First District Illinois Appellate Court Sanctions Pro Se Serial Filer While Reviewing Several Important Issues of Appellate Procedure

August 02, 2019 8:58 AM | Louis Manetti (Administrator)

 By: Katherine A. Grosh, Levin Ginsburg 

Undaunted by admonishments from the United States Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and the First District Appellate Court of Illinois, pro se litigant Lisa J. Gillard filed her latest in a series of unsuccessful appeals stemming from a September 2016 incident whereby Gillard shoved a security guard at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and was convicted of battery. Gillard v. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, et al., 2019 IL App (1st) 182348.  Over 10 pages of the First District’s 22-page opinion were devoted to a review of Gillard’s litigation over the last few years. Gillard had filed several civil and criminal lawsuits against Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the security contractor, Starbucks, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Clare McWilliams, and others, alleging in one complaint that she was the victim of “defamation and emotional distress” and seeking $3 billion (with a “b”) in damages. Many of the suits (some of which were consolidated) ended in dismissals for failure to state valid causes of action after multiple pleading attempts.

In the suit at hand, Gillard attempted to allege counts for defamation per se, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false light. Id. ¶¶ 11, 17.  In the midst of Gillard’s pleading attempts and related motion practice by many of the defendants, the trial court dismissed the case for want of prosecution on two occasions, the second of which occurred after Gillard failed to appear on a series of court dates. Id. ¶¶ 10, 12. Each time, Gillard moved to vacate the dismissal, and the court reinstated the case. Id. ¶ 12. Gillard also filed two motions for substitution of judge, which were denied, but resulted in both trial judges recusing themselves from all cases involving Gillard. Id. ¶ 13, 14. At around the same time, Gillard filed a separate tort complaint against several Cook County sheriff’s officers assigned to duty on the twenty-second floor of the Daley Center. Consequently, all of the law division motion call judges recused themselves from Gillard’s cases. Id. ¶ 15. All then-pending suits, including the instant case, were assigned to Judge Clare McWilliams. Id.

Judge McWilliams granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss Gillard’s complaint, but gave Gillard another opportunity to amend. Id. ¶ 16. Gillard’s fourth amended complaint increased her demand from $500 million in damages to $3 billion, and sought the termination of several of defendants’ employees. Id. ¶ 17. By the time she filed her fourth amended complaint, her criminal battery case had concluded and she was found guilty, and ordered not to have any contact with Northwestern Memorial Hospital except in the case of medical emergency. Id. ¶ 18 (citing People v. Gillard, 2018 IL App (1st) 171121-U, ¶ 1).The defendants again filed motions to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that Gillard’s conviction for battery established conclusively that any statements the defendants had made about Gillard shoving a security guard were not false. They also argued that the fourth amended complaint, like the previous complaints, did not plead adequate facts to support any of her claims. Id. ¶ 19.

Rather than file a response to the motions to dismiss, Gillard filed a motion to substitute Judge McWilliams for cause, arguing that she was part of a “ring of conspiracy” by judges and “mentally unfit.” Id. ¶ 20. Thereafter, she filed a civil complaint against Judge McWilliams, alleging civil rights violations and conspiracy. Id. ¶ 21 (citing Gillard v. McWilliams, 2019 IL App (1st) 182217-U, ¶ 5). She also filed several “emergency motions” to disqualify Judge McWilliams before the presiding judge of the law division, all of which were denied or stricken, as well as a “memorandum” threatening to initiate ARDC proceedings against counsel for Northwestern Memorial Hospital and to file “federal indictment charges” against opposing counsel and several Cook County judges, all after Judge McWilliams entered a “protocol order” at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s request. Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.

In a written order dated October 23, 2018, entered over one month after the deadline set by the court for Gillard to respond to the defendants’ motions to dismiss, the court dismissed the fourth amended complaint with prejudice, finding that Gillard had not pleaded sufficient facts support any of her claims. Id. ¶ 24. Gillard then filed two separate motions to reinstate the case, incorrectly stating that the case had been dismissed for want of prosecution, and alleging that Judge McWilliams was “disqualified under the law.” Id. ¶ 25. However, as would later become relevant to the disposition of her appeal, neither motion argued that Gillard had sufficiently pleaded the five counts of her fourth amended complaint or otherwise addressed the court’s rulings on the motion to dismiss. Id. ¶ 25. The motions to reinstate were denied on November 1, 2018, and Gillard appealed. Id. ¶ 25.

Although the court’s opinion discusses numerous important appellate procedural rules, the court confronted two main issues: (1) whether Gillard can prevail on her claims of error and (2) “whether her appeal is so frivolous, and her pattern of behavior so egregious,” that an order of sanctions should be entered against her under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 375.

