by

Mark Gruszeczka, Appellant v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (Alliance Contractors, Appellee)
No. 2013 IL 114212

In Gruszeczka v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Illinois Supreme Court found that the “mailbox rule” applies to appeals of Commission Decisions to the Circuit Court. The rationale:  the filing is a continuation of and not the initiation of proceedings.

In Gruszeczka, the Commission affirmed a denial of benefits and Gruszeczka filed an appeal to the Circuit Court pursuant to Section 19(f)(l) of the Act.  These documents were file stamped by the Clerk’s office on May 14, 2009—24 days after Gruszeczka received the Commission Decision.  The employer moved for dismissal, alleging that the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction since the review was not perfected within 20 days.  Gruszeczka contended that he had satisfied the jurisdictional requirements by mailing all necessary documents to the Clerk of the Circuit Court within 20 days of receipt of the Commission Decision as evident by affidavits stating that the necessary documents were mailed on May 4, 2009—within the 20 day statutory period.  The Circuit Court denied the employer’s Motion to Dismiss yet confirmed the Commission Decision.  On appeal, a divided Appellate Court granted the Motion to Dismiss.  That ruling was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Gruszeczka argued the “mailbox rule” should apply to actions filed in the Circuit Court for judicial review of Commission Decisions. The “mailbox rule,” a short-hand name for Illinois Supreme Court Rule 11, speaks to the “Manner of Serving Papers Other Than Process and Complaint on Parties Not in Default in the Trial and Reviewing Courts.”   Papers are served by:

. . . [D]elivering them to a third-party commercial carrier—including deposit in the carrier’s pick-up box or drop off with the carrier’s designated contractor—enclosed in a package, plainly addressed to the attorney’s business address, or to the party at the party’s business address or residence, with the delivery charge fully prepaid . . .

The mailbox rule is also defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “[t]he principle that when a pleading or other document is filed or served by mail, filing or service is deemed to have occurred on the date of mailing.”

The Court found the language of Section 19(f)(l) of the Act ambiguous as to whether the initiation of a Circuit Court review could be effectuated by mail. Consequently, the Court turned to the legislative history and found there was no indication that the mailbox rule should or should not apply to these filings. The Court contrasted the cases allowing and rejecting the mailbox rule: where the act of filing begins an entirely new proceeding, the mailbox rule does not apply; but where the act of filing is part of an ongoing proceeding, the rule is applicable.  Since the review of a Commission Decision is not the beginning of a new proceeding, but rather the continuance of an ongoing case, the mailbox rule was applicable and the review was timely filed.

COMMENT

This ruling is in concert with other jurisdictions that find the mailbox rule applicable to workers’ compensation reviews.  In practice, however, questions may arise when all documents necessary to perfect a review are not included with those mailed to the Circuit Court.  Can any defects be rectified after the 20 day period?  Practically speaking, advantages remain to in-person filing of a review to the Circuit Court—if the documents presented to the clerk’s office are insufficient for perfecting the review, any defect can be remedied before expiration of the filing deadline.