Civil practice

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Author: Revisions by Cathy Schneider, CARPLS; Recent Revisions by Andrew Tessman, Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C.
Last updated: August 2015


Actions are commenced by the filing of a Complaint. 735 ILCS 5/2-201. A Complaint sets forth who the parties are, and advises the Court and opposing parties of the plaintiff’s cause of action. The Complaint must use clear and concise language and contain a prayer for relief. See generally, Article II, Part 6 of the IL Code of Civil Procedure, but more specifically 735 ILCS 5/2-601 through 2-614.

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Original Service on Individuals

Personal and Substitute

In most types of civil actions, service can be made by the Sheriff or a Court-appointed process server. In Cook County, original service must be by the Sheriff. 735 ILCS 5/2-202. Service of summons shall be made by leaving a copy with the defendant personally (personal service), or by leaving copy at the defendant's residence with a family member or person residing there of at least age 13, with information as to its contents, and then sending a copy by mail (substitute service). 735 ILCS 5/2-203.

Small Claim

(Ill. Supreme Court Rules 281-289) In addition to traditional forms of service, in a small claim case, service within the state may be by certified or registered mail. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 284. The Rules define a small claim as one seeking damages of $10k or less, excluding interest and costs. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 281.


Service by publication is authorized in claims “affecting property or status within the jurisdiction of the court, including an action to obtain the specific performance, reformation, or rescission of a contract for the conveyance of land," and where the defendant resides out of state or cannot be found on due inquiry, and after notice has been sent to the defendant’s last known address. 735 ILCS 5/2-206. The defendant may be defaulted after 3 successive weekly publications in a newspaper published in the county in which the action is pending. 735 ILCS 5/2-207. Service by publication is also allowed in Forcible Entry and Detainer actions under certain circumstances. 735 ILCS 5/9-107, Constructive Service.

Special Court Order

Upon Motion, a court may order service by some other special means where the plaintiff can show what attempts have been made to find the defendant, and what makes service under Section 2-203 impractical.

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Objections to Jurisdiction over Person

If service is improper, the defendant must file a motion to quash service of process before filing any other pleading, except for a motion for extension of time. The motion must be supported by an affidavit, unless the facts that constitute the basis for the objection are apparent from the papers on file. This motion is made only to object to jurisdiction over the person.


Warning: If defendant argues the case at all prior to objecting to personal jurisdiction, the defendant has submitted to personal jurisdiction. The defendant should insist on a ruling on the jurisdictional issue. If the ruling is denied, the defendant may walk out and appeal, or the defendant may proceed with defending the case. If the motion to quash is granted, the defendant can leave and the plaintiff will have to issue another summons, called an alias summons, and attempt proper service all over. 735 ILCS 5/2-301Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 103, 201.

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A written appearance shall be filed within 30 days after service, unless the summons requires an appearance on a specified day. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 181. The court will require a fee to file an appearance.

The addition of subsection (6) to Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 13(c) now allows an attorney to file a limited appearance on behalf of her client, referred to as Notice of Limited Scope Appearance, if she is providing unbundled services. There is a form notice attached to the Rule and the attorney must specify to which part or parts of the proceeding the limited scope appearance shall apply. Subsection (7) to Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 13(c) details how the attorney withdraws the appearance.

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If the defendant is required to file a written Answer to the Complaint, then the Answer must be filed within a specified period of time, which is determined by the type of case. The defendant's Answer may be due as early as the date for the filing of the Appearance, or it may be due 10 days after the deadline for filing the Appearance, or it may be due by a date set, or extended by the judge. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 181. A party who appears without having been served with summons is required to plead within the same time as if served with summons on the day he appears. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 13(b).

In the Answer, the defendant must admit or deny or state "insufficient knowledge to either admit or deny" to each statement in the Complaint. Every allegation not explicitly denied is deemed admitted. If the defendant states that he or she has insufficient knowledge to any portion of the Complaint, the defendant must attach an affidavit as to the truth of that statement. 735 ILCS 5/2-610.

The defendant may raise new matter by way of a defense in the Answer, known as an Affirmative Defense. An example might be Statute of Limitations. The Affirmative Defense should also have a prayer for relief. If the defendant raises new matter in an Affirmative Defense, the plaintiff must reply. 735 ILCS 5/2-602. See also 735 ILCS 5/2-613(d).

The defendant may also raise claims against one or more plaintiffs, or against one or more co-defendants. It shall be called a Counterclaim. The Counterclaim shall be part of the Answer. 735 ILCS 5/2-608.

