Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed August 9, 2012

 

Santiago v. E.W. Bliss Co., 2012 IL 111792

Appellate citation: 406 Ill. App. 3d 449.

 

      CHIEF JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Justice Karmeier specially concurred, with opinion.

      Justice Burke specially concurred, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.

      Justice Thomas dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Garman.

      Justice Theis took no part in the decision.

 

      In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court answered a certified question as to whether an injured plaintiff’s product liability action could continue, rather than be dismissed, even though his original timely complaint had been filed under the name by which he was commonly known, rather than his formal birth name.

      On May 12, 2006, the plaintiff in this Cook County product liability action sustained severe injuries while operating a punch press for his employer. In his lawsuit, which was timely filed, several defendants that had manufactured components of the press were ultimately named. The plaintiff was identified as “Juan Ortiz.” This was the name which he used at his place of employment.

      In 2009, when depositions took place, the plaintiff revealed that his birth name was actually Rogasciano Santiago. Subsequently, on September 18, 2009, he amended his complaint to show this formal birth name.

      The misnomer provision of the Code of Civil Procedure states that parties may appear under fictitious names upon application and for good cause shown. The defense in this action alleged that there had been intentional use of a fictitious name without leave of court. It sought to have the cause of action dismissed with prejudice for committing a fraud on the court. Also, allegations were made that the birth name had been added after the statute of limitations expired, thus precluding “relation back” for limitations purposes and calling for dismissal for untimeliness.

      The circuit court did not grant the motion to dismiss, but certified a question for interlocutory appeal to the appellate court. The first part of the question asked whether, as a sanction, the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice. The appellate court held that there was discretion to do so. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, but expanded on this by stating that, when a plaintiff uses a fictitious name without leave of court, dismissal is neither mandatory nor precluded, and is justified only when there is a clear record of willful conduct showing deliberate and continuing disregard for the court’s authority and there is also a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposition. On remand, the circuit court should conduct a new hearing on this question, utilizing these standards.

      The second part of the certified question asked whether the complaint amendment to show the birth name related back to the filing date of the original complaint so as to avoid a limitations dismissal. The appellate court viewed the original complaint as null and void and, thus, found that the amended pleading with the birth name could not relate back to it, and that a limitations dismissal was called for. On this issue, the supreme court reversed the appellate court because the cause of action asserted in the amended complaint “grew out of the same transaction or occurrence” as in the original timely complaint. The relation-back doctrine is not barred here because a person may be named in legal proceedings by his or her generally known name, and it cannot be said that a cause of action is per se null and void if a person files a complaint using a name other than his or her legal name. The appellate court erroneously determined that a complaint becomes a nullity solely for the reason that a plaintiff filed the complaint using a fictitious name without court approval.

      The cause was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.