Does the Legislative Amendment to the Statute of Limitations Permit Revival of Time-Barred Claims In ''serious'' Crimes Cases ?
In Sepmeyer v. Holman, 162 Ill. 2d 249, 642 N.E.2d 1242, 205 Ill. Dec. 125 (1994), the defendant was convicted of the murder of Esther Sepmeyer, and the administrator of her estate filed a wrongful death suit.
The circuit court dismissed the complaint because the statute of limitations had expired.
This court reversed in reliance upon a legislative amendment to the statute of limitations (Pub. Act 87-941, 1, eff. August 28, 1992 (amending Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 110, par. 13-202.1)), which explicitly revived time-barred claims against those convicted of murder or other serious felonies. Sepmeyer v. Holman, 246 Ill. App. 3d 255, 615 N.E.2d 1387, 186 Ill. Dec. 330 (1993).
The statutory language at issue was quite plain in its intent:
"This Section shall be applied retroactively and shall revive causes of actions which otherwise may have been barred under limitations provisions in effect prior to the enactment and/or effect of the act." 735 ILCS 5/13-202.1(c) (West 1992).
The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, citing its "established line of cases that have found a defense based on the expiration of the statute of limitation to be a 'vested right' protected by the Illinois Constitution and beyond legislative interference." Sepmeyer, 162 Ill. 2d at 253, 642 N.E.2d at 1244.
The court noted that it had uniformly held for more than 100 years that the legislature may not "breathe life into a time-barred claim." Sepmeyer, 162 Ill. 2d at 254, 642 N.E.2d at 1244.
Additionally, the court noted that immunity from suit that arises from the expiration of a statute of limitation is a valuable substantive right. Sepmeyer, 162 Ill. 2d at 255, 642 N.E.2d at 1245 (relying on Board of Education of Normal School District v. Blodgett, 155 Ill. 441, 449, 40 N.E. 1025, 1027 (1895)).
Finally, the court recognized that its decision produced a harsh result, but the court stated:
"That is, however, the nature of statutes of limitations.
Our precedent has declared a vested defense based on the expiration of the statute of limitations to be protected by our due process clause and beyond legislative interference." Sepmeyer, 162 Ill. 2d at 256, 642 N.E.2d at 1245.