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Quick take on Thurday's Illinois Supreme Court opinion on "mailbox rule"

Gruszeczka v. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC

As the Illinois Supreme Court moves the state toward electronic filing, here the court implicitly acknowledged the continuing relevance of the “mailbox rule.” The issue arose in the context of obtaining circuit court review of a decision of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The supreme court interpreted section 19(f)(1) of the statute and held that mailing the requisite documents commences circuit court review and satisfies the strict statutory compliance needed to vest subject matter jurisdiction in the circuit court. See Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(1) (West 2008). Thus, mailing the documents within 20 days, rather than obtaining file-stamped documents by the clerk within that time frame, “commenced” the action under the statute.

The court determined that the mailbox rule, which equates time of mailing with time of filing, comports with modern policy and constitutes the general rule. The court interpreted mailbox rule precedent as recognizing two document categories. Documents that constitute continuation of a previous proceeding or that are “closely related to the appellate process” may be timely filed by mailing within the requisite time period. By contrast, the mailbox rule does not apply to pleadings that commence a new action, like civil complaints or section 2-1401 petitions. Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas observed that the circuit court’s role in compensation proceedings is appellate only; thus, the court views commencement of section 19(f)(1) proceedings as distinct from instituting a new action. This interpretation, the supreme court concluded, brings consistency to the workers’ compensation review process, which applies the mailbox rule at other stages.

Justice Freeman, joined by Justice Burke, filed a dissent. Focusing on proof of payment decisions interpreting the 20-day timeliness requirement of section 19(f)(1), Justice Freeman concluded that applying the mailbox rule, in effect, extended the 20-day period and thus strayed from the strict adherence to the jurisdictional requirement that is required for subject matter jurisdiction.

Posted on August 1, 2013 by Chris Bonjean
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Member Comments (3)

Wow ! This decision will come as an unanticipated analysis from everyone who practices administrative law. It will level the playing field for attorneys who do not have an office near the proper courthouse and indeed makes things fair. The deadlines are short enough as it is.
The big question will be whether this will apply to other judicial review cases from other agencies.

Good question Carl since as you know the IWCC is not governed by the APA in terms of judicial review. I would not want to risk a trip to the appellate court to find out.

Frankly the days of hand-filing any documents are almost behind us, as they should be. While the Supreme Court is moving quickly (and appreciatively) towards efiling in most every category, the local court houses are far behind. For example, DuPage County where I practice refuses to make wifi available to attorneys unless the bar association pays them $35,000. So internet access remains only available to Judges, Clerks, Prosecutors and Public Defenders (you can ask to use the system but only these folks have the password).

Additionally, judgesseem to still have a problem accepting courtesy copies of large documents by such media as disk or thumbdrive. Local circuit court rules should be developed on these issues. Perhaps part of the efiling fees should be mandated to make court systems wifi accessible for practicing lawyers.