Illinois Supreme Ct: De Novo Review For Fact-Dependent Petition To Vacate Old Judgment

Warren County Soil is important to Illinois appellate practitioners because it clears the confusion over the standard of review in appeals from orders growing from 2-1401 disputes. (Illinois Civil Procedure Code § 1401 allows relief from judgments that are more than two years old.) This is what the Illinois Supreme Court said:

[W]e hold that when a section 2-1401 petition presents a fact-dependent challenge to a final judgment or order … the petitioner must set forth specific factual allegations supporting each of the following elements: (1) the existence of a meritorious defense; (2) due diligence in presenting this defense; and (3) due diligence in filing the section 2-1401 petition for relief … The quantum of proof necessary to sustain a section 2-1401 petition is a preponderance of the evidence, and the circuit court’s ultimate decision on the petition is reviewed for an abuse of discretion … In addition, when the facts supporting the section 2-1401 petition are challenged by the respondent, a full and fair evidentiary hearing should be held … Relevant to this appeal, the trial court may also consider equitable considerations to relax the applicable due diligence standards under the appropriate limited circumstances …‍

But when the fight concerns only a question of law — e.g., a claim that the judgment was void — then there is a de novo standard of review (no discretion given to the circuit court).

Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District v. Walters, 2015 IL 11783, is important to understand if you’re dealing with a 2-1401 petition at any level. You can read the whole opinion by clicking here.