Estate’s Faulty Notice Sinks Appeal; Parties Lectured On Rules; Born To Worry

Illinoisappellatelawyerblog was born to worry. And opinions like Estate of York feed that congenital behavior.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court woke us to attention with its first words. “The case before us serves as a cautionary tale to litigants to adhere to Illinois Supreme Court Rule appellate filing deadlines, to timely file requests for extensions of time with good cause shown, and to specify all grounds of appeal in the notice of appeal.”

Dread always follows that kind of lead. Here’s what happened.

York and Mulryan were law firm partners. York loaned Mulryan $60,000. Mulryan made a few repayments, but stopped when York died. Mulryan claimed the loan converted to a gift when York died. Mulryan also took $5,000 out of the law firm.

York’s estate wanted the money back, and eventually filed a citation to recover assets against Mulryan. Mulryan asked the trial court to dismiss the citation. The trial court dismissed four of the claims with prejudice (can’t re-plead them) and three of the claims without prejudice (can fix and re-plead them).

The Estate appealed, and filed a supporting brief. But Mulryan did not respond. Two weeks after the appellate court ruled it would consider the Estate’s appeal without a response, Mulryan asked the appellate court for an extension of time to file and to allow her to ask for dismissal of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Mulryan filed her request to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, but the appellate court denied it. The trial court’s dismissal of four claims with prejudice tipped the analysis in the Estate’s favor. “The dismissal was with prejudice, and so it was a final determination of the estate’s right to the money in question, based on either fiduciary duty or fraud. Thus, the facts of this case and the dismissal order are squarely within Rule 304(b)(1) [Allowing immediate appeal of a final order in a probate case, even before the entire case is finished] as an immediately appealable order.”

Mulryan’s predicament worsened. The Estate asked the appellate court not to consider Mulryan’s principal brief because it was filed late, without good cause. The appellate court agreed, and rejected Mulryan’s argument that she didn’t need to file a brief because the lack of jurisdiction for the Estate’s appeal was “clear.”

Here’s how the court disposed of that position. “We agree with the executor’s argument that Mulryan has caused unnecessary delay in the disposition of this case on appeal and so we deny her motion for extension of time. Given Mulryan’s failure to file any response to the executor’s appellate brief and disregard for mandated appellate deadlines, we abide by our prior order and proceed based on the executor’s brief only.”

But the Estate had even bigger problems. The Estate’s Notice of Appeal was deficient, and did not invoke the court’s jurisdiction. The Notice of Appeal asked for reversal of the trial court’s dismissal of Count II, but the Estate’s brief argued for reversal of Count I. The mistake was fatal. Count I was most important to the Estate, but the appellate court would not consider reversing the trial court because Count I was omitted from the Notice of Appeal.

The appellate court also refused to consider reversing the dismissal of Count II. The Notice of Appeal gave notice of an appeal from the dismissal of Count II, but the Estate only briefed the Count I dismissal.

Mulryan submitted an affidavit to the trial court to support her request to dismiss the Estate’s complaint. The Estate asked the trial court to dismiss the affidavit because, it argued, the affidavit did not comply with Illinois rules.

Half of the Estate’s brief was devoted to reversing the trial court’s affidavit-ruling. But the appellate court refused to consider it because:

  • the Estate did not reference it in the Notice of Appeal, and
  • the trial court’s ruling was not a step in the procedural progression toward the dismissal; “The ruling on the motion to strike Mulryan’s affidavit could not have been a step in the procedural progression leading to the section 2-615 dismissal of count II, because  consideration of affidavits is not allowed in ruling on section 2-615 dismissals.”

So let’s review what happened in this case. First, Mulryan’s request to file a late brief was denied because she did not follow the rules, and her observation that appellate jurisdiction “clearly” was lacking fell on deaf ears.

But Mulryan won the war because the Estate did not draft a proper Notice of Appeal. The appellate court not consider the Estate’s most important issues because the deficient Notice Of Appeal did not provide fair notice that those things were being appealed.

Read the whole opinion, In re Estate of York, 2015 IL App (1st) 132830, by clicking here.