Illinois Appellate Court Clarifies Mailbox Rule Giving It Wider Application

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the mailbox rule applies when filing a notice of appeal. That means that if an appellant seeks an appeal to a higher court, the notice of appeal time is satisfied as long as the notice is mailed to the Clerk of the Circuit Court before the 30-day deadline expires. That is the case no matter when the notice of appeal is actually received and stamped as filed. The appellate court has also decided that the same principles of the mailbox rule apply to filing initial complaints or seeking post-judgment relief under §2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure.

The question for the Illinois Supreme Court was whether the mailbox rule applied to Mark Gruszeczka’s request for judicial review of a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Gruszeczka alleged that he was injured while working for Alliance Contractors. He claimed  he was entitled to benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. An arbitrator ruled against him, and there was no dispute that the mailbox rule applied when he asked the commission to review that decision.

However, when the Commission agreed with the arbitrator, Gruszeczka again relied on the mailbox rule to satisfy the deadline for seeking judicial review. And at last, when a McHenry County circuit court judge ruled against him there was no dispute that the mailbox rule applied to this third stage, initiating an appeal.

With two justices dissenting, the appellate court concluded that the mailbox rule did not apply to the intermediate stage, when Gruszeczka mailed the documents required to begin the proceedings in the trial court in McHenry County.

The Illinois Supreme Court Rule reversed, concluding that “the date of mailing should control when a party seeks judicial review of a commission decision.”

More than 20 years ago in the Harrisburg-Raleigh Airport Authority case, 126 Ill.2d 326 (1989), the Illinois Supreme Court recognized the modern policy and trend, which was to equate the time of mailing with time of filing. In Harrisburg-Raleigh, the court construed Illinois Supreme Court Rule 303(a)’s requirement that a notice of appeal must be “filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court” within 30 days of final judgment and that the mailing of such documents met the requirement and equated time of mailing to time of filing. That case dealt with appellate procedure.

There was a line of cases that drew a distinction between documents that were pleadings that brought a new case and were subject to the statute of limitations and cases that were continuations of previous proceedings or were closely related to the appellate process. With some narrow exceptions to the general rule, the appellate court has consistently held that documents mailed to the circuit court within the requisite time period, but received thereafter, are still timely filed applying the mailbox rule.

In this case, Alliance argued that the mailbox rule applied in some instances, but not in others in the chain of the appeal process to the Industrial Commission. The Illinois Appellate Court found that in addition to being consistent with the existing legal framework for application of the mailbox rule, a decision in claimant’s favor would bring harmony and consistency to the workers’ compensation review process, with the same rules applying at every stage of review. Alliance argued for a process in which the rules changed at every step. 

In the absence of some direction from the legislator, the Illinois Appellate Court found that the mailbox rule would apply in Gruszeczka’s case, which would result in a consistent application of Illinois law. Therefore, the decision allowing the appeal to go forward was affirmed. 

Gruszeczka v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, No. 2013 IL 114212 (August 1, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling worker injury cases, construction accident cases, forklift accidents and road construction accidents for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Calumet City, Blue Island, Morton Grove, Chicago (East Side, Lincoln Park, Rogers Park, Garfield Park), Roscoe Village, Hinsdale, Wheaton, River Grove and Palos Park, Ill. 

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