Mandate After Dismissal Of One Defendant Does Not Affect Appeal Against Other Defendant. No Laches or Estoppel Two Years After Appellate Briefs Are Filed.

A senatorial candidate sued a columnist and a newspaper for libel. The trial court dismissed the case, and the candidate appealed. After the appeal was filed, the candidate voluntarily dismissed the columnist, but maintained the appeal against the newspaper. A mandate was issued with respect to the dismissal of the columnist.

Two years passed after the briefs were filed, but there still was no decision from the appellate court. In response to the candidate’s motion to set the case for oral argument, the newspaper asserted that the issuance of the mandate deprived the appellate court of jurisdiction. The appellate court would have none of it, and ruled that the mandate as to the columnist did not deny the court of jurisdiction to consider the appeal against the newspaper.

Pointing to the two-year period after briefing was completed, the newspaper also argued that laches and estoppel, and the candidate’s lack of diligence, prevented the court from considering the appeal. The appellate court rejected that argument. The court admitted that the case improperly had been removed from the active docket, resulting in the delay. “The plaintiff is not to blame for the delay in the disposition of this appeal. We will not avoid consideration of the merits of this appeal predicated upon delay caused by this court.”

This seems fair. But now I’m wondering about those times when a clerk fails to mail a ruling to the parties. The courts have said that the administrative error there does not toll the deadline to seek rehearing or appeal. Shouldn’t the court use this same rationale and not punish a party because of an administrative goof-up by the court?

See the whole case, Seith v. Chicago Sun-Times, No. 1-03-1307 (1/12/07), by clicking here.