeal on its merits.

Justice Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Kilbride and Justice Karmeier, dissented to express their concern that the majority decision would allow parties to disregard local rules without jurisdictional consequences.

VC&M, Ltd. v. Andrews, 2013 IL 114445.

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