Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 24, 2014

 

 

In re S.L., 2014 IL 115424

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (5th) 120271.

JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

In this Marion County case, a June 11, 2012 termination of a motherís parental rights was upheld despite a pleading defect resulting from the failure of the State to comply with a statutory provision. Parental rights were terminated under a statute permitting termination when the parent fails to make reasonable progress towards the return of the child during any nine-month period after the end of the initial nine-month period following an adjudication of neglect. Here the adjudication took place on November 29, 2007, and was based on an injurious environment. Prior to these proceedings, in 2006, a statutory amendment had provided that the State shall file and serve ďa pleading that specifies the 9-month period or periods relied on *** no later than 3 weeks before the date *** for closing discovery.Ē In this case, the State never did plead or file a separate notice specifying the particular nine-month period or periods on which it was relying. However, the mother made no objection in the trial court, raising this issue for the first time in her appeal. She alleged there that this defect constituted a failure to state a cause of action. The appellate court agreed with her. It found no forfeiture in her failure to raise this matter earlier, and reversed the circuit courtís unfitness finding. The State appealed.

In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court characterized what the State had failed to do as a pleading error which did not constitute failure to state a cause of action. It is apparent from the record that the parties proceeded as though all of the nine-month periods after the initial one were relevant, and the mother defended against all of those periods. She did not indicate any specific harm or prejudice to her as a result of the Stateís failure to name specific time periods, nor any surprise or hindrance in the preparation of her defense. Under the law of civil procedure, which governs such cases, the issue was forfeited for failure to raise it in the trial court, where the defect could have been remedied earlier.

The circuit court was upheld on this issue and the appellate court was reversed.