In its other opinion this morning, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down its decision in Santiago v. E. W. Bliss Co. [pdf]

Santiago is a products liability case (see here for our preview of the opinion). Plaintiff Rogasciano Santiago allegedly entered the United States illegally in 1993, coming to Chicago. After working at two jobs under his true name, he invented an alias, "Juan Ortiz." For the next several years, whenever plaintiff used the Ortiz name, he claimed a false birth date. Plaintiff obtained a state-issued identification card as Ortiz, but he ultimately threw it out; eventually, he became a lawful resident alien. Nevertheless, plaintiff continued to use both identities, creating separate work, medical and financial histories for both. When plaintiff filed his lawsuit, he sued using the name he was known by at the workplace where he was injured — Ortiz. When he finally admitted a year after filing suit that he was not Ortiz, but Santiago, the Circuit Court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, but certified a two part question: (1) did the trial court have to dismiss as a sanction for deliberately filing a complaint using a fictitious name; and (2) if not, could the plaintiff’s second amended complaint, providing his real name, be dismissed as time barred on the grounds that it could not relate back to earlier complaints, which were null and void because they failed to identify plaintiff by his lawful name?

As in Doe v. White, a divided Court issued multiple opinions. Leading a four-Justice majority, Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride affirmed the Appellate Court in part and reversed in part. Relying upon its own opinion in Sander v. Dow Chemical Co. and the 11th Circuit’s opinion in Zocaras v. Castro, the Court held that the trial court could dismiss as a sanction, but only after making strict findings: that there was a clear record of willful conduct, and that lesser sanctions were inadequate to remedy the harm to the judiciary system and the opposing party’s interests. The Supreme Court majority vacated the trial court’s order refusing to dismiss and remanded for application of its two-part test.

The majority reversed the Appellate Court’s determination that the Second Amended Complaint was time-barred. The Court found that pursuant to the relevant statute, 735 ILCS 5/2-616(b), only two factors were needed for relation back to apply: (1) the original complaint was timely filed; and (2) the cause of action asserted in the amended complaint arose out of the same transaction or occurrence. Since the statute did not suggest that a complaint filed under a fictitious name was null and void per se, the Court held that there was no reason the relation back doctrine should not apply.

Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier specially concurred, mostly to address Justice Robert R. Thomas’ dissent. Justice Karmeier argued that the common law cited by the dissent for the proposition that a complaint citing a fictitious name referred to fictitious parties, rather than "generally known as" names. Instead, Justice Karmeier concluded that plaintiff’s misfiling might fall within the ambit of 735 ILCS 5/2-401, which permits amendment to correct misnomer. According to Justice Karmeier, "misnomer" means "nothing more than that a party is styled in other than his or her own name."

Justice Anne M. Burke specially concurred as well. According to Justice Burke, even if the common law had once treated complaints filed under a fictitious name as null and void, 735 ILCS 5/2-401(e) had abrogated that standard by permitting such filings with leave of court.

Justice Robert R. Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Rita B. Garman. Justice Thomas concluded that the plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint was clearly time-barred, making an answer to the first part of the certified question unnecessary.

According to Justice Thomas, the common law clearly regards complaints filed under a fictitious name as null and void, and since Section 401(e) does not validate such complaints when filed without permission, the common law rule must necessarily remain in effect. Since the original complaint was null and void, there was nothing for the Second Amended Complaint to relate back to, and the amended complaint was time-barred. Justice Thomas noted Justice Karmeier’s argument that the common law rule applies only to entirely fictitious parties, rather than real parties using fictitious names, but argued that the cases made no such distinction. Policy supported barring the complaint as well, Justice Thomas concluded: "deliberately bringing suit under a false or fictitious name without leave of court constitutes a fraud upon the court in my opinion." Finally, the dissent squarely rejected Justice Karmeier’s definition of "misnomer," arguing that the term meant "mistake," and thus, the right of amendment was unavailable to plaintiff.