The Bar News

Quick Takes on Illinois Supreme Court Opinions Issued Friday, February 21, 2020

The Illinois Supreme Court handed down two opinions on Friday, February 21. In People v. Gayden, the court considered whether to provide a means for a defendant to challenge his trial attorney’s failure to file a motion to suppress where the record on direct appeal was found to be insufficient to evaluate that claim. In Joiner v. SVM Management, LLC, the court reaffirmed its prior holdings that a class action lawsuit is mooted when the named plaintiff rejects tender of full relief before a class certification motion is filed.

People v. Gayden

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Today the Illinois Supreme Court was confronted with the question of whether to provide a means for a defendant to challenge his trial attorney’s failure to file a motion to suppress where the record on direct appeal was found to be insufficient to evaluate that claim. While the traditional avenue for developing the record under those circumstances would be to file a post-conviction petition raising the ineffective assistance claim, Lanard Gayden lacked standing to file a petition because he had already completed his sentence by the time the appellate court issued its decision declaring the record inadequate.

The Post-conviction Hearing Act limits its availability to those individuals who are “imprisoned in the penitentiary.” The imprisonment requirement has been interpreted to include not only traditional physical imprisonment, but also the accompanying term of MSR or parole, as well as terms of probation. Here, though, Gayden completed his short prison sentence and was discharged from his one-year MSR term while his direct appeal was pending. Accordingly, he lost his post-conviction right before his direct appeal was decided.

The Supreme Court noted that under established case law, Gayden was not required to wait to file his post-conviction petition until after the court decided his direct appeal. Even though Gayden had raised the ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct appeal, he also could have—and should have—raised the claim in a timely-filed post-conviction petition in order to preserve his post-conviction rights.

While courts should not presume that ineffective assistance claims are always better suited to collateral proceedings, it sometimes will be the case that a direct appeal record lacks sufficient evidence to allow the reviewing court to determine whether a motion to suppress would have been granted if filed. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s conclusion that such was the situation here. While the trial record contained evidence to support the charge against Gayden—unlawful use of a weapon—the record was not fully developed with regard to the circumstances leading up to, and surrounding, Gayden’s arrest. Those facts would be crucial to determining whether there was probable cause to arrest defendant and, by extension, whether a motion to suppress would have been successful.

The Supreme Court declined Gayden’s request to extend the post-conviction right to his circumstances. Post-conviction proceedings are not constitutionally required but rather are a matter of “legislative grace.” The legislature chose to limit the availability of the post-conviction remedy, and the court concluded that it was required to enforce the statute as written.

The Supreme Court also declined to retain jurisdiction and remand the cause to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of ineffective assistance. While Gayden argued that there is a “hole” in the Act where a defendant receives a short sentence which terminates before the appellate court determines whether the record is sufficient to decide an ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct appeal, the Supreme Court disagreed. The court concluded that a defendant in that circumstances retains the post-conviction right by filing his petition before his sentence is served. Because that procedure was available to Gayden, the court declined to create an additional remedy by remanding while retaining jurisdiction.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Burke explained that she would have allowed the remand, concluding that it was fundamentally unfair to refuse to do so. In reaching this conclusion, Justice Burke noted that the refusal to remand was especially problematic here because the existing record shows a reasonable probability of success on a motion to suppress.

Joiner v. SVM Management, LLC

By Joanne R. Driscoll, Forde & O’Meara LLP

In this appeal, the court reaffirmed its prior holdings that a class action lawsuit is mooted when the named plaintiff rejects tender of full relief before a class certification motion is filed. Ballard RN Center, Inc. v. Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare, Inc., 2015 IL 118644; Barber v. American Airlines, Inc., 241 Ill. 2d 450 (2011); Wheatley v. Board of Education of Township High School Dist. 205, 99 Ill. 2d 481 (1984). The court chose to revisit these holdings in light of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, 577 U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 663 (2016), which held that a rejected settlement offer would not moot a class action lawsuit.

The court’s decision was based solely on its distinction of a “tender” under 735 ILCS 5/5-126 (West 2016) and an offer of judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68(a).  Section 5-126 of the Code of Civil Procedure requires the defendant to tender the full amount to “make amends” and does not consider the effect of the plaintiff’s failure to accept. The tender is unconditional and effective if it is for the entire amount owed because in making that tender, the defendant effectively admits liability and provides the plaintiff with the relief sought. If that tender is made before class certification, the only claims are those of the plaintiff, and the controversy has ended unless another plaintiff steps into the named plaintiff’s shoes.

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68(a), an offer of judgment is an offer of settlement that can be made on any terms, including offering an amount equal to or less than the amount claimed due, and can be made with or without an admission of liability. The plaintiff’s freedom to accept or reject the offer (the defendant denied liability and the offer was rejected in Gomez) meant that a rejection of the offer could not moot the class action or the plaintiff’s claims.

Based on this distinction, and because an Illinois plaintiff cannot reject a tender that completely satisfies his or her demand, the Illinois Supreme Court reaffirmed that a proper tender made before a class certification motion has been filed ends the case as to that plaintiff.

The court also clarified the mechanics for future tenders. It instructed that if a tender is made after a lawsuit is filed, the tender should be made to the court. The court is to hold a hearing on costs and, if applicable, reasonable attorney fees before dismissing the case contingent upon payment of costs and fees.

Posted on February 21, 2020 by Rhys Saunders
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