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People v. Matthews

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 1, 2016

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellant,
v.
JERRELL MATTHEWS, Appellee.

          JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GARMAN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 On March 25, 2012, defendant Jerrell Matthews mailed a petition for relief from judgment via the prison mail system at Menard Correctional Center to the clerk of the Cook County circuit court and the Cook County State's Attorney's office. On May 24, 2012, the circuit court dismissed the petition sua sponte as untimely. The appellate court concluded that the dismissal was premature because the State was never properly served. The judgment of the circuit court was vacated, and the cause remanded. The State appealed to this court pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315 (eff. July 1, 2013).

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Defendant-petitioner was convicted of first degree murder in 2007. The appellate court affirmed the conviction. Defendant filed a postconviction petition in 2010 alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and insufficient evidence to support his conviction. The circuit court dismissed the petition as frivolous and patently without merit. The appellate court again affirmed.

         ¶ 4 On March 25, 2012, defendant mailed a petition for relief from judgment pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure, asserting he was denied a fair trial based on alleged perjury by a State's witness. 735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2010). The substance of the petition is irrelevant for purposes of this appeal. Defendant attached to the petition a "proof/certificate of service, " which stated that the petition was mailed "with proper first-class postage attached thereto" via the prison mail system at Menard Correctional Center to the clerk of the Cook County circuit court and the Cook County State's Attorney's office. The petition was marked "received" on April 11 by the clerk's office and file-marked and docketed on April 23. On May 21, 2012, the circuit court continued the case. On May 24, the circuit court entered an order in which it dismissed the petition as untimely. The court further explained that the petition contained no argument of merit and lacked any supporting documentation. Defendant was not present in the courtroom at the time of the dismissal, and the transcript reveals no active participation by the State's Attorney's office, although it does list assistant State's Attorney Kimellen Chamberlain and State's Attorney Anita Alvarez as appearing for the State.

         ¶ 5 On appeal, defendant argued that the dismissal was premature because he never properly served the State and, thus, the 30-day period for filing a response had not yet expired. Defendant contended that service was improper because the proof of service does not indicate that the petition was mailed via certified or registered mail as required by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 105 (eff. Sept. 28, 1978). The appellate court concluded that defendant did not properly serve the State but that the State received actual notice of the petition and forfeited any objection to improper service. Thus, defendant's argument that the dismissal was premature could not be sustained on the basis that service was never effectively completed. However, the appellate court held the petition was not ripe for adjudication and dismissal was premature because less than 30 days had passed from the date the State received actual notice of the filing. The appellate court reversed the judgment of the circuit court and remanded the case for further proceedings. The State filed a petition for leave to appeal in this court, which was allowed January 20, 2016.[1] Ill. S.Ct. R. 315.

         ¶ 6 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 7 The circuit court dismissed defendant's petition for relief from judgment as untimely. Such petitions "must be filed not later than 2 years after the entry of the order or judgment, " unless the petitioner can demonstrate that he or she has been "under legal disability or duress" or unless the "ground for relief [has been] fraudulently concealed." 735 ILCS 5/2-1401(c) (West 2010). Defendant does not challenge the circuit court's finding that his petition was untimely, but he asserts that the court's order dismissing the petition was premature based on his own failure to comply with the applicable service requirements. Ill. S.Ct. R. 106 (eff. Aug. 1, 1985) (indicating that the service procedures set forth in Rule 105 apply to section 2-1401 petitions); Ill. S.Ct. R. 105 (setting forth the requirements for serving and filing a petition).

         ¶ 8 Illinois Supreme Court Rule 105 provides that a section 2-1401 petitioner must provide the opposing party with notice that the petition has been filed. Notice may be served in person, by mail, or by publication. Ill. S.Ct. R. 105. If by mail, service must be sent by certified or registered mail. Id. The notice must inform the respondent that "a judgment by default may be taken against him *** unless he files an answer or otherwise files an appearance *** within 30 days after service, receipt by certified or registered mail, or the first publication of the notice." Id. If the responding party fails to respond within the 30-day period, any question as to the petition's sufficiency is deemed waived, and the petition is treated as properly stating a cause of action. People v. Vincent, 226 Ill.2d 1, 8 (2007). The court can dismiss a petition despite a lack of responsive pleading if the petition is deficient as a matter of law. Id. at 8-9. However, the court cannot sua sponte dismiss a petition before the 30-day response period expires. People v. Laugharn, 233 Ill.2d 318, 323 (2009). Defendant cites Laugharn in support of his position that the dismissal of his petition was premature because he never properly served the State and thus the 30-day response period never commenced. He further contends that, because the State was not properly served, the circuit court lacked personal jurisdiction and, therefore, the dismissal order is void.

         ¶ 9 This court reviews the dismissal of a section 2-1401 petition de novo. People v. Carter, 2015 IL 117709, ¶ 13. This court also reviews de novo whether the circuit court obtained personal jurisdiction. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP v. Mitchell, 2014 IL 116311, ¶ 17.

         ¶ 10 As the appellant below, defendant had the burden of presenting a sufficiently complete record so that the reviewing court could determine whether the claimed error occurred. People v. Carter, 2015 IL 117709, ¶ 19. The State contends that defendant did not sufficiently show that service was improper. Alternatively, the State claims it had actual notice of the petition more than 30 days before the dismissal; therefore, the court had personal jurisdiction and dismissal was appropriate. However, the State urges this court to first address whether defendant should be estopped from making such an argument based on his own failure to properly serve the State or whether he has standing to challenge the dismissal order.

         ¶ 11 We have been presented with this issue before. In Carter, the defendant similarly argued that dismissal of his section 2-1401 petition was premature because he had not yet correctly served the State. Id. ¶ 18. Based on the evidence in the record, we concluded that the defendant had failed to demonstrate that service was improper. Id. ¶ 22. We did not reach the State's argument that a petitioner should not be able to challenge an order based on his own service error. Since then, several panels of our appellate court have considered this argument and reached contradictory conclusions. Compare People v. Donley, 2015 IL App (4th) 130223, ¶ 34 (" 'Defendant should not be able to serve a party incorrectly and then rely on the incorrect service to seek reversal' of the trial court's decision." (quoting People v. Alexander, 2014 IL App (4th) 130132, ¶ 47)), Alexander, 2014 IL App (4th) 130132, ¶ 46 ("[T]he 30-day period does not provide a sword for a petitioner to wield once a court-as in this case-does not find in his favor, especially given that, under defendant's interpretation, the basis of his claim on appeal is his failure to comply with Rule 105." (Emphasis in original.)), and People v. Kuhn, 2014 IL App (3d) 130092, ¶ 15 ("[D]efendant does not have standing to raise an issue regarding the State's receipt of service."), with People v. Monroe, 2015 IL App (3d) 130149-U, ¶¶ 16-17 (distinguishing Kuhn and concluding that, because the State was neither served nor had actual notice, the defendant's challenge to the trial court order based on improper service was appropriate), and People v. Pena, 2015 IL App (1st) 131744-U, ¶ 12 (vacating dismissal order based on petitioner's failure to serve the State); see also People v. Bustos, 2015 IL App (1st) 131212-U, ¶ 8 (discussing conflicting opinions of the appellate court on this issue). Therefore, we begin our analysis with this argument.

         ¶ 12 Whether Defendant Is Estopped From Challenging ...


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