Illinois Supreme Court to Consider The Potential Perils of E-Filing a Notice of Appeal

We continue our previews of the civil cases scheduled for oral argument during the Illinois Supreme Court's January term with VC&M, Ltd. v. Andrews.

VC&M arises from a real estate dispute. The defendants were in the process of getting a divorce. They signed a contract with the plaintiff to list their residence. Plaintiff found a buyer, who put in a bid for less than the asking price. Defendants rejected the offer and declined to make a counter offer. Not long after, the wife allegedly informed one of the realtors that the defendants weren’t selling the home after all; the wife would buy out the husband’s interest and continue living there.   A few months after the listing agreement expired, the Circuit Court entered a judgment of divorce with respect to the defendants which incorporated a property settlement. The settlement agreement valued the marital home at $5 more than the rejected offer from the prospective buyer. 

The plaintiff then sued the defendants for breach of contract and account stated. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, and the Court dismissed.

But VC&M isn’t about real estate or contract law. Rather, it’s about a major issue facing Illinois courts, like cash-strapped judiciary systems around the country: e-filing of pleadings. Courts are turning to e-filing in part in order to eliminate the enormous costs of storing paper pleadings. For example, according to Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, Cook County spent nearly $16 million in 2011 just for storage of Circuit Court documents. The Supreme Court announced statewide e-filing standards for trial courts in October 2012, and five counties have been approved to operate pilot projects.

One of those five counties is DuPage, where VC&M arose. Thirty days after the complaint was dismissed, the plaintiff e-filed a motion for reconsideration. The motion was denied the following month, and thirty days after the denial, the plaintiff e-filed a notice of appeal.

The case was technically eligible to be designated as an e-filing case, but the plaintiff hadn’t taken any of the steps necessary to designate it as an e-filing case before e-filing the all-important motion for reconsideration and notice of appeal. Neither the complaint, amended complaint or answer had been e-filed, and the parties hadn’t stipulated to e-filing. And the Local Rules appeared to bar e-filing appellate documents outright.

The Second District of the Appellate Court dismissed plaintiffs’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that plaintiffs’ failure to comply with the Local Rules regulating e-filing was fatal. First, since the case had not been appropriately designated an e-filing case, the e-filed motion for reconsideration – although technically timely – was ineffective. Since there was no timely filed motion for reconsideration, the Notice of Appeal was untimely. And since the Notice of Appeal couldn’t properly be e-filed at all, it would have been ineffective even if it had been technically timely.

VC&M will be an interesting opportunity for the Supreme Court, if it chooses, to give further guidance to the bar and the lower courts about the rules governing e-filing of pleadings. The Supreme Court will hear argument during the 9:00 a.m. session on Thursday, January 24.

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