To Mail or Not To Mail, That Is The Question

By: Richard D. Hannigan of Hannigan & Botha

In a case that, as of this writing has been certified to the Supreme Court but not yet accepted by the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court answered the question by stating the mailbox rule does not apply to filing a summons pursuant to §19(f)(1) of the Workers' Compensation Act. In Mark Grusveczka v. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, 2012 IL App (2d) 101049WC, the Appellate Court denied a Petition for Rehearing on March 20, 2012 but dissenting Justice Holdridge and Justice Stewart certified the question to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Illinois Supreme Court, as of June 21, 2012, has not ruled on the certification.

The facts of the case are actually quite simple. The matter was tried before an arbitrator in McHenry County and the arbitrator ruled that the petitioner's injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. This was based upon medical records that contradicted the petitioner's testimony and challenged his credibility. On Review the Commission affirmed the decision of the arbitrator. The decision of the Commission was received by the petitioner's attorney on April 20, 2009. A summons was filed on May 14, 2009 in the Circuit Court of DeKalb County, 24 days after the petitioner's attorney received the decision on Review. There is no evidence as to when the Circuit Court clerk received the documents.

The respondent filed two motions in the DeKalb County Circuit Court, one challenging jurisdiction because the Summons was not filed within 20 days of receipt of the decision and the other was that the Summons was filed in an improper venue and that it should have been filed in McHenry County. The petitioner's attorney argued the mailbox rule indicating that the date that the Summons was mailed should be counted as the date that it is received by the Circuit Court. The DeKalb County Circuit Court denied respondent's motion to dismiss based upon jurisdiction but granted the motion to transfer the matter to McHenry County.

Once this matter was before the Circuit Court of McHenry County the respondent renewed their jurisdiction argument which was denied and the Circuit Court affirmed the decision of the Commission based upon manifest weight of the evidence. Cross appeals were taken to the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court noted that, as it pertains to §19(f)(1) of the Workers' Compensation Act, this case is one of first impression and the issue is whether or not the mailbox rule applies to the filing of a Summons in the Circuit Court.

The majority noted that jurisdiction exercised by the Circuit Court under the Act is a special statutory jurisdiction. Therefore, the statute would be strictly construed. Section 19(f)(1) of the Act provides that a proceeding for judicial review of a Commission decision "shall be commenced within 20 days of the receipt of the notice of a decision".

The petitioner's attorney relied upon Harrisburg-Raleigh Airport Authority v. Department of Revenue, 126 Ill. 2d 326 (1989) which adopted a mailbox rule applicable to the filing of a notice of appeal from a decision of the Circuit Court to the Appellate Court. There is also support for the mailbox rule in Norris v. Industrial Commission, 313 Ill. App. 3d 993 (2000) which adopted a mailbox rule applicable to the filing of a petition before the Commission for Review of an arbitrator's decision.

In rejecting the petitioner's argument, the court noted that they were not dealing with the interpretation or modification of a rule adopted by the judiciary. They stated they were dealing with the interpretation of a legislative enactment. They found no authority nor did the injured worker's attorney cite any authority authorizing the judiciary to modify a legislative enactment to comport with some perceived modern policy or trend.

In strictly construing the statute, the majority relied upon §2-201 of the Code of Civil Procedure which states, in relevant part, that: "Every action, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, shall be commenced by filing of a complaint". That is the date upon which the clerk of the Circuit Court receives the complaint and not the date that is was mailed. Section 19(f)(1) of the Act provides for a commencement of an action for judicial review of a Commission decision by the filing of a request for a summons along with the evidence of payment of the probable cost of the transcript. It does not contain a mailbox rule. The court noted that the legislature knows of the mailbox rule and if they so desired it to be applicable they could've placed it in the language of the Act. If the mailbox rule were adopted, the commencement of a Summons would extend the 20-day period for however long it may take for the Post Office to deliver the documents.

The judgment of the McHenry County Circuit Court was then vacated and the appeal dismissed for want of jurisdiction in the Circuit Court.

The dissenting justices found that the mailbox rule does apply to the filing of a Summons.

Justice Stewart, in his dissent, argued Norris v. Industrial Commission (supra) noting that the court found that a Petition for Review from an arbitrator to the Commission is deemed filed when mailed. Justice Stewart also relied on the Harrisburg-Raleigh Airport Authority v. Department of Revenue (supra) noting that the Notice of Appeal filed in the Circuit Court to prosecute an appeal to the Appellate Court is deemed filed at the date of mailing. The dissent noted Supreme Court Rule 373 had been amended to specifically apply to filing of a Notice of Appeal and the court noted that the text of the rule at the time, only applied to documents filed in a reviewing court. When "Documents filed in a reviewing court which are received after the due date," the time of mailing shall be deemed the time of filing". Section 1.25 of the Statute on Statutes provides that any document required or authorized to be filed with the State or any political subdivision "if transmitted through the U.S. mail, shall be deemed filed ... on the date shown by the Post Office cancellation mark or if none on the date it was mailed as shown by confidence proof". Finally, Justice Stewart indicated that he would not apply the mailbox rule to original actions in the Circuit Court where the statute of limitations is involved. The mailbox rule would only apply to filings by mail regarding jurisdictional documents in the Circuit Court where the Circuit Court is acting as a court of review pursuant to its special statutory jurisdiction provided in the Act.

Justice Holdridge joined in the dissent of Justice Stewart but went on to add his own comments. Justice Holdridge noted that in Norris v. Industrial Commission (supra) the court was interpreting the language in §19(b) which indicated that a Petition for Review should be filed within 30 days. There was nothing in the Act that defined the term "filed". Therefore, the court was allowed to interpret the meaning and the Norris court adopted the mailbox rule. In §19(f)(1) there is no definition for the term "filed" .Therefore, there is ambiguity and it should be resolved in favor of the "mailbox rule" interpretation of the term "filed".

Interestingly enough Justice Holdridge also went on to indicate how he would rule had the court found jurisdiction. The justice stated that the case was a manifest weight case, the arbitrator and Commission found the injured worker not to be credible, the medical records were inconsistent with the testimony of the petitioner and he would have affirmed the decision denying benefits on the basis that the injury did not arise out of and in the course of his employment.

It would behoove anyone filing a Summons pursuant to §19(f)(1) not to rely upon "the mailbox rule" and have their documents file-stamped by the clerk of the Circuit Court prior to the expiration of 20 days. Even if the Supreme Court were to take this and say the mailbox rule applies you will certainly avoid a lot of headache and time by being certain that all your documents are file-stamped within the 20 day filing period. Also note that you may file your Summons in any Circuit Court in the State of Illinois in order to confer jurisdiction. If the venue is improper then the court would either, sua sponte, send the matter to the appropriate court or your opponent can file the appropriate motion to transfer venue but you would've satisfied §19(f)(1) of the Act.