The Authority to Summarily Dismiss a Section 2-1401 Petition In Illinois
In People v. Bramlett, 347 Ill. App. 3d 468, 472-73, 806 N.E.2d 1251, 1254-55, 282 Ill. Dec. 663 (4th Dist. 2004), the Fourth District found that, despite the fact that there is no explicit authorization for summary dismissal in section 2-1401, the trial court nevertheless has the power to dismiss a section 2-1401 petition, which derives from the trial court's "'inherent authority to control its courtrooms and its dockets'" and its "'corollary authority to utilize its discretion in dealing with 'professional litigants' who inappropriately burden the court system with nonmeritorious litigation, stemming from their unhappiness as DOC inmates.'" Bramlett, 347 Ill. App. 3d at 472, 806 N.E.2d at 1254 (quoting Mason v. Snyder, 332 Ill. App. 3d 834, 842, 774 N.E.2d 457, 463-64, 266 Ill. Dec. 351 (2002)).
In People v. Taylor, 349 Ill. App. 3d 718, 720, 812 N.E.2d 581, 583, 285 Ill. Dec. 761 (1st Dist. 2004) the First District affirmed the summary dismissal of the defendant's section 2-1401 motion.
The court did not decide the question whether in every case the trial court has the authority to summarily dismiss a section 2-1401 motion but, rather, differed with the court in Pearson on whether such a dismissal could be considered harmless error if the defendant's petition was clearly without merit. Taylor, 349 Ill. App. 3d at 720, 812 N.E.2d at 583-84.
The court reasoned that the defendant was not prejudiced by the dismissal, because the petition was clearly frivolous, and would have been dismissed even if the defendant had been afforded notice and an opportunity to be heard, and that a reversal and remand would have "little remedial effect and would only delay dismissal." Taylor, 349 Ill. App. 3d at 721, 812 N.E.2d at 584.
In contrast to Taylor, the court in People v. Anderson, 352 Ill. App. 3d 934, 947, 817 N.E.2d 1000, 1011, 288 Ill. Dec. 350 (1st Dist. 2004) found explicitly that it was error for the trial court to summarily dismiss a section 2-1401 motion.
The court agreed that it was "unfair for a litigant to be deprived of notice of the proposed dismissal of his action and an opportunity to respond, whether the dismissal is initiated by another litigant or a court." Anderson, 352 Ill. App. 3d at 942, 817 N.E.2d at 1006-07.
Nevertheless, the court found that it was appropriate to apply the harmless error doctrine and affirm the dismissal.
In reaching this conclusion, the court agreed with the court in Taylor that in cases where the defendant's pleading is incurably deficient and eventual dismissal is inevitable, "further proceedings in the trial court 'would have little remedial effect and would only delay dismissal.'" Anderson, 352 Ill. App. 3d at 948, 817 N.E.2d at 1011, quoting Taylor, 349 Ill. App. 3d at 721, 812 N.E.2d at 584.