Illinois Supreme Court Clarifies Rules For Direct Appeals From Findings Of Unconstitutionality

January 28, 2019 4:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By: Carson R. Griffis
       Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP

Most Illinois appellate practitioners know that, under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 302(a)(1), they can directly appeal a decision striking down a statute as unconstitutional to the Illinois Supreme Court. But what they may not realize is that such appeals are limited to appeals from "final judgments" finding laws unconstitutional. This is an important limit on the scope of Rule 302(a)(1). It was also the subject of the Illinois Supreme Court's recent decision in Gonzalez v. Union Health Service, Inc., 2018 IL 123025.

In Gonzalez, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant moved to dismiss the lawsuit because it was immune from suit under the Voluntary Health Services Plans Act (215 ILCS 165/26). The trial court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss, finding that the 1988 amendments to the Voluntary Health Services Plans Act were unconstitutional special legislation. 

The defendant directly appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, citing Rule 302(a)(1) and the Court's supervisory authority as the bases of the Court's jurisdiction. The Court rejected the notion that Rule 302(a)(1) applied because a denial of a motion to dismiss is not a "final judgment." Rather, it is an interlocutory order. The Court noted that it had only entertained Rule 302(a)(1) appeals from interlocutory orders in two limited circumstances: 1) when the interlocutory order was otherwise appealable (e.g., an order granting or denying a request for an injunction); or 2) the order granted summary judgment in a declaratory judgment action challenging the validity of the statute. Because neither of those circumstances existed, Rule 302(a)(1) did not apply.

But the Court didn't stop there. Citing its broad supervisory authority, the Court elected to review the circuit court's order anyway. The Court found that the trial court erred in denying the motion to dismiss because, even if the 1988 amendments were unconstitutional, the prior version of the law would remain in effect. And the defendant still enjoyed immunity under the old version of the law, meaning that the constitutionality of the 1988 amendments was irrelevant from the start. Thus, the Court vacated the trial court's order striking down the amendments and remanded for further proceedings.

Gonzalez is important for two reasons. First, it clarifies that Rule 302(a)(1) usually applies to final judgments and lays out the two narrow exceptions to that general rule. Second, it demonstrates that Rule 302(a)(1) isn't the only way to seek immediate appellate review of an interlocutory order finding a statute unconstitutional. Practitioners may be able to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to invoke its supervisory authority through a motion for a supervisory order. Or they might seek review in the Illinois Appellate Court via a motion for a certified question under Rule 308. While Gonzalez may have limited Rule 302(a)(1), it didn't close the doors of the reviewing courts when important constitutional questions are at issue. 

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