Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed November 1, 2012


Downtown Disposal Services, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 2012 IL 112040

Appellate citation: 407 Ill. App. 3d 822.


      JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Justices Freeman, Garman, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Karmeier dissented, with opinion, joined by Chief Justice Kilbride and Justice Thomas.


      Defendant disposal company, a corporation, was alleged to have violated Chicago ordinances concerning several of its dumpsters. After its failure to appear before the Department of Administrative Hearings, default judgments were entered against it. The president of the corporation, who was not an attorney and who was unrepresented by counsel, then appeared before an administrative law officer and unsuccessfully attempted to have these judgments set aside. He was told that he could appeal to the circuit court by filling out a form in the circuit clerk’s office, which he did in person on October 16, 2008. In April of 2009, an attorney filed an appearance for the corporation in the matter.

      Feeling compelled to follow what it viewed as precedent, the circuit court of Cook County, on January 29, 2010, dismissed the complaints for administrative review as null and void because filed for a corporation by a nonattorney. A request to file amended complaints signed by an attorney was not allowed because the matter was declared moot.

      However, the circuit court was troubled by the fact that trial courts are “confronted with nonattorneys filing pleadings” on a daily basis and stated that nonattorneys representing corporations were being given “clearly erroneous legal instructions *** by the administrative law officers at the City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings.” The court raised the issue of unauthorized practice of law and also commented on the fact that this type of dismissal could result in an action being time-barred. When the dismissal was appealed to the appellate court, it was reversed, with a remand.

      When the City appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, it held that unauthorized practice of law had indeed occurred. There was a further question, however, as to the appropriate remedy. The supreme court held that there is no automatic “nullity rule” and that dismissal was, in these circumstances, too harsh a sanction. Rejecting claims that there was a defect as to subject matter jurisdiction, the supreme court said that the complaints should not be considered null and void. The City was not prejudiced by what had occurred, and, on remand, the circuit court should afford Downtown Disposal an opportunity to amend the complaints to add counsel if the facts so warrant.

      The appellate court judgment was affirmed.