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West-Howard v. The Department of Children and Family Services

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

August 29, 2013

JULIA WEST-HOWARD, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 12MR320 Honorable Thomas J. Difanis, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE HOLDER WHITE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Steigmann and Justice Knecht concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HOLDER WHITE, JUSTICE

¶ 1 In March 2012, the Director of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) issued a final administrative decision, upholding DCFS's decision to remove the grandchildren of plaintiff, Julia West-Howard, from plaintiff's home. DCFS served plaintiff's attorney by certified mail with a copy of the decision on March 9, 2012, and 45 days later plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court.

¶ 2 Following a July 2012 hearing, the circuit court granted DCFS's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to sections 2-619(a)(1) and (a)(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Civil Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(1), (a)(5) (West 2012)), based on plaintiff's failure to file the complaint within 35 days from the date DCFS served a copy of its final administrative decision. In August 2012, the circuit court denied plaintiff's motion to reconsider.

¶ 3 Plaintiff appeals, arguing the circuit court erred by dismissing her complaint.

¶ 4 We disagree and affirm.

¶ 5 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 6 On March 9, 2012, the Director issued a final administrative decision, upholding DCFS's decision to remove plaintiff's grandchildren from her home. DCFS served plaintiff's attorney by certified mail with a copy of the decision on March 9, 2012. On April 23, 2012, plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court, seeking review of DCFS's decision and naming DCFS as the defendant.

¶ 7 In June 2012, DCFS filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to sections 2-619(a)(1) and (a)(5) of the Civil Code (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(1), (a)(5) (West 2012)), alleging the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's complaint. Specifically, DCFS asserted under the Administrative Review Law, plaintiff was required to file her complaint in the circuit court and issue summons to DCFS within 35 days from the date she was served a copy of the final administrative decision. 735 ILCS 5/3-103 (West 2012). Because plaintiff failed to do so, DCFS argued the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff responded to the motion, asserting she was not sent, nor did she ever receive, notice of the Director's decision.

¶ 8 In July 2012, the circuit court held a hearing on DCFS's motion. Plaintiff renewed her argument that she was not sent notice of the Director's decision. The court explained to plaintiff that notice had been sent to her attorney, who still represented her at the time the Director issued his decision. Accordingly, the court dismissed plaintiff's complaint, reasoning it was deprived of jurisdiction based on plaintiff's failure to timely file her complaint.

¶ 9 Later that month, plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider, asserting her former attorney failed to inform her of the Director's decision and she never received notice about the decision from DCFS. In August 2012, DCFS filed a response, asserting plaintiff's motion failed to present (1) any newly discovered evidence, (2) a change in the law, or (3) any error in the circuit court's application of the law. Following a hearing later that month, the circuit court denied plaintiff's motion to reconsider, finding DCFS properly served the Director's decision on plaintiff's then-attorney, whose failure to inform plaintiff of the decision did not form a basis to excuse the Administrative Review Law's jurisdictional requirement.

ΒΆ 10 This appeal ...


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