Appellate court held that mandamus petition could not be dismissed sua sponte

The appellant in Williams v. Dorethy, 2019 IL App (3d) 180135 appealed the decision of the trial court dismissing his mandamus petition sua sponte, on the grounds the court erred in doing so. Ultimately, the Third District reversed the trial court and remanded.

Keith Williams filed a pro se request for leave to file a mandamus petition against the defendants related to various violations and/or abuses of prison policies by HCC administration and staff, while incarcerated. Id. at ¶ 3. Two days later, the trial court allowed the petition to be filed, but dismissed the petition prior to any of the named defendants being served. Id. at ¶ 4. The trial court, in its order dismissing the petition, stated “your petition is an amalgamation of every complaint that you have against the Department of Corrections, against the Judgement of Conviction… and really countless other grievances, none of which touch on the simple 4 requirements of a Mandamus complaint.” Id. at ¶ 4. Williams appealed.

On appeal, Williams argued that the trial court erred in its dismissal of his mandamus petition. Id. at ¶ 7. The appellate court noted that “mandamus is an extraordinary remedy appropriate to enforce as a matter of public right the performance of official duties by a public officer where no exercise of discretion on his part is involved.” Id. at ¶ 9. The court further noted that provisions on mandamus contained in the Code of Civil Procedure provide a framework for trial courts to follow once a mandamus petition has been filed. Id. at ¶ 9. The court identified a previous case, Carroll v. Akpore, 2014 IL App (3d) 130731, with virtually identical circumstances, which addressed the question of whether a circuit court can sua sponte dismiss a mandamus petition. Id. at ¶ 10. Notably, the Carroll court held that the mandamus provisions in the Code did not provide for “summary dismissal” of the petition, ruled that the trial court erred in its sua sponte dismissal of the plaintiff’s petition, and remanded for service of the petition on the defendants. Id. at ¶ 11. The court concluded that despite the fact that a petition may lack merit, the trial court is not permitted to disregard the procedural framework provided in the Code. Id. at ¶ 11.

The appellate court stated that they should reach the same outcome as the court did in Carroll, noting that the trial court failed to follow the clear statutory procedure contained in the Code. Id. at ¶ 12. As such, the Third District ultimately determined that the trial court erred when it sua sponte dismissed Williams’ petition. Id. at ¶ 12. The judgement of the Circuit Court of Knox County was reversed and remanded. Id. at ¶ 15.

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