An appeal that raises arguments seeking to show that a circuit court erred in denying a motion for a new claim is dismissed.
All three justices from the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, concurred that their court lacks jurisdiction over an appeal filed regarding a circuit court’s order to deny a post-motion for a new trial on a survival claim that did not get the desired jury verdict.
The survival claim stems from a fatal rear-end collision, where a truck driven by William Ingram crashed into the rear end of an SUV driven by the decedent Rufino H. Sanchez, while the SUV was stopped in traffic.
Justia published the case of “Castaneda v. Ingram” in which the decedent's son, Jesus Sanchez, as special administrator of his father's estate, filed suit against defendants in circuit court seeking relief under the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Act. Sanchez had yet to open a probate estate, and the court appointed him special administrator.
A probate estate for the decedent was opened in July 2016, and Rosa Castaneda was appointed independent administrator of the estate to prosecute the survival claim. The court explained that only the administrator or executor of a decedent's estate, and not the decedent's survivors, can maintain an action on behalf of the decedent under the Survival Act. Sanchez prosecuted the wrongful death claim as special administrator. The law states that "a person does not have standing to bring a survival claim, until he is appointed as executor or administrator of the decedent's estate under the Illinois Probate Act." The Wrongful Death Act authorizes a circuit court to appoint a special administrator for purposes of prosecuting a wrongful death claim, if a probate estate has not been opened.
A jury returned a verdict in favor of the estate on the wrongful death action. However, they returned a verdict in favor of the defendants on the survival claim.
Castaneda died in 2016, before the filing of any post-trial motions, and her attorney filed a post-trial motion in her name, as independent administrator, for a new trial on the survival claim. However, the attorney failed to report her death to the circuit court or to defendants, and the court denied the motion.
In January 2017, Castaneda's attorney filed a notice of appeal in her name as independent administrator, asking the court to reverse the circuit court's order. Once again, the attorney failed to report her death to the circuit court or to defendants. After the due date for the notice of appeal expired, Sanchez moved in probate court to be appointed successor independent administrator of the decedent's estate. The probate court granted the motion, and later the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. A motion judge from the Court of Appeals denied the motion to dismiss without explanation, and the defendants appealed.
Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall delivered the judgment of the court and wrote in the opinion that, contrary to appellant's contentions, the Court agreed with the defendants that it lacked jurisdiction to review the circuit court's order denying the post-trial motion for a new trial on the survival claim. The defendants claimed that the notice of appeal was sufficient to give the Court of Appeals jurisdiction to consider the circuit court's order. They asserted that the notice of appeal was timely, that it was valid because it apprised defendants of the judgment that was being appealed, and that, therefore, the notice was sufficient to vest the court with jurisdiction to consider the circuit court's order. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 301 says that the filing of a notice of appeal is jurisdictional. At the time the notice of appeal was filed on January 5, 2017, Castaneda, the independent administrator, had been dead for about four months. The attorney's representation of Castaneda during her lifetime, didn’t give him the authority to act on behalf of the estate following her death.
Justice Hall explained that an estate is not a natural or artificial person and it lacks the legal capacity to sue or be sued. As such, any action must be brought by the executor or representative of the estate. The death of Castaneda, the independent administrator, ended the authority of the attorney to act further on behalf of the estate.
The notice of appeal filed by the attorney on January 5, 2017, Justice Hall held, was a nullity and conferred no jurisdiction on the appellate court to review the judgment of the circuit court because Castaneda's death terminated the attorney-client relationship.
When the notice of appeal was filed, the attorney didn’t file a motion to substitute Sanchez as administrator of the estate in place of Castaneda. The laws states that, after a substitution of a party, the cause or proceeding carries on "with or without a change in the title of the cause." Illinois Supreme Court Rule 366(a)(2) allows for substitution of parties by reason of death.
The appellate court said that it could not review the circuit court’s order, because the deceased administrator could not bring an action, and the appeal was, therefore, dismissed.
Reference: Justia (March 16, 2018) “Castaneda v. Ingram”