You may have heard of the “mailbox rule” at some point in your life. If you are an attorney, it would be quite surprising if you haven’t. Defined by Illinois common law, the mailbox rule simply refers to when a document or pleading is considered “filed” in civil actions. Under certain circumstances, such as when filing discovery pleadings, notices of appeal, and appellate briefs, a document is considered filed as of the day on which it was put in the mail.
Grusceczka v. Commission, 2013 IL 114212 involved analysis of the mailbox rule in connection with the filing of an appeal of a worker’s compensation decision to the circuit court. In Grusceczka, Petitioner’s attorney received the adverse decision from the Commission on April 20, 2009. Under the Worker’s Compensation Act, a party has 20 days from the date of receipt of the Commission’s decision to file an action for circuit court review. 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(1). Petitioner’s attorney mailed his petition for circuit court review and accompanying documents on May 4, 2009, well within the 20-day deadline. However, the circuit clerk’s office did not file stamp those documents until May 14, 2009, outside of the deadline.
While the circuit court ruled on the merits of the case (and still denied benefits), the Second District Appellate Court ruled that the circuit court never had jurisdiction to hear the case based upon its determination that the petition for review was untimely filed. The Supreme Court reversed and held that the mailbox rule applied to the filing of a petition to review to the circuit court of a decision of the Commission. Important to its analysis, the Court noted that the legislature had considered the matter of restricting the mailbox rule in a variety of other situations and only chose to preclude it as to the Election Code. Additionally, while noting that the mailbox rule does not apply to the filing of a new civil action, the Court held that a petition to review was different in that important factors in the filing of a new complaint, such as the statute of limitations and notice to the other party, were simply not present with respect to circuit court review of a worker’s compensation decision.
Those intending to take full benefit of the mailbox rule beware. As indicated above the mailbox rule does not apply to a new complaint being filed. If your statute of limitations is on the day you mail the new complaint to the court to be filed, it will be filed AFTER the statute of limitations and your case will be barred.
So the mailbox rule lives on…at least so long as we are still using mail and Cliff Clavin is delivering your mail.