The message between the lines: Please don't be afraid of e-filing.
In VC&M, Ltd. v. Andrews , 2013 IL 114445 (June 20, 2013), a split Illinois Supreme Court held that the plaintiff's e-filing of a motion to reconsider and e-filing of a subsequent notice of appeal conferred jurisdiction on the trial and appellate courts, respectively, even though local rules allowed only paper copies to be filed under the circumstances.
A little background: In 2003, DuPage County began an e-filing pilot program approved by the IL Supreme Court. Local rules allowed for a case to be designated an e-filing case only if (1) the original complaint was e-filed, (2) the defendant's original answer was e-filed, or (3) both parties agreed in writing to allow e-filing. The local rules also required, under all circumstances, paper filing of a notice of appeal.
In VC&M , none of the things happened to designate the case for e-filing. Nevertheless, after the trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss under Section 2-615, the plaintiff e-filed a motion to reconsider within 30 days of the order. More than 30 days after the order, the plaintiff filed a paper copy of that motion. At a hearing the same day, the defendants argued the trial court lacked jurisdiction. The court denied the motion to reconsider on the merits, and did not address whether the improper e-filing conferred jurisdiction.
Following the trial court's denial of its motion to reconsider, the plaintiff e-filed a notice of appeal. The Appellate Court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, citing the local rule requiring paper filing of a notice of appeal. (The e-filing rules were changed after the Appellate Court's decision). The court certified the issues to the supreme court, which agreed to answer whether the plaintiff's e-filing of its motion to reconsider and notice of appeal, although concededly in violation of the local rules, nonetheless conferred jurisdiction on the trial and appellate courts.
In a 4-3 split, the court forgave the violations. It held (1) the plaintiff's e-filing of its motion to reconsider tolled the 30-day period so that the paper copy could confer jurisdiction on the trial court, and (2) plaintiff's e-filing of its notice of appeal was a defect in form rather than substance.
Notably, as to both improper e-flings, the majority cited the fact that the defendants did not suffer prejudice as a result. As Justice Thomas pointed out in his dissent, prejudice has never been an analytical component of jurisdictional questions. The majority also noted that, earlier in the case, the defendants did not object when the plaintiff e-filed its response to the defendants' motion to dismiss.
This "failure to object + prejudice" analysis, on a jurisdictional question, suggests to me that the four justices in the majority did not want "Because I e-filed" to be the losing party's response when asked, "What went wrong?"
E-Filing is a big deal for Illinois courts. It represents a sea change in courthouse procedure, and it's still in its infancy. But many lawyers hate e-change, and will jump on whatever reason they can muster to argue that e-filing is a bad idea. The entire program, as I see it, is still vulnerable to a fatal collective "scoffing" by the bench and bar. If we start seeing parties lose their cases because of e-filing violations, no matter how stupid the e-mistake, the technologically-skittish lawyers out there might interpret it as a sign of the apocalypse Technology, not incompetent lawyering, is to blame (or so they will say). I think the majority in VC&M was doing whatever it could to avoid lending support to that narrative.
The mistakes made by the VC&M lawyers were blatant and inexcusable in my book. Who chooses to e-file a motion without e-reading the e-rules? Careless mistakes like those are just as common in pure paper filing jurisdictions.
I'm with the dissent. If the court would have gone the other way, and the e-filing violations were held fatal to jurisdiction in the case, the system would have benefitted overall. Technologically-challenged lawyers be damned.
The majority's opinion diminishes the legitimacy of e-filing. If long-standing jurisdictional rules take a backseat to e-filing, and not the other way around, then e-filing itself becomes a loosey-goosey, "close enough" scheme. If an e-filing violation of local rules is okay in e-filing jurisdictions, then what's to stop judicial forgiveness of "e-filing violations" in pure paper jurisdictions? What if a party in Champaign County, for example, simply emailed its notice of appeal to the court and opposing party? Would that be any less of a "form over substance" violation than was the case in VC&M ? Overall, I think not. But now parties may walk into court with the VC&M case in hand, arguing, "it's just a form over substance violation," Your e-Honor.