Quick Takes on Illinois Supreme Court Opinions Issued Thursday, December 13
The Illinois Supreme Court handed down two opinions on Thursday, Dec. 13. The court weighed in on whether section 13-217 of the Code of Civil Procedure applies to voluntarily withdrawn postconviction petitions in People v. Simms, and in Palm v. Holocker, demonstrated the principle that a party seeking review of a statutory construction ruling must bring to the court a case with facts that implicate the statute being construed.
By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender
Darryl Simms was convicted of first degree murder, sexual assault, armed robbery, home invasion, and residential burglary, and was sentenced to death. Following a series of remands on sentencing-related issues, the death sentence was ultimately affirmed. Subsequently, Simms filed a postconviction petition in 1995, which was later dismissed at the second stage. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court remanded for an evidentiary hearing on a perjury claim, with the court noting that it could not conclude on the record that there was “no reasonable likelihood” that the allegedly perjured testimony did not impact the jury’s decision to impose the death penalty.
In 2003, while the petition was still pending on remand, Simms’ death sentence was commuted as part of Governor George Ryan’s blanket commutation, though the death penalty statute remained on the books at that time. On July 7, 2004, Simms withdrew his pending postconviction claims, with the parties agreeing that no evidentiary hearing would take place. In a 2014 filing, after the death penalty was abolished in Illinois, Simms sought to reinstate his post-conviction petition. That request was denied.
The question before the supreme court was whether section 13-217 of the Code of Civil Procedure applied so as to limit the time for reinstating a voluntarily withdraw post-conviction petition to one year. The court concluded that it does.
Postconviction proceedings are sui generis, but are civil in nature and civil procedural rules apply to the extent that they do not conflict with the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (the Act).
Section 122-5 of the act provides that a court may allow a postconviction petition to be voluntarily withdrawn, but it does not say anything about reinstating or refiling a withdrawn petition. The court held that it was logical to apply section 13-217 because otherwise there was no deadline for such reinstatement. In reaching this conclusion, the court rejected Simms’ argument that reinstatement after a year should be within the trial court’s discretion, if the defendant could show a lack of culpable negligence for the delayed request to reinstate. In support of this argument, defendant noted that section 122-5 allows a trial court to extend the time for filing any pleading. The court noted, however, that adopting Simms’ position would be inconsistent with the legislature’s intent to limit the time within which a postconviction petition can be brought, noting that the legislature has gradually shortened the limitations period over the years.
Today’s unanimous decision directly answers the question of whether section 13-217 applies to voluntarily withdrawn postconviction petitions, holding that it does. Voluntarily withdrawn petitions are the equivalent of voluntarily dismissed civil suits for purposes of section 13-217. Accordingly, an individual who is allowed to withdraw a petition before final disposition has only one year (or the remaining postconviction limitations period if that is longer) to seek to reinstate that petition.
By Joanne R. Driscoll, Forde Law Offices LLP
This case demonstrates the principle that a party seeking review of a statutory construction ruling must bring to the court a case with facts that implicate the statute being construed. In its review of a contempt order entered against an attorney for failure to comply with a discovery order, the Illinois Supreme Court was called upon to clarify the meaning of the “an issue” exception to the physician-patient privilege. Section 8-802(4) of the Code of Civil Procedure provides that the privilege does not apply when the patient’s physical or mental condition is “an issue.” 735 ILCS 5/8-802(4) (West 2016). The question presented to the court was whether a plaintiff may put a defendant’s medical condition at issue so as to waive a defendant’s privilege.
The plaintiff, a pedestrian, was injured when the defendant’s automobile struck her. She alleged that the defendant failed to keep a proper lookout and, during discovery, asked whether the defendant had any medical or physical condition that required a physician’s report and/or letter of approval to drive and to identify the condition and physician who issued the report. She also requested the names of health care providers who performed eye or other examinations of the defendant. The defendant answered the question about the physician’s report and identified the condition (diabetes) and that physician, but refused to answer the other two questions based on physician-patient privilege. The circuit court ordered the defendant to respond.
After examining section 8-802(4) and inconsistent case law applying that section, the court concluded that the provision was not clear in terms of whether and how a party can put another party’s physical or medical condition at issue and whether a different rule should exist in civil and criminal cases. But the court, in the exercise of judicial restraint and noting that the “appellate court said more than it needed to in resolving the appeal,” did not answer any of these questions because it determined that neither party put the defendant’s physical or medical condition at issue for purposes of section 8-802(4). The plaintiff did not do so by alleging, as in the majority of accident cases, that the defendant failed to keep a proper lookout; and her reliance on a hearsay statement posted on Facebook that the defendant was legally blind was improper. The defendant did not put his medical condition at issue by admitting that he was a diabetic because he was expected to testify that he was not looking where he was going at the time of the accident. For these reasons, the court did not construe section 8-802(4).
On separate grounds, the court held that the plaintiff was entitled to the report of the defendant’s doctor that was provided to the Secretary of State to renew his driver’s license. Not only had the defendant not objected to the production of that document, but the confidentiality protections afforded to medical information provided to the Secretary of State by section 2-123(j) of the Illinois Vehicle Code did not apply because that provision further allows for disclosure “directed by an order of a court of competent jurisdiction” (625 ILCS 5/2-123(j) (West 2016)), and such an order existed here.
In concluding remarks, the court urged the legislature to address section 8-802(4) and to “make its intentions clear” as to how something becomes “an issue” for purposes of that subsection.