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Ogle v. Fuiten





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fourth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County, the Hon. Richard J. Cadigan, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiffs, James Elvin Ogle and Leland W. Ogle, initiated this action in the circuit court of Sangamon County against defendants, Lorraine Fuiten, as executrix of the estate of William F. Fuiten, and Robert G. Heckenkamp, who, under the name of Heckenkamp and Fuiten, had been associated with William F. Fuiten in the practice of law. In a two-count complaint plaintiffs alleged that William F. Fuiten had negligently drafted wills for Oscar H. Smith and Alma I. Smith, respectively an uncle and aunt of plaintiffs, and alternatively, that Fuiten failed to properly perform his contract with the Smiths to fulfill their testamentary intentions, and in so doing, failed to benefit the plaintiffs. Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. The circuit court allowed the motion, and plaintiffs appealed. The appellate court reversed and remanded (112 Ill. App.3d 1048), and we allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal (87 Ill.2d R. 315).

The appellate court summarized the allegations contained in the complaint as follows:

"Count I essentially alleges: (1) Testators employed defendant Fuiten and the law firm of Heckenkamp and Fuiten to prepare wills in accordance with the testators' intentions; (2) the wills were prepared; (3) neither testator intended their property to devolve by the law of intestate succession; (4) it was their intention that their property be left to plaintiffs if neither testator survived the other by 30 days; (5) this contingency occurred; (6) Fuiten owed plaintiffs the duty of ascertaining the testators' intentions in all foreseeable events and to draft wills which would effectuate these intentions; (7) Fuiten breached this duty and negligently drafted the subject wills; and (8) plaintiffs suffered damage as a direct result of this breach.

Count II essentially alleges the first five allegations noted above and additionally alleges: (6) the purpose of the employment of Fuiten and the firm was to draft wills not only for the benefit of testators, but for the benefit of these plaintiffs; (7) Fuiten and the firm were paid the agreed consideration under the employment agreement; (8) Fuiten and the firm knew plaintiffs were intended beneficiaries of the wills and the employment agreement; (9) Fuiten and the firm had agreed to draft wills leaving the property to plaintiffs in the event neither testator survived the other by 30 days; (10) Fuiten breached this agreement in that the wills failed to fulfill the testators' intentions; and (11) plaintiffs suffered foreseeable, direct damage as a consequence of this breach." 112 Ill. App.3d 1048, 1053.

The wills of Oscar H. Smith and Alma I. Smith contained the following provisions:

"`SECOND: I give, devise and bequeath all of my estate, real, personal and mixed wheresoever situated to my wife, ALMA I. SMITH, if she [my husband, OSCAR H. SMITH, if he] shall survive me within thirty (30) days from the date of my death.

THIRD: I direct that if my wife, ALMA I. SMITH, [my husband, OSCAR H. SMITH] and I die in or from a common disaster that my estate be equally divided between my nephews, JAMES ELVIN OGLE, and LELAND OGLE, share and share alike.'" (In re Estate of Smith (1979), 68 Ill. App.3d 30, 31.)

These wills were construed in In re Estate of Smith (1979), 68 Ill. App.3d 30, and it was held that because Oscar Smith died suddenly of a stroke on April 10, 1977, and his wife, Alma, died 15 days later from a lingering cancer illness, and neither will contained any other dispositive provisions, their estates passed by intestacy to persons other than plaintiffs.

Because the judgment appealed from was entered upon allowance of defendants' motion to dismiss, all facts properly pleaded in the complaint must be taken as true. (Acorn Auto Driving School, Inc. v. Board of Education (1963), 27 Ill.2d 93, 96.) A cause of action should not be dismissed on the pleadings unless it clearly appears that no set of facts can be proved which will entitle plaintiffs to recover. Fitzgerald v. Chicago Title & Trust Co. (1978), 72 Ill.2d 179; Fechtner v. Lake County Savings & Loan Association (1977), 66 Ill.2d 128; Edgar County Bank & Trust Co. v. Paris Hospital, Inc. (1974), 57 Ill.2d 298, 305; Winnett v. Winnett (1974), 57 Ill.2d 7, 13; Miller v. DeWitt (1967), 37 Ill.2d 273, 287-88.

Conceding that under Pelham v. Griesheimer (1982), 92 Ill.2d 13, privity is not a prerequisite to an action by a non-client against an attorney, defendants argue that the complaint fails to allege a duty owed plaintiffs. They argue that the only duty owed by defendants was to provide each testator "with a valid testamentary instrument that disposes of the testators' property at his death in the manner expressly stated in his will." They argue that to permit persons unnamed in the will, or persons named with a precondition which fails to occur, to bring an action against the attorney "creates an unlimited and unknown class of potential plaintiffs." They contend, too, that in order to recover from an attorney, a non-client must allege and prove "that the primary purpose and intent of the attorney-client relationship itself was to benefit or influence the third party." (92 Ill.2d 13, 21.) Defendants argue that under this "intent to directly benefit" test, plaintiffs' cause fails because the testators' intent, as defined in the will-construction action, shows that plaintiffs were to benefit only under certain circumstances which did not occur. Thus, defendants contend, the intent of the testators to benefit plaintiffs is not, as required by Pelham, "clearly evident."

Also citing Pelham, plaintiffs contend that they have alleged facts which show that the testators, in obtaining the services of the defendants in the preparations of the wills, intended to "directly benefit" plaintiffs and that, as held by the appellate court, they have stated a cause of action in both counts of the complaint.

In support of their argument that the complaint states a cause of action, plaintiffs cite a number of cases from other jurisdictions. In Heyer v. Flaig (1969), 70 Cal.2d 223, 449 P.2d 161, 74 Cal.Rptr. 225, an attorney was employed to draft a will, passing the client's entire estate to her daughters, but negligently failed to include a provision in the will specifically excluding the client's fiance. The client then married and thereafter died without changing her will. As a post-testamentary spouse, her husband claimed a portion of the estate. The California Supreme Court held the attorney liable to the daughters for failing to ...

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