On September 11, 2017, the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District reaffirmed that plaintiffs must strictly adhere to 735 ILCS 5/2-203 if they wish to seek alternative service of process on a defendant. In Thompson v. Braggs, et. al. 2017 IL App (1st) 161329, the First District was tasked with determining whether the trial court correctly denied a motion by the defendant to quash service against her, which was effectuated by serving the Defendant by publication and by posting at her last known address—a method of “alternative service.” According to the First District, because the Plaintiff did not “strictly comply with section 2-203.1 of the code, he was not entitled to serve [the defendant] by mailing and posting a copy of the summons and complaint.” Thompson, 2017 IL App (1st) 161329 at ¶ 20. The First District looked to the controlling statute and interpreting case law to reverse the trial court’s decision. In sum, the First District concluded, “[t]aken together, section 2-203.1 of the Code, Mugavero [v. Kenzler, 317 Ill. App. 3d 162 (2000)], and Sutton [v. Ekong, 2013 IL App (1st) 121975] require a plaintiff seeking leave of court to serve a defendant through alternative service to present an affidavit that demonstrates the diligent efforts plaintiff made to reasonably ascertain the whereabouts of the defendant to be served and to explain that those efforts were unsuccessful.” Id. at ¶18.
Here, plaintiff’s affidavit was lacking. Despite having already received an affidavit from the defendant that she lived at a certain address, the plaintiff’s affidavit never averred that it attempted to serve the defendant at that location. Id. ¶¶ 6-9. Rather, the plaintiff conducted his own search and attempted to serve the defendant at a different address. Id. at ¶8. It was only after the trial court gave him leave to serve the defendant by alternative means that the plaintiff attempted to serve the defendant at this certain address. Id. at ¶9.
Lesson learned: before seeking to invoke 735 ILCS 5/2-203 to effectuate service on a defendant who appears to be impractical to serve, plaintiffs must incorporate all known information about the defendant into their service attempts, and diligently attempt to serve. And even when they have done so, plaintiffs must provide the trial court with a detailed affidavit that evinces this diligence. If plaintiffs fail to do so, their attempts to serve by alternative means will fail and their ability to seek justice will stall.
A full copy of the opinion can be found at: https://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2017/1stDistrict/1161329.pdf
— Ryan M. Griffin