Dear Justice Corner:
With e-filing becoming mandatory for civil cases on January 1, how will I be affected?
Dear Judge Efilingiscoming:
For the most part, it is hoped that e-filing will not have a significant impact upon you and your courtroom. However, there are a couple of considerations to be aware of as e-filing goes into full effect.
First, some self-represented litigants (SRLs) will be excused from e-filing under recently amended Illinois Supreme Court Rule 9(c)(4) (Ill. S. Ct. R. 9(c)(4) (eff. Dec. 13, 2017)). Rule 9(c) lists documents which are exempt from e-filing and includes an exemption for good cause under subsection (4). The amended portion of the rule explains what constitutes good cause for an exemption and how to obtain the exemption. Rule(9)(4)(c) now provides:
“Documents filed in a specific case, upon good cause shown by certification. Good cause exists where a self-represented litigant is not able to e-file documents for the following reasons: no computer or Internet access in the home and travel represents a hardship; a disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, that prevents e-filing; or a language barrier or low literacy (difficulty reading, writing or speaking in English). Good cause also exists if the pleading is of a sensitive nature, such as a petition for an order of protection or civil no contact/stalking order.
A Certification for Exemption from E-filing shall be filed with the court—in person or by mail—and include a certification under 1-109 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The court shall provide and parties shall be required to use a standardized form expressly titled ‘Certification for Exemption from E-filing’ adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice.
Judges retain discretion to determine whether, under particular circumstances, good cause exists without the filing of a certificate and the court shall enter an order to that effect. Judges retain discretion to determine whether good cause is shown. If the court determines that good cause is not shown, the court shall enter an order to that effect stating the specific reasons for the determination and ordering the litigant to e-file thereafter.”
Under amended Rule 9(c)(4), unlike a 298 fee waiver, the certification to obtain this exemption will not be presented for judicial review. Instead, if a litigant signs the certification under penalty of perjury pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/9-101 (West 2014) and files it with the clerk, the exemption has automatic application.
However, a judge may sua sponte order that a person be exempt from e-filing for good cause even without the certification. This should be particularly helpful in high-volume courtrooms where defendants are directed to first appear in person on certain dates. Where there is good cause, you may better control your call by ordering such defendants exempt from e-filing and allow them to hand documents to the clerk for filing.
A judge also has the discretion to determine that good cause no longer exists and, under such circumstances, may order that the litigant e-file thereafter. This authority should assuage concerns about an abuse of the exemption.
Second, this will be a period of transition for everyone: judges, clerks, self-help centers, attorneys, and SRLs. All court personnel will need to show understanding about issues which will accompany the switch to mandatory e-filing.
The comments to Rule 9(c)(4) now state that "implementation of electronic filing in Illinois courts should not impede a person’s access to justice." If your court is facing particular challenges with e-filing by SRLs, the Access to Justice Commission and Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts want to hear about it. Please email your questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, McHenry County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Chief Judge Kevin P. Fitzgerald, McLean County
- Judge William G. Schwartz, Jackson County
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Joseph Dailing, Legal Aid Consultant, Rockford