Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Decision of Circuit Court Judge Dismissing Automobile Accident Case for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Because of a Death of the Defendant

On June 20, 2010, Delores Franklin and Todd Gryczewski were in an automobile crash. Slightly more than two years later, on June 12, 2012, Gryczewski sued Franklin for injuries he suffered in that crash. Franklin died on Nov. 24, 2011. Gryczewski had no knowledge of his death at the time of the filing.

About two weeks later, a law firm appeared on Franklin’s behalf and filed a motion to appoint a special administrator. Bob Phillip was appointed special administrator on July 17, 2012.

On June 23, 2014, Phillip filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Phillip argued that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the named defendant, Franklin, was dead. Phillip also argued that the suit had fallen beyond the statute of limitations because it failed to satisfy the requirements needed to file a lawsuit against a deceased person. The court agreed and dismissed the case with prejudice. Gryczewski appealed.

On appeal, Mr. Gryczewski first claimed that Phillip had waived his objection that the named defendant was deceased by choosing not to file a timely objection and failing to withdraw his answer before he moved to dismiss. However, the appellate court disagreed.

The appeals panel emphasized that because it is a matter of subject-matter jurisdiction it cannot be waived. Subject-matter jurisdiction not only cannot be waived, it can be challenged sua sponte by the court. Gryczewski cited precedent that the “defendant waives any defect [in the complaint] by answering it without objection.”

Gryczewski was statutorily required when he learned that Franklin had died to file an amended complaint naming Franklin’s special representative as the new party defendant. He did not do that when he learned of Franklin’s death or even when Phillip was named special administrator.

Gryczewski argued that because the court had appointed Phillip as a special representative, the “statutory purpose” of the law that required Gryczewski to amend the complaint to name Phillip had been met. The circuit court had disagreed, and the appellate court was of the same mind.

The appellate court noted that the requirements were clear and unambiguous and that Gryczewski cited no reason or difficulty that prevented him from obeying the statutory requirements. Gryczewski simply failed to do so.

There was a dissenting opinion filed by the Illinois Appellate Court indicating that Phillip suffered no prejudice from Gryczewski’s failure to file an amended complaint and the dissenting justice felt that substantial justice required that the case be heard on its merits. In fact, the dissenting justice stated that Phillip’s actions could be classified as “gamesmanship . . . pure and simple.” However, the majority of the justices, the two that filed the opinion, challenged applying the doctrine of liberal construction to motions that were not pleadings and the orders filed by the court. As a result, the decision of the trial judge dismissing the case with prejudice was affirmed.

Todd Gryczewski v. Delores Franklin and Bob Phillip, 2015 IL App (1st) 142805-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile accident cases, truck accident cases and bicycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 38 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Lindenhurst, Cicero, Western Springs, Worth, Harvey, Hoffman Estates, Homewood, Kenilworth, LaGrange, Lansing, Bridgeview, Brookfield, Burbank, Calumet Park, Countryside, Country Club Hills, Glencoe, Glenview, Oak Forest, North Riverside, Melrose Park, Sauk Village, Chicago (McKinley Park, Loyola Park, Little Italy, Belmont Central, Back of the Yards, Austin, Englewood, Irving Park, Kilbourn Park, Wrigleyville, Printer’s Row), Geneva and Lincolnwood, Ill.

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