Posting Date: 01/17/2018
from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in
that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County,
the Hon. Christopher C. Starck and the Hon. Thomas M.
Schippers, Judges, presiding.
Madigan, Attorney General, of Springfield (Carolyn E.
Shapiro, Solicitor General, and Ann C. Maskaleris, Assistant
Attorney General, of Chicago, of counsel), for appellant.
F. Rinehart, of Malia & Rinehart, P.C., of Waukegan, for
JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Freeman, Kilbride, Garman, and Burke
concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Thomas
dissented, with opinion, joined by Chief Justice Karmeier.
1 The central issue in this case is one of
jurisdiction-specifically, so-called special statutory
jurisdiction under the Administrative Review Law. See 735
ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2012). Section 3-103 of
that statute states that a complaint for judicial review of
an administrative agency decision must be filed "within
35 days from the date that a copy of the decision sought to
be reviewed was served upon the party affected by the
decision." 735 ILCS 5/3-103 (West 2012). Here, plaintiff
Christine Grimm filed such a complaint in Lake County circuit
court 36 days after the date of a decision against her by the
Department of Children and Family Services (Department).
Grimm conceded that her complaint was untimely but insisted
that the jurisdictional bar of section 3-103 could be lifted
because the Department's decision was misleading and,
consequently, violated due process. The trial and appellate
courts agreed. See 2015 IL App (2d) 140820.
2 For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
4 In 2012, the Department investigated and indicated a
finding of child abuse against Grimm after her husband told
the McHenry County sheriff's office that she had struck
their six-year-old son twice with a wooden spoon over his
clothes for refusing to eat peaches for breakfast. The
husband spoke to deputy sheriffs a day after the incident,
which was also a day after Grimm moved out of the marital
residence. According to the deputy sheriffs who examined the
child, there was a welt and a bruise on the child's left
buttock. Grimm, a teacher, claimed that the report was
inaccurate and requested its expunction from the State
Central Register. In 2013, an administrative law judge
conducted a hearing and issued a written opinion,
recommending that Grimm's request should be denied.
5 Nine days later, the Department issued its decision in a
letter signed by its director, Richard Calica. The letter,
dated July 30, 2013, was addressed to the attorney who had
represented Grimm at the hearing and indicated that it was
sent via certified mail. In the letter, Calica stated that
the administrative law judge determined that the indicated
finding was supported by a preponderance of the evidence.
Calica adopted the administrative law judge's findings of
fact and conclusions of law and concurred in the
administrative law judge's recommendation that
Grimm's request should be denied. Calica concluded:
"This represents the final administrative decision of
the [Department]. If you disagree with any part of it, you
may seek judicial review under the provisions of the
Administrative Review Law, 735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq.
(West 2010), within 35 days of the date this decision was
served on you."
administrative law judge's opinion was enclosed with the
6 On September 4, 2013, 36 days after the date of the letter,
Grimm filed her complaint for judicial review of the
Department's decision. Grimm alleged that the Department
"issued a final and appealable order" on July
but stated that the Department's decision "was
issued" to her on July 30. She further alleged that the
complaint was filed within 35 days of the decision being
served on her. On the merits, Grimm claimed that the
administrative law judge's conclusions of law were
erroneous and against the manifest weight of the evidence, so
the Department's decision should be reversed.
7 The Department filed a motion to dismiss for lack of
jurisdiction under section 2-619(a)(5) of the Civil Practice
Law (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(5) (West 2012)) because Grimm's
complaint was untimely. The Department stated that it served
Grimm with its final decision on July 30, when it mailed the
letter to her attorney via certified mail. As proof of the
date that the letter was mailed, the Department provided an
affidavit from one of its staff members, stating that she had
mailed the letter to Grimm's attorney on July 30, as well
as a certified mail receipt with a July 30 postmark.
8 Grimm responded that, while the Department mailed its
decision on July 30, 2013, her attorney received it no
earlier than July 31, 2013. Grimm added that she did not
receive the decision until August 12 or 13, 2013. She argued
that mailing the decision to her attorney was inadequate
because section 3-103 requires service on the affected party.
She further argued that, under Coleman v. Retirement
Board of the Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund,
392 Ill.App.3d 380, 386 (2009), her complaint was not
untimely because the Department did not fairly and adequately
inform her of its decision and, thus, violated due process.
Specifically, Grimm insisted that the phrase "within 35
days of the date this decision was served on you" was
confusing and that the Department should have said simply
that the complaint was due within 35 days of the date of the
letter. According to Grimm, basic fairness required the trial
court to exercise jurisdiction, noting that the attorney who
received the decision and relayed it to her was her original
attorney and that she hired another attorney "after the
Labor Day weekend."
9 The Department replied that the Administrative Procedure
Act required notice of its decisions to affected parties or
their agents. See 5 ILCS 100/10-50(a) (West 2012). The
Department disputed Grimm's contention that its decision
was unclear about the service date.
10 The trial court denied the Department's motion to
dismiss. The court observed that because of Labor Day,
Grimm's complaint "was filed 24 hours after the time
in which the statute provides for [its] filing."
According to the trial court, "the interests of
justice" required that Grimm should be allowed to obtain
review of the Department's decision: "While to many
citizens a finding by the Department is an embarrassment, to
this citizen such a finding greatly impacts her ability to be
gainfully employed as a teacher." After Grimm filed the
administrative record and the parties filed briefs, the trial
court ruled that the Department's decision was
"clearly erroneous" and reversed it. The Department
11 The appellate court affirmed, holding that Calica's
letter was not "well calculated to apprise" Grimm
that the 35-day period began on July 30, 2013, when the
letter was mailed. 2015 IL App (2d) 140820, ¶ 14. The
appellate court stated that "nothing within what the
Department sent showed a date of mailing." Id.
