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Owens v. Snyder

June 01, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Stuart E. Palmer, Judge Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Wolfson

[8]  Does a circuit court judge have the authority to sua sponte dismiss a complaint for mandamus before summons is issued to the defendant?

[9]  This question has been answered differently by two districts of this court, but is a matter of first impression in the First District. The Fourth District answered affirmatively, finding trial courts have the "inherent authority" to protect their dockets from the numerous, frivolous mandamus requests filed by inmates. Mason v. Snyder, 332 Ill. App. 3d 834, 840, 774 N.E.2d 457 (2002). The Second District disagreed, holding trial courts must follow the mandamus procedure, including service on the defendant, outlined by the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. People v. Shellstrom, 345 Ill. App. 3d 175, 802 N.E.2d 381 (2003) pet. for leave to appeal granted, No. 97831 (March 24, 2004). We agree with the Fourth District's conclusion, but for different reasons.

[10]   FACTS

[11]   Plaintiff Tyrean Owens pleaded guilty to charges of delivery of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and criminal damage to property on August 9, 2000. The circuit court sentenced him to three consecutive prison terms: five years for delivery of a controlled substance, two years for possession of a controlled substance, and three years for criminal damage to property. The circuit court also admonished plaintiff that he would be placed on mandatory supervised release for three years. Plaintiff never filed a motion to withdraw his plea and did not pursue a direct appeal.

[12]   Plaintiff did file a post-conviction petition contending that his sentence violated the holding of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). The trial court summarily dismissed his petition and this court affirmed on appeal. People v. Owens, No. 1-01-0772 (2002) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

[13]   On October 9, 2002, plaintiff filed his pro se complaint for mandamus against defendant Donald Snyder, the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). In his complaint, plaintiff alleged IDOC would improperly begin his mandatory supervised release after his discharge from prison. He contended his term of mandatory supervised release should run concurrently with his prison terms; otherwise, he could possibly serve more time than he agreed to in the plea agreement, because an inmate may be re-incarcerated if he violates the terms of the supervised release (see 730 ILCS 5/3-3-9 (West 2002)).

[14]   On October 18, 2002, the circuit court "summarily" denied plaintiff's complaint, a sua sponte dismissal, without prior notice to him. No reason for the dismissal appears in the record.

[15]   On October 30, 2002, the Circuit Court Clerk of Cook County sent plaintiff a letter advising him that "the Honorable Judge Stuart E. Palmer denied [his] motion for petition for Mandamus, off call." The record does not show summons to Director Snyder was issued or that he was served a summons or the complaint. Snyder never responded to the complaint. We assume there was no summons or service.

[16]   Plaintiff now appeals, contending the circuit court lacked the authority to summarily dismiss his complaint for mandamus under the relevant provisions of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/14-101 et seq. (West 2002)).


[18]   By challenging the circuit court's power to sua sponte dismiss his complaint for mandamus under the Code, plaintiff presents an issue of statutory construction. Questions of statutory construction are questions of law, reviewed de novo. Illinois Tool Works, Inc. v. Independent Machine Corp., 345 Ill. App. 3d 645, 648, 302 N.E.2d 1228 (2003).

[19]   Mandamus is an extreme remedy used to compel a public official to perform a non-discretionary, ministerial duty. People ex rel. Madigan v. Snyder, 208 Ill. 2d 457, 464, 804 N.E.2d 546 (2004). To prove a legal right to relief by mandamus, the complainant must demonstrate a clear right to the requested relief, the respondent's clear duty to act, and the respondent's clear authority to comply with the terms of the order. People ex rel. Madigan, 208 Ill. 2d at 465.

[20]   Article XIV (the mandamus statute) of the Code provides the procedural framework for mandamus actions. 735 ILCS 5/14-101 et seq. (West 2002). In section 14-102, the Code provides:

"Upon the filing of a complaint for mandamus the clerk of the court shall issue a summons, in like form, as near as may be as summons in other civil cases. The summons shall be made returnable within a time designated by the plaintiff not less than 5 nor more than 30 days after the service of the summons." 735 ILCS 5/14-102 (West 2002).

[22]   Section 14-103 requires served defendants to answer or otherwise plead in response to the complaint within a set period of time. 735 ILCS 5/14-103 (West 2002). Other sections under the mandamus statute provide for the plaintiff's reply and amendments to an ...

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