Postage Meter Labels: Not Proof of Mailing

May 17, 2021 7:10 AM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

By:  Kimberly Glasford

Last week, the First District Appellate Court determined in People v. Tolbert, 2021 IL App (1st) 181654, that an incarcerated, pro se defendant’s postage meter label did not constitute proof of mailing under Illinois Supreme Court Rules 373 and 12(b)(6).

Rule 373 states that if the clerk of court receives a pro se incarcerated defendant’s notice of appeal or other documentation after the due date, “the time of mailing” constitutes the time of filing. That rule also specifies, however, that proof of mailing must be provided as set forth in Rule 12.

In turn, Rule 12(b)(6) states with respect to documents mailed by an incarcerated pro se litigant, that “service is proved . . . by certification under section 1-109 of the Code of Civil Procedure of the person who deposited the document in the institutional mail, stating the time and place of deposit and the complete address to which the document was to be delivered.”

In Tolbert, the defendant’s notice of appeal was received after the 30-day filing period. Additionally, he did not provide the certification called for by Rule 12(b)(6). Yet, his envelope displayed a postage meter label dated one day before the defendant’s 30-day filing period expired. 

After examining the Mailing Standard of the United States Postal Service, Domestic Mail Manual (Apr. 5, 2021), the reviewing court determined that postmarks and postage meters were sufficiently similar to consider caselaw addressing postmarks.

In Huber v. American Accounting Ass’n, 2014 IL 117293, the supreme court found that a postage label from an Automated Postal Center (APC) showed the date of sale, but not necessarily the date that the envelope was placed in the mail. Absent an attorney certificate or non-attorney affidavit, the defendant had failed to provide proof of mailing with respect to his APC-labeled notice of appeal.

The Tolbert court also observed that one First District decision and one Second District decision had determined that a legible postmark constitutes sufficient proof of timely mailing for jurisdictional purposes. People v. Humphrey, 2020 IL App (1st) 172837; People v. Hansen, 2011 IL App (2d) 081226. That being said, another Second District decision as well as a Fourth District decision had reached a contrary conclusion. People v. Lugo, 391 Ill. App. 3d 995 (2009); People v. Blalock, 2012 IL App (4th) 110041.

The Tolbert court sided with the latter group. Specifically, the reviewing court found the plain language of Rule 373 and Rule 12(b)(6) were clear and unambiguous. Additionally, the supreme court had amended Rule 373 in 1981 to eliminate postmarks as a method of proof. If postmarks did not constitute adequate proof of mailing, neither did postage meter labels.

In light of the court’s determination that the defendant’s postage meter label did not constitute the proof of mailing called for by the rules, he could not take advantage of the mailbox rule. Accordingly, the court dismissed his appeal as untimely.

While the litigant in Tolbert was incarcerated and pro se, the case is a good reminder to the rest of us to be familiar not only the rule but also how the courts are interpreting it.


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