Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Parties on Appeal Beware: Failure to Comply With Supreme Court Rules on Content of Briefs May Result in Dismissal

By April Oboikowitch
Law Clerk, Illinois Appellate Court, First District

Failure to comply with the requirements of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341 (eff. Feb. 6, 2013), which governs the form and content of appellate briefs, may result in the dismissal of your appeal. In McCann v. Dart, 2015 IL App (1st) 141291, the plaintiff Brian McCann appealed from the circuit court’s grant of defendant Thomas Dart’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s petition for mandamus and declaratory relief pursuant to section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2012)). On appeal, plaintiff contended that the circuit court erred in dismissing his complaint for lack of standing and that defendant failed to fulfill a legal duty pursuant to several immigration statutes. McCann, 2015 IL App (1st) 141291, ¶ 1. 

However, the appellate court never reached the merits of this case, instead exercising its discretion in striking plaintiff’s brief and dismissing his appeal for failure to comply with Rule 341(h). The court began by noting that plaintiff’s appellant brief was a “scant eight pages.” Id. ¶ 11. It then reiterated the familiar maxim that compliance with procedural rules was mandatory, and that the court may, in its discretion, strike a brief and dismiss an appeal based on the failure to comply with the applicable rules of appellate procedure. Id. ¶ 12. 

The reviewing court remarked that plaintiff’s opening brief violated Rule 341(h)(5), which provides that, “[i]n a case involving the construction or validity of a statute, *** ordinance, or regulation,” the appellant’s brief “shall” include “the pertinent parts of the provision verbatim, with a citation of the place where it may be found, all under an appropriate heading, such as ‘Statutes Involved.’ ” Ill. S. Ct. R. 341(h)(5). The court noted that plaintiff’s entire complaint was based on the federal immigration statutes, yet plaintiff never referenced or provided a citation to those statutes, and his opening brief was entirely devoid of any indication of which statutes or ordinances he may have invoked in the circuit court. Id. ¶ 13.

The reviewing court further found that plaintiff failed to comply with Rule 341(h)(6), which requires that an appellant include a “Statement of Facts, which shall contain the facts necessary to an understanding of the case, stated accurately and fairly without argument or comment, and with appropriate reference to the pages of the record on appeal.” Plaintiff’s “Statement of Facts” was a mere sentence in length, did not reference the pertinent federal immigration statutes under which he was claiming to be entitled to relief, did not reference any ordinances, and did not provide any of the case’s procedural background. Id. ¶ 14. 

Plaintiff also failed to comply with Rule 341(h)(7), which requires the appellant to present reasoned argument, as well as citation to legal authority and to specific portions of the record in support of his claim of error. Ill. S. Ct. R. 341(h)(7). The court noted that this rule was especially important since the appellate court begins with the presumption that the circuit court’s ruling was in conformity with the law and the facts. Moreover, the court noted that it is entitled to have the issues clearly defined, and to be cited pertinent authority. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff cited to the record only three times, and cited to several Illinois cases, none of which involved the federal immigration statutes under which plaintiff was seeking relief. Id. ¶ 16. The court found that the “subject of plaintiff’s actual argument is completely and conspicuously missing from his opening brief,” and that the appellate court was not a depository in which the burden of argument and research may be dumped. Id. ¶ 18. 

Finally, the court stated that plaintiff referenced the federal immigration statutes for the first time in his reply brief. However, Rule 341(h)(7) specifically states that “[p]oints not argued [in the opening brief] are waived and shall not be raised in the reply brief.” Accordingly, the court found that because plaintiff did not argue the merits of his underlying claim in his opening brief, he waived consideration of the merits on appeal. Id. ¶ 19. The court acknowledged that it seldom enters an order dismissing an appeal for failure to comply with supreme court rules, but found that it was in its discretion to do so, and that plaintiff’s brief warranted dismissal of his appeal. Id. ¶ 20.

Recommended Citation: April Oboikowitch, Parties on Appeal Beware: Failure to Comply With Supreme Court Rules on Content of Briefs May Result in Dismissal, The Brief, (April 21, 2015), http://applawyers-thebrief.blogspot.com/2015/04/parties-on-appeal-beware-failure-to.html.

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