Quick Takes on Illinois Supreme Court Opinions Issued Thursday, February 2, 2023

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys reviews the one civil and two criminal opinions handed down Thursday, February 2 by the Illinois Supreme Court. 

Tims v. Black Horse Carriers, Inc., 2023 IL 127801

By Amelia Buragas, Illinois State University 

The plaintiff, Jorome Tims, filed a class-action lawsuit against his former employer, Black Horse Carriers, Inc., alleging that the defendant violated the Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/et. seq., when it required its employees to use a fingerprint authentication time clock but did not comply with the provisions of the Act pertaining to notice, retention, destruction, and third-party disclosure contained in sections 15(a), 15(b), and 15(d) of the Act. Black Horse moved to dismiss the complaint as untimely, arguing that it was barred by the one-year statute of limitations in section 13-201 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The circuit court denied the motion, finding instead that the plaintiff’s complaint was timely filed because the five-year limitations period in section 13-205 applied. The appellate court allowed an interlocutory appeal and found that the one-year limitations period in section 13-201 of the Code governed actions under sections 15(c) and 15(d) of the Act and that the five-year limitations period governed actions under sections 15(a), 15(b), and 15(e) of the Act. The Supreme Court granted defendant’s petition for leave to appeal to consider the limited question of which statute of limitations applies to claims pursued under the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Defendant argued that the Act is a privacy statute and should be governed by the one-year statute of limitations period codified in section 13-201 because that limitations period applies to violations of privacy rights. Plaintiff’s countered that, while the Act is a privacy statute, the five-year catchall limitations period contained in section 13-205 of the Code should apply. The Supreme Court first addressed the appellate court’s decision to invoke two different statutes of limitations to different subsections of the Act and explained that the use of two limitations periods “could confuse future litigants about when claims are time-barred, particularly when the same facts could support causes of action under more than one subsection of section 15.” Thus, the court held that the use of different limitations periods under these circumstances did not align with the purpose of a limitations period, which is “to reduce uncertainty and to create finality and predictability in the administration of justice.”

The court then when on to analyze the plain language of the statute, and noted that where, as here, a statute does not contain a limitations period then the five-year catchall limitations period in section 13-205 generally applies. The court noted that while the one-year statute of limitations could be applied to subsections (c) and (d) because the statutory language could be interpreted as involving publication, the purpose of the Act would be best achieved by applying the five-year catchall limitation. The court further found that the longer limitations period better reflected the public policy concerns that led to the passage of the Act and that a shorter limitations period would “thwart legislative intent” by shortening the amount of time an aggrieved party would have to seek redress for non-compliance with the Act as well as shorten the amount of time a private entity would be held liable for non-compliance. The court also observed that the defamation torts that fall under section 13-201 of the Code are subject to a short limitations period because aggrieved individuals are expected to become aware of the injury and to act quickly when their reputation has been publicly compromised. By contrast, the court noted that the full ramifications of the harms associated with biometric technology is “unknown,” and that it is not clear how quickly individuals will become aware of disclosure of biometrics in violation of the Act. As a result, the Supreme Court held that the five-year limitations period contained in section 13-205 of the Code controls claims under the Act.

People v. Galarza, 2023 IL 127678

By Jay Wiegman, Office of the State Appellate Defender

It has been held that a conviction for failure to reduce speed cannot rest solely on the fact that there was a collision, or else “anyone involved in an accident could properly be convicted for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.” People v. Brant, 82 Ill. App. 3d 847, 852 (4th Dist. 1980). However, the Illinois Supreme Court held in People v. Galarza, 2023 IL 127678, that where other factors demonstrate careless driving and excessive speed, the evidence suffices to establish the offense of failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident beyond a reasonable doubt. Also, the Galarza Court held that where the defense in a stipulated bench trial presents a defense, even one that primarily denies the facts to which the parties stipulated, then the stipulated bench trial is not tantamount to a guilty plea, and, therefore, Rule 402(a) admonishments need not be given.

The parties stipulated to a case report written by a Will County Sheriff’s officer who responded to reports of a car accident, patient care reports from responding paramedics, and the vehicle’s registration information. When they arrived, paramedics saw a car with “heavy front end damage” that had crashed head-on into a tree; its airbags had deployed. The car was registered to defendant. A woman was sitting in the driver’s seat. She told paramedics that her boyfriend, the defendant, had been driving and “jerked the wheel sitting the tree.” Defendant was sitting on the ground when the paramedics arrived. Both defendant and his girlfriend smelled of alcohol, and both refused treatment. The defendant admitted to the responding officer that he was the driver of the car. The officer provided that Galarza failed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, but the walking portion of field sobriety tests could not be completed because of his knee pain from the accident. A portable breath test showed defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.203, and he was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). At the stipulated bench trial, defendant primarily argued that he had not been the driver of the car. The trial court found the defendant guilty of DUI, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and operating an uninsured motor vehicle. The defendant was sentenced to 17 days in jail, 240 hours of community service and 24 months’ conditional discharge.

On direct appeal, the defendant challenged his convictions of operating an uninsured motor vehicle and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, but did not challenge the DUI conviction. Defendant also argued that the trial court should have admonished him pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 402(a), because his stipulated bench trial was tantamount to a guilty plea. The State conceded error as to the insurance charge, and the Appellate Court, Third District, accepted the concession, but otherwise affirmed.

