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Powers v. Delnor Hospital





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. James F. Quetsch, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal from dismissal of two counts of plaintiff Carmel Powers' complaint against defendants Delnor Hospital, Sandy Fitzmaurice, and Shirley Smith. Therefore, the facts set forth in that complaint are accepted as true for purposes of review.

Carmel Powers was employed by Delnor Hospital, one of the three defendants, in its emergency department from October 6, 1980, until April 25, 1983. Powers' supervisor starting in January 1982 was another of the defendants, Sandy Fitzmaurice, head nurse of the emergency department. Fitzmaurice's supervisor was the third defendant, Shirley Smith, director of nursing at the hospital. Finally, Jack Taft, the hospital's chief administrator, set policy and oversaw all personnel at Delnor Hospital.

Until October 1982 all of the evaluations of Carmel Powers' performance were satisfactory. In October of 1982, February of 1983 and on March 28, 1983, Ms. Powers received an unsatisfactory performance evaluation and two disciplinary action notices, each of which contained misstatements and lies. Attempts to correct the falsehoods by means of the problem solving procedures set forth in the hospital's employee handbook were either unsuccessful or met with no action.

On April 25, 1983, Carmel Powers was told by Fitzmaurice and Smith that she was being discharged because of her dissatisfaction with the hospital and the department. In the written notice of termination the reason was stated:

"The continuous dissatisfaction that Carmel has indicated in both written communication and verbally, regarding personell [sic] policies and procedures as well as the continued friction and tension caused within the department because of her expressed attitudes and feelings about the nursing profession and her peers make continued employment impossible."

The notice was sent to Jack Taft and was approved by him.

Carmel Powers filed a four-count complaint in connection with her discharge, naming Delnor Hospital, Sandy Fitzmaurice and Shirley Smith as defendants. Count I alleged that Fitzmaurice and Smith intentionally interfered with Powers' employment contract with Delnor Hospital; count II alleged that Sandy Fitzmaurice had slandered Carmel Powers in the notice of termination; count III alleged that Delnor Hospital had wrongfully discharged Ms. Powers; count IV alleged, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982), that Delnor Hospital had violated Ms. Powers' civil rights.

The defendants moved to strike and dismiss the complaint, alleging each count to be deficient in one or more respects. The circuit court heard the motion and dismissed counts I, III and IV. The circuit court denied Carmel Powers' subsequent motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of counts I and III. Powers appeals, contending that counts I (intentional interference with a contract) and III (wrongful discharge) were sufficient to state causes of action or, alternatively, that leave to amend the complaint should have been granted.

At issue in this case are the legal sufficiency of counts I and III of the complaint and the circuit court's denial of leave to amend those counts after ruling them insufficient. Under count I the legal sufficiency question turns on whether the allegations made were sufficient to state a recognized cause of action, intentional interference with a contract, and under count III the legal sufficiency question turns on whether to recognize a new cause of action for wrongful discharge. Because the considerations under each count differ significantly, they will be discussed separately.

With respect to count I, the governing law is well established, though its application to a particular case is not always clear. The drafter of a complaint must strike a balance between the inclusion of too little and too much factual detail. If too little factual detail is included, the complaint is objectionable for stating conclusions. (Pfendler v. Anshe Emet Day School (1980), 81 Ill. App.3d 818, 822, 401 N.E.2d 1094, 1096.) On the other hand, if too much detail is included the complaint improperly pleads evidence. (O'Brien v. Matual (1957), 14 Ill. App.2d 173, 144 N.E.2d 446.) What the drafter must plead are ultimate facts. (Ingram v. Little Company of Mary Hospital (1982), 108 Ill. App.3d 456, 459, 438 N.E.2d 1194, 1196.) It is not always easy to differentiate between conclusions, ultimate facts and evidence for pleading purposes, in part because the law takes the pragmatic view that the classification of an allegation is to some extent dependent upon the context of the particular case in which it is made. Van Dekerkhov v. City of Herrin (1972), 51 Ill.2d 374, 376, 282 N.E.2d 723, 725; Ingram v. Little Company of Mary Hospital (1982), 108 Ill. App.3d 456, 459, 438 N.E.2d 1194, 1196.

• 1, 2 As with all pleadings, a court must liberally construe a complaint so as to do substantial justice between the parties. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-603(c).) A motion to dismiss a complaint admits as true all properly pleaded facts and should not be granted unless it clearly appears from the pleadings that the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover under any set of facts which could be proved. Fitzgerald v. Chicago Title & Trust Co. (1978), 72 Ill.2d 179, 187, 380 N.E.2d 790, 794.

• 3 Count I of the complaint was intended to allege an intentional interference with the contract of employment between Carmel Powers and Delnor Hospital by Sandy Fitzmaurice and Shirley Smith, two other of Delnor Hospital's employees. The elements of the tort are: (1) existence of a valid and enforceable contract, (2) knowledge of the contract by the defendant, (3) intentional and malicious inducement by the defendants of a breach of the contract, (4) breach of the contract caused by the wrongful conduct of the defendants, and (5) resulting damages to the plaintiff. (Ramsey v. Greenwald (1980), 91 Ill. App.3d 855, 862, 414 N.E.2d 1266, 1272.) The action will lie where the contract involved is one of employment terminable at will (Kemper v. Worcester (1982), 106 Ill. App.3d 121, 125, 435 N.E.2d 827, 830), and it will lie against a co-employee (Ramsey v. Greenwald (1980), 91 Ill. App.3d 855, 414 N.E.2d 1266), though the co-employee may be able to assert a qualified privilege as an affirmative defense (see Ramsey v. Greenwald (1980), 91 Ill. App.3d 855, 863, 414 N.E.2d 1266, 1272-73).

• 4 The defendants contend that the complaint neither alleged that Fitzmaurice and Smith intentionally and maliciously induced Delnor Hospital's breach of the contract nor alleged facts from which such intentional and malicious inducement could be inferred. To the extent the complaint addresses itself to this element of the tort, it ...

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