Small Claim

(Ill. Supreme Court Rules 281-289) No Answer is required unless ordered by Court. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 286(a). The Rules define a small claim as one seeking damages of $10k or less, excluding interest and costs. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 181.


(Forcible Entry and Detainer) No answer is required unless ordered by Court. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 181(b)(2).

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Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of Answer

Defective Claims and Defenses

A Complaint may be dismissed because it is defective or due to some defense. The defects or defenses may be:

  •  Lack of subject matter jurisdiction
  •  Lack of legal capacity of plaintiff or defendant
  •  Another cause of action is pending between the same parties for the same cause
  •  Action barred by prior judgment
  •  Statute of Limitations
  •  Discharge in Bankruptcy
  •  Satisfied or Released Judgment
  •  Statute of Frauds
  •  Defendant is a minor or under other disability
  •  Claim barred by other affirmative matter (e.g., claim for rent where rent abated)

If the defective grounds do not appear on the face of the pleading attacked, the motion must be supported by affidavit. 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a).

Small Claim

(Ill. Supreme Court Rules 281-289) Only a Section 2-619 motion to dismiss and a motion pursuant to Section 5/2-1001 (Judge Substitution) of the Ill. Code of Civil Procedure are allowed without leave of Court. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 287. The Rules define a small claim as one seeking damages of $10k or less, excluding interest and costs. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 281.

Defective Pleadings

A Complaint may also be objected to if the pleading itself is defective. Examples of defective pleadings are:

  • The pleading is legally insufficient (e.g., no copy of alleged contract is attached);
  • The pleading requires more detail and definition;
  • The complaint contains immaterial matter which should be stricken;
  • Necessary parties should be added; or
  • Mis-joined parties should be dismissed.

The Motion must point out the specific defects. The relief sought must be stated, such as striking the pleading or a portion of a pleading or dismissing the Complaint. The Court may permit or require pleading over or may allow the plaintiff to amend its Complaint, or the Court may terminate the litigation in whole or in part. Other pleadings besides Complaints may be subject to Section 2-615 Motions to Dismiss, for example Answers, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaims. 735 ILCS 5/2-615.

Small Claim

(Ill. Supreme Court Rules 281-289) A Section 2-615 Motion to Dismiss would not be allowed, unless leave of court permitted it. Ill. Sup. Ct. 287. The Rules define a small claim as one seeking damages of $10k or less, excluding interest and costs. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 281.

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Summary Judgment

After the defendant has appeared or after the time for the defendant has appeared has expired, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter summary judgment, sometimes called judgment on the pleadings, by showing there is “no genuine issue of material fact” and therefore the plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff may seek this relief as to some or all of its claims. A defendant may also, at any time, move for a judgment in his favor as to all or any part of the relief sought. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005. See also Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 191.

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Form and Service of Papers Other Than the Complaint

All documents and pleadings shall be legible and titled properly (plaintiff’s name first). Also, the name, address, email address, and telephone number of the attorneys of record are necessary. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 131.

All pleadings shall be signed and addressed by a party or an attorney representing the party. Signatures indicate that the pleading has been made in good faith and that the pleading is not designed for any improper purpose. Abuse of this rule is grounds for court sanctions. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 137.

The addition of part (e) to Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 137, effective 7/1/13, allows an attorney to assist a pro se litigant with her pleadings without having to sign the pleading or file an appearance. The pro se litigant signs her own pleading.  The attorney may also rely on the self-represented person's representation of facts without further investigation by the attorney, unless the attorney knows that such representations are false. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 137(e).  If there is a limited scope appearance by an attorney, then all papers must be served on both that attorney and the party until either the attorney has withdrawn or the attorney's appearance automatically terminates under Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 13(c)(7)(ii)Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 11(e).

Pleadings other than the Complaint can be served on the attorney of record or the opposing party by personal delivery or by first class mail, postage prepaid. Service may also be by fax and e-mail. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 11(b)(5) and 11(b)(6) respectively. The listing of a designated e-mail address on documents or the use of e-mail service shall be deemed consent by that party or attorney to receive email service. Service by email may be rescinded. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 11(b)(6).  Pleadings must be served on all parties of record. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 11.

When service of a paper is required, proof of service shall be filed with the clerk. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 12.

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Continuances may be granted upon good cause shown, and at the Court’s discretion. 735 ILCS5/2-1007.

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Discovery is the mechanism by which the parties find out or discover what the other parties’ proof and defenses are in advance of trial. See generally Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 201 and 735 ILCS 5/3-1003.


