Inmate’s Motion Attacking Void Judgment Tolls Time To Appeal

An inmate in a supermax prison sued prison officials in a mandamus action. The inmate sought an order preventing controlled feeding and requiring a nurse to attend to the inmate’s self-inflicted wounds outside of his cell.

The prison officials asked for, and in July 2006 received, a dismissal of the complaint. Before that dismissal order was entered, and apparently unknown to the trial court judge, the inmate had filed a motion asking for a substitution of the trial court judge.

The court clerk did not send the parties the dismissal order for several months. In November 2006, the inmate asked the trial court, which by that time had substituted another judge, to vacate the order dismissing the case. The inmate argued that his request to substitute the original trial judge was made before the dismissal order had been entered. The inmate’s request to vacate finally was considered in September 2007. The trial court denied the request to vacate the dismissal order. The inmate appealed the denial of his motion to vacate.

The prison officials asserted the appellate court did not have jurisdiction to consider the appeal, so they asked that it be dismissed. They argued that the appeal had been filed 15 months after the order that dismissed the case, too long to invoke the jurisdiction of the appellate court.

The Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that it did have jurisdiction to hear the case. Coming after the motion to substitute judges had been filed, the order dismissing the case was void. And because a void order can be attacked any time, the inmate’s motion to vacate the dismissal was timely. And because the inmate appealed from the order denying his motion to vacate the dismissal, appellate jurisdiction was proper. Here is how the court explained it:

“Civil litigants in Illinois are entitled to one substitution of judge without cause as a matter of right.” … “Orders entered after a motion for substitution of judge has been improperly denied are void.” … The Illinois Supreme Court has held that void orders may be attacked at any time or in any court, either directly or collaterally … Based on these principles, we find that the plaintiff’s motion to vacate was timely because … it was a … motion to collaterally attack a void judgment. Thus, the plaintiff’s motion to vacate was a timely motion directed toward that judgment. Because the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal within 30 days after the entry of the order denying his motion to vacate, we have jurisdiction to consider whether the dismissal order was void.

Get the whole case, Gay v. Frey, No. 5-07-0561 (3/13/09), by clicking here.