Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon.
Reginald J. Holzer, Judge, presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendant, Mary Monhart, appeals from the decision of the circuit court of Cook County entering judgment in the amount of $107,988.25 in favor of plaintiff, Helene Sadacca, in her action to quiet title to certain real estate. On appeal, Monhart claims that (1) Sadacca presented insufficient evidence of forgery to overcome the presumption that a duly acknowledged deed is valid; (2) the trial court erred in refusing to impose a constructive trust in Monhart's favor on certain funds received by Sadacca; (3) the trial court erred in discharging the administrator of Albert Sadacca's estate; and (4) entry of a money judgment in favor of Sadacca was error because there was no privity between the parties and no breach of duty by Monhart.
We reverse the decision of the trial court.
Testimony at trial established that on May 9, 1980, Mary Monhart and her husband entered into a contract with Albert Sadacca, husband of plaintiff Helene Sadacca, to purchase the Sadaccas' condominium unit located at 175 East Delaware, Chicago (the John Hancock Building), for $255,000. Although the Sadaccas held the unit in joint tenancy, Albert alone had signed the real estate listing agreement and the contract of sale.
Since 1960, while Albert lived in Chicago, Helene maintained as her residence a condominium unit in Miami, Florida. Originally, Helene came to Chicago for six months of each year, but for the five years prior to this action she was too ill to leave Florida. During this period, Albert usually sent Helene a monthly allowance of $3,500.
At the closing of the sale in June 1980, Kenneth Jacobson, the Monharts' attorney, turned over the balance of the purchase price, $215,976.59, and received in exchange a deed, on its face executed by Albert and Helene and acknowledged by Morris Goldman, Albert's attorney. Jacobson testified that the entire purchase price was paid to Albert because Goldman had verbally instructed him to have the check made out to Albert alone.
Albert then deposited $15,976.59 in his checking account and purchased a $200,000 short-term certificate of deposit with the balance of the sale proceeds. He subsequently cashed the certificate of deposit and, over a period of five months, purchased successively smaller certificates while depositing the balance in his checking account. He also sent Helene $3,500 in each of the five months following the sale. On December 4, 1980, when Albert died, a $100,000 certificate of deposit remained, which was cashed by the administrator of Albert's estate at the direction of the court in order to give Helene a $75,000 widow's award.
When Helene discovered the purported sale of the Hancock Building unit during an examination of Albert's papers, she brought an action to quiet title to the property, claiming that she had not signed the deed, that her signature had been forged, and that she had received no consideration, and asserting title to the unit as the surviving joint tenant of Albert. Mary counterclaimed for the imposition of a constructive trust on funds received by Helene and entry of judgment in Mary's favor against the administrator of Albert's estate for $120,738.30, one-half the net value of the sale proceeds, for Albert's breach of contract in not conveying full title. Originally, Mary had filed her claim against Albert's estate in the probate division, but she joined the administrator as a defendant in her counterclaim after Helene filed her quiet title action in chancery.
At trial, Donald Doud, an examiner of questioned documents, testified that Helene could not be identified as having signed the deed and that he felt very strongly that she had not. However, he could not positively identify Albert as the person who had signed Helene's name, although Albert's writing was more compatible with the forged signature than was Helene's.
The majority of the testimony of both Helene and Morris Goldman, Albert's attorney and the notary who had acknowledged the deed, was presented through evidence depositions. According to Helene, she had known Goldman for over 10 years, and he had been a dinner guest of the Sadaccas. She maintained that she had never come to Chicago during the period of time surrounding the sale and had never signed any deed.
Goldman, in contrast, stated that he did not know Helene well, that he had seen her only a few times, and that when he suggested to Albert that the deed be sent to Helene in Florida for her acknowledged signature, Albert had told him that Helene was coming to Chicago and would sign the deed when she arrived. According to Goldman, when he arrived at the Sadacca's apartment, he was shown into the bedroom because Helene was in bed, and he had her sign the deed there.
Goldman's evidence deposition was further contradicted by Jerome Zurla, administrator of Albert's estate. Zurla testified that when he called Goldman to inform him of Helene's allegation that her signature on the deed had been forged, Goldman said, "Oh, my God. The old man just handed me the document, and I notarized it." To Zurla's question, "Did you see Mrs. Sadacca?" Goldman replied, "No. I just took it for granted that she signed it, and I just notarized it. I think I'm in a lot of trouble." Zurla further testified that he knew from his personal knowledge that Helene was not in Chicago during June and July of 1980.
Following the close of testimony, the trial court found that Albert had signed a warranty deed that also contained a forged signature purporting to be that of Helene; that Albert had received the net amount of $215,976.59 as sale proceeds; that Helene knew nothing of the sale and had received none of her share of the consideration, $107,988.25; that Albert had severed the joint tenancy and had conveyed his interest to Mary, whereupon Mary and Helene became tenants in common; that Mary's claim against Albert's estate for the $127,500 half interest would best be disposed of in the probate court; that Mary's request for repayment from Helene of all sums Helene recovered or may yet recover from Albert's estate was unfounded in law; and that equity required that Mary be awarded clear title to the real estate upon her payment to Helene of an amount equal to the fair value of Helene's interest in the property. Judgment was thereupon entered in favor of ...