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Grimm v. Calica

Supreme Court of Illinois

February 17, 2017

RICHARD H. CALICA, as Director of Children and Family Services, Appellant.

          Posting Date: 01/17/2018

         Appeal 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.

          Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Springfield (Carolyn E. Shapiro, Solicitor General, and Ann C. Maskaleris, Assistant Attorney General, of Chicago, of counsel), for appellant.

          Eric F. Rinehart, of Malia & Rinehart, P.C., of Waukegan, for appellee.

          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.


          THEIS, JUSTICE

         ¶ 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.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 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."

         The administrative law judge's opinion was enclosed with the letter.

         ¶ 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 23[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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."[4]

         ¶ 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 appealed.

          ¶ 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).

         ¶ 14 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 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 ...

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