Initially, the court addressed whether it had jurisdiction over the appeal, where Gillard’s notice of appeal specified a “November 1, 2018 order entered by Judge McWilliams,” where that order was the order denying Gillard’s motions to reinstate the case, and was entered by a different judge, and where the notice of appeal did not reference the October 23, 2018 dismissal order entered by Judge McWilliams. Reiterating that “[c]lerical errors in a notice of appeal do not necessarily render the notice defective,” and that an unspecified order is reviewable where it is a step in the “procedural progression” leading to the judgment specified in the notice of appeal, the court found it had jurisdiction to review both orders under the “liberal construction” standard governing notices of appeal. Id. ¶¶ 41-43.

The defects in the notice of appeal aside, the court observed that Gillard’s appellate brief violated Supreme Court Rule 341(h) in several respects. The single-page statement of facts contained no references to the record on appeal and omitted any description of the defendants’ motions to dismiss or the court’s rationale for granting them. Id. ¶ 46.  The argument section also failed to cite to the record, and did not contain any substantive content or argument directed at the circuit court’s reasoning for dismissing her fourth amended complaint. Id. ¶ 47. Instead, the brief discussed the jurisdiction of the “Illinois Supreme Court” and the standards a court applies when considering whether a statute is unconstitutional, even though the case was not currently before our supreme court and did not involve any challenge to a statute’s constitutionality. Id. ¶ 47.  The court stated: “[a] pro se litigant must comply with the rules of procedure required of attorneys, and a court will not apply a more lenient standard to pro se litigants." Id. ¶ 45 (citing People v. Adams, 318 Ill. App. 3d 539, 542 (2001)). However, because the court understood the issues Gillard intended to raise, and because the defendants very competently briefed the issues, the court elected not to strike Gillard’s brief.

Still, the court found that each of Gillard’s arguments on appeal were either waived -- having been raised for the first time on appeal -- or forfeited under Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(7), having been raised in the trial court but abandoned on appeal in the opening brief. Id. ¶¶ 49-51.  Further, Gillard made no reference to any of the five claims actually pleaded in her fourth amended complaint, but rather, made arguments related to causes of action that she never pleaded, such as malicious prosecution and consumer fraud. Id. ¶ 51.  Nevertheless, and with emphasis on Rule 63(c)’s requirement of judicial self-disqualification, the court went on to address the merits of Gillard’s appeal, concluding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing Gillard’s fourth amended complaint or in denying her motions to reinstate the case. Id. ¶¶ 52-60.

Addressing the defendants’ motions for sanctions against Gillard, the court stated, “[a]lthough this court is especially solicitous of self-represented parties who do not display punctilious compliance with our rules, we will order sanctions against pro se litigants under sufficiently egregious circumstances.” Id. ¶ 62. The court observed that Gillard’s “prodigious appellate practice has been characterized by repeated, and often dispositive, failures to obey the Illinois Supreme Court rules regarding briefs. Gillard has yet to file before this court a single appellate brief that consistently and properly cites the record.” Id. ¶ 68.  The court also noted other courts’ admonishments to Gillard for her frivolous litigation, including the warning the court itself issued to her months ago. Id. ¶ 67 (citing Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 2018 IL App (1st) 180922-U, ¶ 25) (“if [Gillard] pursues a pattern of frivolous appeals before this court, she will face sanctions”). The court continued, “[d]espite our admonishments and dismissals, Gillard persists in inappropriate use of the judicial system.” Id. ¶ 68.  Recognizing the likelihood that Gillard would be unable or unwilling to pay a monetary sanction consisting of a judgment for the defendants’ attorneys’ fees, however, the court referred its opinion to the court’s executive committee for the entry of an administrative order requiring Gillard to fulfill several procedural requirements before she can pursue any future appeals. Id. ¶ 69.  The court also recommended that for any future appeal she files, it will be automatically stayed and no opposing party need file responsive documents unless requested by the court or the court lifts the stay.

Apparently as the result of prior issues regarding Gillard’s qualifications for court fee waivers, the court also recommended that for future appeals: (a) any fee waiver motion Gillard files pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 313 shall include her actual residence address (not a post office box address), as well as copies of her last two annual state and federal income tax returns with an affidavit as to their authenticity, and (b) that the circuit court hold a hearing on any future fee waiver petitions filed by Gillard, and stay any litigation brought by her until either she pays the appropriate fees, or the court is satisfied that she actually qualifies for a fee waiver. Id. ¶ 69.

The opinion was authored by Justice Mathias Delort, with Justice Maureen Connors and Sheldon Harris concurring. Still pending before the First District Appellate Court are Gillard’s consolidated appeals from the trial court’s dismissal of her suits against Comeaux-Brookins, the court reporter in her criminal battery trial and the presiding judge of her criminal trial, Judge Clarence Burch, which allege that their defamatory statements led to her arrest for harassment when Gillard violated the staking no contact order.

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