¶ 18. Although Calica's letter contained a date,
that date "appears as nothing more than the
date of the letter, " not the date of its mailing.
(Emphasis in original.) Id. ¶ 19. The appellate
court added that, even if the date of the letter "could
be taken as a mailing date, nothing in the letter indicated
that it was also the service date." Id. The
appellate court continued: "[W]e find the idea of a
service date that is known only to the one doing the serving
to be troublingly counterintuitive. The serving of a document
is a formal act of giving notice. A provision that deems the
mailing date of a notice to be the service date thus means
that the notice-giver starts out with a burden of confusion
to overcome: that of conveying that the law deems notice to
have been given before it is actually received. The
notice-giver can overcome that by, for instance, explicitly
stating the deemed service date. The Department's notice
format does far less, in that it does not even clearly show
the mailing date. A potential administrative-review plaintiff
thus faces not only the ordinary challenge of knowing the law
regarding service but also the second challenge of learning
the mailing date." Id. ¶ 20.
12 The appellate court referred to Illinois Supreme Court
Rule 303 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015), which gives an appellant 30
days to file a notice of appeal but also an additional 30
days if there is a "reasonable excuse." 2015 IL App
(2d) 140820, ¶ 22. The Administrative Review Law does
not have such a "backstop, " so any confusion
created by an agency's notice becomes "a stumbling
block in a setting in which a potential administrative-review
plaintiff can afford few missteps." Id. The
appellate court noted that the Department here could have
removed any confusion by informing Grimm that the mailing
date, as well as the service date, was the date of the
letter. Id. Calica's letter, however, "was
not in a format that would be chosen by someone genuinely
trying to convey the time limit for filing an
administrative-review complaint." Id. Because
the letter did not afford Grimm due process, the trial court
did not err in declining to hold plaintiff to the 35-day
deadline for a complaint under the law. Id. ¶
23. The trial court was permitted to reach the merits, and
the Department never challenged the court's ruling in
that regard. Id.
13 This court allowed the Department's petition for leave
to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 2015).
15 This appeal comes before us after the appellate court
affirmed the trial court's decision to deny the
Department's motion to dismiss Grimm's complaint for
judicial review for lack of jurisdiction. The Illinois
Constitution provides that final circuit court judgments are
appealable as a matter of right (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI,
§ 6) but final administrative agency decisions are
appealable only "as provided by law" (Ill. Const.
1970, art. VI, § 9). In reviewing an administrative
agency's decision, a court exercises special statutory
jurisdiction, which is limited by the language of the statute
conferring it. Beggs v. Board of Education of Murphysboro
Community Unit School District No. 186, 2016 IL 120236,
¶ 45. A party seeking judicial review of such a decision
must comply strictly with the requirements of the
Administrative Review Law. Ultsch v. Illinois Municipal
Retirement Fund, 226 Ill.2d 169, 178 (2007); see also
Rodriguez v. Sheriff's Merit Comm'n, 218
Ill.2d 342, 349-50 (2006) ("The Administrative Review
Law was an innovation and a departure from the common law,
and the procedures established therein must be
followed."). Failure to do so robs the court of
jurisdiction. Rodriguez, 218 Ill.2d at 350.
16 Section 3-102 of the Administrative Review Law provides
that a party to a proceeding before an administrative agency
cannot obtain judicial review of an adverse agency decision
except "within the time and in the manner" set
forth elsewhere in the statute. 735 ILCS 5/3-102 (West 2012).
Section 3-103 provides the time, stating that an action for
judicial review must be commenced by filing a complaint and
issuing summons "within 35 days from the date that a
copy of the decision sought to be reviewed was served upon
the party affected by the decision." 735 ILCS 5/3-103
(West 2012); Fredman Brothers Furniture Co. v. Department
of Revenue, 109 Ill.2d 202, 211 (1985) ("judicial
review of the administrative decision is barred if the
complaint is not filed within the time specified").
Section 3-103 further provides that "a decision shall be
deemed to have been served either when a copy of the decision
is personally delivered or when a copy of the decision is
deposited in the United States mail, in a sealed envelope or
package, with postage prepaid, addressed to the party
affected by the decision at his or her last known residence
or place of business." 735 ILCS 5/3-103 (West 2012); see
also Nudell v. Forest Preserve District, 207 Ill.2d
409, 424 (2003) (stating that section 3-103 means "when
deposited, " not "when received"); Cox v.
Board of Fire & Police Commissioners, 96 Ill.2d 399,
403 (1983) ("the decision was served when deposited in
the United States mail"); West-Howard v. Department
of Children & Family Services, 2013 IL App (4th)
120782, ¶ 17; Board of Education of St. Charles
Community Unit School District No. 303 v. Adelman, 137
Ill.App.3d 965, 969 (1985).
17 Section 10-50(a) of the Illinois Administrative Procedure
Act requires agencies to notify parties or their agents
"personally or by registered or certified mail of any
decision or order." 5 ILCS 100/10-50(a) (West 2012); see
also 89 Ill. Adm. Code 337.220 (2002); 89 Ill. Adm. Code
337.230 (1995) (stating that the Department's director
must send final administrative decisions to either the person
who challenged an earlier finding or that ...