With Justices Cunningham, Rochford and O’Brien taking no part in the decision, Justice Holder White wrote the 4-0 decision, joined by Chief Justice Theis and Justices Neville and Overstreet. Justice Holder White first observed that speed need not exceed the maximum limit to be unreasonable under the circumstances, and must be decreased when necessary to avoid a collision, citing 625 ILCS 5/11-601(a)(2016). Rather, the question is whether one drives “carelessly under the circumstances.” And while intoxication alone is not enough to prove carelessness, his conduct qualified as carelessness because he not only drove while intoxicated, he also jerked the steering wheel for an unknown reason. Further, responding to the defendant’s argument that a collision alone is not enough to establish that defendant failed to reduce his speed, the Court inferred that the defendant’s speed was excessive under the conditions because of the “heavy front end damage to the car,” the defendant’s knee injury and the deployment of the airbags.

Turning to defendant’s argument that his stipulated bench trial, the Court first noted that the defendant forfeited this issue by failing to raise it at trial and include it in a post-trial motion. The Court noted that a stipulated bench trial is tantamount to a guilty plea under two circumstances: 1) where the State’s case is to be presented by stipulation and the defendant does not present or preserve a defense; or 2) the stipulation includes a statement that the evidence is sufficient to convict the defendant. Because the defendant conceded that the stipulation did not include an express statement that the evidence was sufficient to convict, the Court focused on the first category, and found that the defendant presented a defense that raised a genuine question of fact for the trial court to decide: whether he had driven or not. As a result, there was no error.

People v. Clark, 2023 IL 127273

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

This appeal arose out of Robert Clark’s efforts to file a successive post-conviction petition challenging his 90-year sentence for murder under the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Clark committed the offense in 1993 when he was just 24 years old. At sentencing, there was extensive evidence that Clark suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder, and that he had the intellectual ability of a 13- or 14-year-old. In his successive petition, Clark asserted that the circuit court failed to give sufficient weight to his intellectual disabilities and his young age as mitigating factors before imposing a de facto life sentence.

The Post-Conviction Hearing Act contemplates the filing of a single post-conviction petition unless the petitioner can establish “cause and prejudice” for filing a successive petition. “Cause” is defined as an objective factor that impeded the petitioner’s ability to raise the claim at issue in his initial post-conviction proceeding. And, “prejudice” requires a showing that the claim at issue so infected the proceedings that the resulting conviction or sentence violated due process.

Here, the Supreme Court found that Clark could not demonstrate cause or prejudice to justify filing a successive petition and thus affirmed the lower courts. On the question of cause, the Court noted that Clark had raised a similar challenge to his sentence on direct appeal, where he argued that his sentence was excessive in light of his mental conditions, and that he had cited the proportionate penalties clause in support of that argument. While Clark cited the more recent Miller line of cases in support of his successive post-conviction claim, the Supreme Court cited its recent holding from People v. Dorsey, 2021 IL 123010, that those cases were based on the Eighth Amendment and do not provide cause for a proportionate penalties claim. Illinois law has long recognized the reduced culpability of persons with intellectual disabilities. Thus, the Court concluded that Clark’s claim was previously available such that he could not establish the necessary cause to warrant filing a successive petition.

With regard to prejudice, the Court found that Clark’s claim would fail as a matter of law even if he could establish cause for not raising it in his initial post-conviction petition. Specifically, the Court noted that here, unlike in Miller, Clark’s sentence was discretionary. Thus, the sentencing court was able to consider Clark’s intellectual disabilities in mitigation in fashioning an appropriate sentence. Indeed, Clark’s intellectual disabilities were the focus of the sentencing hearing. The sentencing court had discretion to impose a term less than de facto life but ultimately chose to sentence Clark to 90 years after considering extensive evidence of Clark’s intellectual disabilities.

The Court also pointed to its recent decision in People v. Coty, 2020 IL 123972, noting that evidence of an individual’s intellectual disabilities can present a “two-edged sword” at sentencing. On the one hand, such evidence may diminish an individual’s culpability for his criminal conduct, while on the other hand it may serve to confirm his future dangerousness. That is, while a juvenile can be expected to develop and mature over time such that his potential for rehabilitation increases with age, the same cannot be said of adults with intellectual disabilities given that such conditions have been recognized as relatively static. And, at Clark’s sentencing hearing, experts testified extensively about his mental impairments and opined that they were not curable and that little could be done to improve his condition.

Clark had also argued that his status as an emerging adult warranted granting him leave to file his successive post-conviction petition. The court rejected that claim because, as with the intellectual disability claim, Clark had argued on direct appeal that his youth and background warranted a lesser sentence, the Miller line of cases did not render his claim “new” for purposes of post-conviction purposes, and he could not establish prejudice where the court imposed a discretionary de facto life sentence upon giving considerable weight to the seriousness of the offense and Clark’s future dangerousness as a function of his intellectual disabilities.

The Court’s decision was authored by Justice Overstreet, and joined by Chief Justice Theis and Justices Neville and Holder White. Recently-seated Justices Cunningham, Rochford, and O’Brien took no part.

Posted on February 2, 2023 by Timothy A. Slating
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