Illinois Appellate Court Allows Defendants to Answer Plaintiff’s Complaint After Start of Trial

The general rule in Illinois, under Section 2-610(b) of the Illinois Civil Procedure, “every allegation, except allegations of damages, not explicitly denied is admitted.” In this case, the defendant chose not to file an answer before the start of the trial. The question for the appellate court was: “Are the allegations in the complaint automatically considered as having been admitted based on Section 2-610(b)?” The answer to the question by the Illinois Appellate Court for the 5th District was, “No.” The appellate court concluded that “Section 2-610 of the Code is inapplicable in a situation where there has been no answer filed.”

In this case, Crawford County Oil and LaCross Inc. sued Floyd Weger, Michael Worthy, Paula Worthy and Charlene Cornwell in a downstate Illinois municipality 243 miles south of Chicago. First, the defendants moved to dismiss. When that motion was denied, the defendants requested summary judgment.

The Illinois Supreme Court Rule 181(a) says that when a defendant responds to a complaint by filing a motion and the request is denied; “an answer or another appropriate motion shall be filed within the time the court directs in the order disposing of the motion.”

Although both the motions to dismiss and summary judgment were denied by the trial judge, the orders did not set a deadline for filing an answer, and the defendants reported being ready for trial without having answered the complaint.

The plaintiffs started their case-in-chief by asking the trial judge to rule that all of the allegations in their verified complaint should be treated as true based on Section 2-610(b).

However, the trial judge had never entered an order as to when the defendants were to file an answer. The defendants invoked Illinois Supreme Rule 183 which permits judges, “for good cause shown,” to “extend the time for filing any pleadings.”

The judge permitted the defendants to read their answer to the complaint into the record. But the judge certified three questions for interlocutory appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308.

The Illinois Appellate Court granted a petition for immediate appeal. The Appellate Court, 5th District, ruled that Section 2-610 did not apply because no answer had been filed. And on the other question, the reviewing court concluded the trial judge had discretion “to allow defendants to file an answer.” Though on remand the court stated, “Said answer must be filed, in writing, and verified.”

The court noted that the section addressed here, “pleadings to be specific,” generally governs the consequences of not explicitly denying a factual allegation in the answer.

In this case, the defendants chose not to file an answer at all. At the start of the trial, the plaintiffs moved the court to deem all of the facts in their complaint to be judicial admissions pursuant to Section 2-610(b) of the Code, based on the defendants’ failure to file an answer. At first blush, it would seem that the plaintiffs were right. An isolated reading of Section 2-610(b) would seem to suggest that it could be applied in just the way the plaintiffs had suggested.

By choosing not to file an answer at all, the defendants failed to specifically deny any of the allegations of plaintiffs’ verified complaint. But the court found that reading Section 2-610 as a whole makes clear that the legislature intended that it be applied in those situations where an answer or subsequent pleading has been filed, but did not contain an explicit admission or denial of one or more of the allegations of the pleading to which it relates.

The court turned to Section 2-1301(b), which more specifically addresses situations in which there has been a failure to plead, which more specifically addresses situations in which there has been a failure to plead at all and makes such a determination discretionary.

The legislature intended that the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure “be liberally construed, to the end that controversies may be speedily and finally determined according to the substantive rights of the parties.” 735 ILCS 5/1-106.

The court then found that under the circumstances here, where the defendants failed to file an answer at all, Section 2-610 of the Code is inapplicable and that section does not mandate a finding that all of the allegations of the complaint are deemed admitted.

The timing to file an answer and motions following service of summons of a complaint is governed by Illinois Supreme Court 181, which provides that the defendants must file an appearance within 30 days, and such an appearance may be made by filing a motion within that 30-day period.

In this case, the defendants are correct that the order disposing of the defendants’ motion for summary judgment did not indicate a time for the defendants to file an answer. Under local rules, “unless otherwise ordered by the court, a party who is required to plead further following denial of a motion shall do so within 21 days” following entry of a docket or written order reflecting the decision of the court.

Here the plaintiffs did not make their motion to have the allegations of the complaint deemed admitted until after they opened their case-in-chief and this was the first time the defendants’ failure to answer was brought to the attention of the judge.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 183 gives the circuit court judge discretion to permit the filing of late pleadings and that decision to grant the defendants leave to file an answer was an appropriate exercise of that discretion in a situation such as that in the case at bar. Accordingly, the answer to the third certified question on appeal, as reframed by this court, is in the affirmative.

The court stated that because of the interest of having a case tried on its merits, the defendants were allowed to answer in writing the verified complaint of the plaintiffs. The case was then remanded with directions that the circuit court amend its order to require that said answer be filed in writing and verified and that the case proceed to trial.

Crawford County Oil v. Weger, 2014 IL App (5th) 130382 (Aug. 15, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling commercial litigation, business disputes, injury cases, catastrophic injury cases and nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Tinley Park, Morton Grove, Des Plaines, Naperville, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont, Orland Park, Blue Island, Lincolnshire, Arlington Heights, Antioch, Grayslake, Crystal Lake, Lansing and Alsip, Ill.

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