Interrogatories are written questions propounded by one party and required to be answered by another party. Only 30 interrogatories are allowed, including sub-parts, unless the parties agree otherwise or the Court grants leave for more. All parties entitled to notice must be served with copies of the interrogatories. The Ill. Supreme Court has approved interrogatories for certain types of cases, and litigants are encouraged to use them when possible. These include: Motor Vehicle Interrogatories to a Plaintiff or to a Defendant; Matrimonial Interrogatories; Medical Malpractice Interrogatories to a Plaintiff or to a Defendant Doctor or Hospital. A party receiving interrogatories has 28 days to answer or object. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 213.

Requests to Produce

Any party may request that another party produce "documents, objects, or tangible things, or to permit access to real estate for the purpose of making inspections or surveys, or to disclose information calculated to lead to the discovery of the whereabouts of any of these items, whenever the nature, contents, or condition of such documents, objects, tangible things, or real estate is relevant to the subject matter of the action." The party propounding the request shall include the time when the responses shall be due, but not less than 28 days. The party receiving the request must produce the documents for copying in the fashion they are normally kept. The party receiving the request must "seasonably supplement" the request with responsive items that subsequently come into that party’s control. All parties entitled to notice must be served with a copy of any request served. An amendment effective July 1, 2014 permits parties to specify the form for producing electronically stored information. If the request does not specify the form of electronically stored information, a party may produce it in a form in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 214.

Requests to Admit

A party may serve a request that another party admit certain relevant facts are true or that certain relevant documents are genuine. The party receiving the request must admit or deny by sworn statement or object within 28 days of receiving the request, or the request will be deemed true. Only 30 requests are allowed, including sub-parts, unless the parties agree otherwise or the Court grants leave for more. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 216.


Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 202-207 and 210 Depositions are generally the oral examination of a person for the purpose of discovery. Depositions may also be taken for purposes of evidence for trial. If a deposition is noticed and it is not stated whether it is for discovery or evidence, it will be considered a discovery deposition. Depositions may not last longer than 3 hours, except by stipulation or good cause shown. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 206(d). Depositions may be recorded or taken remotely and electronically. Ill. Sup Ct. Rule 206(h) and (g). The party taking the deposition shall pay the fees related to taking the deposition. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 208. A deposition of a party is set by notice and a deposition of a non-party is set by subpoena. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 204(a)). Depositions are taken in the county where the deponent resides, works, or transacts business, but the plaintiff’s deposition may proceed in the county where the action is pending. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 203.

Compliance with Discovery

The parties must use reasonable efforts to resolve disputes over discovery, and only after counsel responsible for trial indicates that after personal contact with the opposing side that the dispute(s) cannot be resolved, may the parties seek redress from the Court. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 201(k). Participating in discovery waives that party’s right to object to the discovery. Discovery is generally not filed with the Court, but may be if required by local rules or by Court order. Sanctions for not complying with discovery can include staying the proceedings, debarring the filing of future pleadings, striking a claim or counterclaim or defense, debarring a witness from testifying or even a judgment. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 219.

Limited and Simplified Discovery in Certain Cases

All claims for $50,000 or less, or cases subject to Mandatory Arbitration, except Small Claims (claim for $10,000 or less), ordinance violations, matters seeking equitable relief and Family matters are subject to Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 222. Under the Rule, the parties must disclose the factual basis and legal theories for claims or defenses, the names of witnesses and people who have given statements, a calculation of damages and the location and description of documents or objects relevant to the claims or defenses. The disclosure must be within 120 days of the filing of a responsive pleading to the Complaint, Counter Complaint or Third Party Complaint and must be accompanied by an affidavit that the party has complied with the Rule.  Section "f" of the Rule sets forth the limitations to Discovery in these cases. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 222(f).

Small Claim

(Ill. Supreme Court Rules 281-289) No discovery is allowed in a small claim unless by leave of court. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 287. The Rules define a small claim as one seeking damages of $10k or less, excluding interest and costs. Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 281.

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Post-Trial Motions in Non-Jury Cases

A motion for re-hearing, modification, or re-trial may be filed within 30 days of the hearing. 735 ILCS 5/2-1203.

A motion filed in time stays the enforcement of the judgment. Otherwise, the judgment becomes final. Only the first post-judgment motion acts to stay enforcement of the judgment and to toll the time for filing an appeal. Once the first post-judgment motion is decided by the Court, the time periods for appeal and for any stay period begin to elapse. See also 735 ILCS 5/2-1401 Relief from Judgments.

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Default Judgment

A judgment by default may be entered if defendant fails to appear or plead. It may also be set aside or vacated if defendant files a motion within 30 days of the default judgment. 735 ILCS 5/2-1301.

