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Published by Jake Leahy

Different Reasons for Denying Equitable Tolling: A Comparative Analysis of Arellano v. McDonough and City of Rockford v. Gilles

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Romain Dancre, Unsplash
January 23, 2023

City of Rockford v. Gilles, 2022 IL App (2d) 210521

Arellano v. McDonough, U.S., No. 21-432 (January 23, 2023)


The first case decided in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 term is Arellano v. McDonough, a unanimous decision authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In its opinion, the Supreme Court denied a veteran’s disability benefit application due to missing the one year statutory deadline. The Court ruled that equitable tolling was not available to remedy the missed deadline, primarily due to the fact that Congress included 16 different exceptions to the statutory period, which does not include equitable tolling.

This case comes a couple of months after the Illinois Appellate Court ruled on City of Rockford v. Gilles, a case where the court denied a Colorado physician’s equitable tolling claim. Dr. Gilles’ property had been foreclosed on by the City due to his failure to pay over 15 years of assessments, which were less than $12,000 total. The court found that equitable tolling was not available, in part due to his failure to act diligently upon learning of the property sale.


In a recent case, City of Rockford v. Gilles, the Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled on an issue concerning the application of the doctrine of equitable tolling to a section 2-1401 petition filed by the plaintiff, Dr. Gilles. The court held that even if the doctrine of equitable tolling were a recognized reason to extend the deadline for filing a section 2-1401 petition, it would not be applicable to the facts of this case.

The court found that Gilles’s affidavit, which he submitted in support of his petition, was vague and did not demonstrate that he had been diligent in filing it. The affidavit did not explain why Gilles waited until the summer of 2020 to search the Winnebago County Treasurer’s office website to determine why he was no longer listed as the owner of the property. Additionally, the affidavit did not indicate on what day he did his search of the treasurer’s website or when he contacted his attorneys and asked them to start investigating. The court held that these shortcomings in the affidavit alone prevent Gilles from obtaining any equitable relief. While not central to the court’s analysis, the court also noted that the affidavit was unsigned.

The court also noted that even if the affidavit was not vague, Gilles would not be entitled to any relief. Gilles asserted that he knew already “on or about September 2, 2020,” that the City was listed as the owner of the property rather than him. At this point, he had ample notice that there was a problem with his ownership of the property. Based on that notice, he should have immediately contacted the City or filed his section 2-1401 petition to regain possession of the property. Instead of doing that, however, he initiated a title search that confirmed what he already knew—that he no longer owned the property. Unfortunately, he did not receive this confirmation until his time for filing his section 2-1401 petition had already passed.


In contrast, the United States Supreme Court ruled today on its first case of this term, in the case of Arellano v. McDonough, which concerns the effective date of an award of disability compensation to a veteran of the United States military. The case reviews whether Section 5110(b)(1) of the United States Code, which governs the effective date of an award of disability compensation to a veteran of the United States military, is subject to equitable tolling. The court held that Section 5110(b)(1) is not subject to equitable tolling. The court based its decision on the language and structure of the statute. The statute includes an exhaustive list and that each exception should be confined to its specific terms, and that equitably tolling this provision would depart from the terms that Congress “specifically provided.”


In summary, while both cases involve the application of the doctrine of equitable tolling, the court in City of Rockford v. Gilles denied the application of the doctrine due to the plaintiff’s lack of diligence and failure to timely file his petition, while the court in Arellano v. McDonough denied the application of the doctrine due to the language and structure of the statute, which indicate that Congress did not intend for the exception to be subject to equitable tolling.


Equitable tolling has long been a high bar, which is difficult to reach. While the Illinois standard is slightly different than the one adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court, they are still largely similar. The Illinois rule requires “(1) the existence of a meritorious claim or defense, (2) due diligence in presenting that claim or defense in the underlying action, and (3) due diligence in presenting the section 2-1401 petition.” Cavitt v. Repel, 2015 IL App (1st) 133382, ¶ 46. Here, the Supreme Court adopts a standard which allows the statute of limitations to be tolled only when the party (1.) “has pursued his rights diligently” but there exists, (2.) “some extraordinary circumstance prevents him from bringing a timely action.” Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez, 572 U. S. 1, 10 (2014).

In reality, while the above rules vary in their language, the requirements can be read to be largely the same. While these cases involve quite different contexts, they both demonstrate an important backdrop when it comes to equitable tolling claims.

The Supreme Court’s opinion seems more open to the notion that the harshness of denying equitable tolling to a disabled veteran warrants equitable tolling, however the fact that Congress specifically includes 16 exceptions in the law seems to be the nail in the coffin. Justice Shostok’s effective, blunt, and to-the-point Concurrence makes clear that it is the plain reality of statutory deadlines that they are “harsh.” But the reality is that there needs to be some sort of finality to litigation or claims.

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