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Don't Judge a Motion by Its Title: Mislabeled Postjudgment Motion Not Untimely

March 31, 2014 7:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

In Garrido v. Arena, 2013 IL App (1st) 120466, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a mislabeled postjudgment motion was not untimely. The court emphasized that, because pleadings should be characterized by their contents, not title, a mislabeled postjudgment motion is a “procedural irregularity” that will not necessarily deprive a reviewing court of jurisdiction. 
In Garrido, the reviewing court noted that, before reaching the merits of the case--which involved a defamation action by John Garrido against several defendants based on ads against his candidacy for alderman--the reviewing court first had to address jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 11. The trial court had entered judgment in defendants’ favor on September 16, 2011. Id.  Thereafter, Garrido filed a motion pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-1401) (West 2010)) on October 7, 2011, which was less than 30 days after the trial court’s judgment, asking the court to vacate the judgment. Garrido, 2013 IL App (1st) 120466, ¶ 11. Section 2-1401 allows a party to request relief from final orders and judgments after 30 days from the entry of the order or judgment. Garrido, 2013 IL App (1st) 120466, ¶ 1. Realizing his mistake, Garrido sought leave to amend his motion to reflect the correct statute, section 2-1203 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-1203 (West 2010)). The trial court granted Garrido’s motion and he filed the amended motion on October 31, 2011. The trial court ultimately denied Garrido’s postjudgment motion. Garrido, 2013 IL App (1st) 120466, ¶ 11.

On appeal, defendants contended that Garrido’s notice of appeal was untimely because he did not file a proper postjudgment motion. Id. ¶ 12. Specifically, defendants contended that Garrido’s original section 2-1401 motion was untimely because it was not filed more than 30 days after the trial court entered the judgment, and that his section 2-1203 motion was untimely because it was not filed within 30 days of the judgment. Id.

The reviewing court disagreed. The court noted that Garrido’s amended section 2-1203 motion merely corrected the relevant statutory citations in his first, and timely, postjudgment  motion. Id. ¶ 13. Significantly, the court found that, even if Garrido had not amended the motion to cite the correct statutory provision, the circuit court would nevertheless have been required to evaluate Garrido’s motion because the character of the pleading should be determined from its content, not label. Id. (citing In re Hayley D., 2011 IL 110886, ¶ 67). Accordingly, the Appellate Court found that, although Garrido’s original motion was mislabeled as a section 2-1401 motion, it was substantively a section 2-1203 motion, which was timely filed within 30 days of judgment. 

While parties should pay close attention to properly labeling motions, an inadvertently mislabeled postjudgment motion is not automatically fatal to bringing an appeal.

Recommended Citation: April Connley, Don't Judge a Motion by Its Title: Mislabeled Postjudgment Motion Not Untimely, The Brief, (March 31, 2014),
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