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Relief from Judgments

Judgments may be set aside after 30 days and before 2 years under 735 ILCS 5/2-1401.

The purpose of the petition is to bring to the trial court’s attention facts not of record that if the Court had known, would have prevented the judgment. But the relief is not intended to excuse the party’s or his attorney’s negligence. To prevail on the petition for relief, the party seeking the relief must show the existence of a meritorious claim or defense and that party’s diligence in presenting the claim and filing the petition. The petition must be supported by affidavit.

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Enforcing Judgments – Supplementary Proceedings


Judgments are generally enforceable for seven years. 735 ILCS 5/12-108. But, judgments may be revived within 20 years of entry. 735 ILCS 5/2-1602.  Judgments for child support and civil judgments arising out of actions involving first degree murder or Class X Felonies do not have to be revived.  735 ILCS 5/2-1602(g).

Interest on Judgments

Generally, post judgment interest accrues at 9% per year on any unpaid judgment balance. 735 ILCS 5/12-109 and 735 ILCS 5/2-1303.

“A judgment creditor, or his or her successor in interest when that interest is made to appear of record, is entitled to prosecute supplementary proceedings for the purposes of examining the judgment debtor or any other person to discover assets or income of the debtor not exempt from the enforcement of the judgment, a deduction order or garnishment, and of compelling the application of non exempt assets or income discovered toward the payment of the amount due under the judgment.” See generally 735 ILCS 5/2-1402 and Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 277.

Personal Citation

The judgment creditor may command that the judgment debtor appear in Court to reveal, under oath, what assets he has, and also that he bring documentation regarding any assets held. The citation proceeding is commenced by service of a citation issued by the clerk. The defendant will get a citation ordering his appearance with a warning of possible arrest for failure to appear. Any person who receives a citation to discover assets should appear in court on the date and time noted, to testify about assets. If the judgment debtor doesn’t comply, ultimately the judgment creditor can ask the court to issue a warrant, or body attachment so that the creditor can be brought in by the Sheriff to respond to the Personal Citation, and to face possible contempt. 735 ILCS 5/2-1402 and Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 277.

Third Party Citation – non wages

The judgment creditor can issue a citation to a third party, like a bank, that might hold assets of the judgment debtor. The bank will freeze any assets that are not exempt and then there will be a hearing or return date on which the Court will decided if any non-exempt assets will be turned over to the creditor. 735 ILCS 5/12-701 et seq, Garnishment.

Third Party Citation – wage garnishment

The judgment creditor can also send a citation notice to the judgment debtor’s employer to discover if the judgment debtor has wages that are not exempt. The employer is required to answer an interrogatory about any wages paid and whether they are exempt. If a turnover of wages order is entered, the employer must calculate the amount of garnishable wages each pay period and turn them over to the judgment creditor. 735 ILCS 5/12-801 et seq, Wage Deductions.

Additional Citations

If there has been a prior supplementary proceeding with respect to the same judgment against the party, whether he is the judgment debtor or a third party, no further proceeding shall be commenced against him except by leave of court. The judgment creditor must show, pursuant to affadavit:

  • That there is reason to believe the party against whom the proceeding is sought to be commenced has property or income the creditor is entitled to reach, or, if a third party, is indebted to the judgment debtor;
  • That the existence of the property, income or indebtedness was not known to the judgment creditor during the pendency of any prior supplementary proceeding; and
  • That the additional supplementary proceeding is sought in good faith to discover assets and not to harass the judgment debtor or third party.

Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 277(a).

Exempt Assets

Generally the following assets are exempt from creditors: Take home pay up to $1,608.75 per month (this amount changes yearly); retirement; $15,000 of home equity; a car worth $2,400 or less; tools of trade worth $1,500 or less; up to $4,000 of any “other” property; student loan proceeds (20 USC 1095a(d)); social security income, disability benefits, pension, unemployment, public benefits, work comp, veteran’s benefits and support. 735 ILCS 5/12-1001; 735 ILCS 5/12-1006; 735 ILCS 5/12-901.

Release and Satisfaction

Once the judgment debtor has fully paid the judgment, the judgment creditor shall execute a Release and Satisfaction of Judgment. If the judgment creditor refuses, the debtor may petition the court for one. 735 ILCS 5/12-183.

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Waiver of Filing Fees

Fees and charges must be waived if a court finds that the party is an indigent person, as defined in the statute. 735 ILCS 5/5-105, Ill. Sup. Ct. Rule 298. The party must file an application with the court accompanied by an affidavit demonstrating an inability to pay based upon lack of income and resources.

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