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12/30/88 Darrell R. Williams, v. Miley E. Palmer Et Al.

December 30, 1988





532 N.E.2d 1061, 177 Ill. App. 3d 799, 127 Ill. Dec. 232 1988.IL.1950

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Robert E. Manning, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE SCOTT delivered the opinion of the court. BARRY and WOMBACHER, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Darrell R. Williams, appeals from the order of the circuit court of Peoria County, dated February 26, 1988, dismissing his two-count amended complaint with prejudice. Taken with this case on appeal are the motions of defendants Miley E. Palmer (Palmer) and The Central Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church (Conference) to dismiss appeal on the basis that plaintiff's cause of action abated due to his death on June 19, 1988.

Plaintiff was an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church and, prior to April 1984, served as pastor of Chillicothe United Methodist Church, Chillicothe, Illinois. He was subsequently assigned to churches in Bryant and White Chapel, Illinois. Defendant Conference is a voluntary unincorporated association of churches, headed by a bishop and having its offices in Springfield, Illinois. Defendant Palmer is a former district superintendent for the Conference's Peoria district.

Amended count I of plaintiff's complaint is directed against the Conference for breach of contract for failing to follow certain provisions set forth in a document entitled the "Book of Discipline" (Book). Count II of the complaint alleged that Palmer tortiously interfered with plaintiff's contractual rights. Both counts, being substantially similar in form, allege in part as follows: that plaintiff was employed, retained and in the service of the United Methodist Church at the time of the events alleged and had been for more than 30 years; that the Conference is governed by the "Book of Discipline" published with the authority of the United Methodist Church by its duly appointed officials; that the Book is considered to be the book of law and constitutes the material terms and conditions of the Conference's employment; that ministers of the United Methodist Church (Church) agree when entering its employ to perform in accordance with the requirements of the Book in exchange for agreement of the Church and Conference; that the Book sets forth specific processes and procedures to be employed in making appointments of ministers such as plaintiff, including the requirement of "consultation"; that during 1983 and years prior thereto, plaintiff served as pastor of Chillicothe United Methodist Church, fulfilling his duties in a good and proper manner; that Palmer's duties as superintendent of the Conference's Peoria district include preliminary determination of appointments of ministers and fulfillment of the consultation process; that despite plaintiff's good and satisfactory work in his appointment, he was notified by Palmer that he would be assigned to another post, which would constitute a severe demotion in terms of the number of church members, compensation and opportunity for service; that the Conference, by and through its agent Palmer, breached its contractual undertaking with plaintiff in said transfer and appointment in failing and refusing to afford him the process of consultation.

We first consider whether plaintiff's causes of action abated with his death. In this regard, the Illinois Survival Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110 1/2, par. 27-6) states:

"In addition to the actions which survive by the common law, the following also survive: actions of replevin, actions to recover damages for an injury to the person (except slander and libel), actions to recover damages for an injury to real or personal property or for the detention or conversion of personal property, actions against officers for misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance of themselves or their deputies, actions for fraud or deceit, and actions provided in Section 6-21 of 'An Act relating to alcoholic liquors'." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110 1/2, par. 27-6.

Defendants maintain that amended count I of plaintiff's complaint prayed solely for reinstatement of his position as pastor of the Chillicothe United Methodist Church and therefore abated upon plaintiff's death by reason of impossibility. With this aspect of plaintiff's prayer we agree; however, plaintiff also prayed for damages based on the Conference's breach of contract. It has long been held that actions for breach of contract survive the death of a plaintiff. (Parkway Bank & Trust Co. v. LeVine (1977), 45 Ill. App. 3d 497, 359 N.E.2d 882.) As the Survival Act does not interfere with actions that survive at common law, plaintiff's claim in count I for damages survived his death.

As to count II, defendants rely on Jones v. Barmm (1905), 217 Ill. 381, 75 N.E. 505, for the proposition that plaintiff's cause of action against Palmer for tortious interference with his contractual relations abated with his death. In Jones, plaintiff brought an action against defendant for tortious interference with his business. After commencement of the case, defendant died and his administratrix was substituted as a party defendant. On appeal, the sole question was whether the action survived defendant's death. Recognizing that at common law actions in tort did not survive the death of a sole plaintiff or defendant, the court considered whether the survival statute in existence at that time (Hurd's Statutes 1903, ch. 3, par. 122) permitted survival of the action. The court concluded that the term "personal property" within the survival statute applied "only to actions for damages to tangible articles and things movable, -- to chattels, as distinguished from actions for damages to one's business." Jones, 217 Ill. at 383, 75 N.E. at 506.

Although Jones has never been specifically overruled, we believe that later cases have expanded the perimeter of "personal property" under the Survival Act. In McDaniel v. Bullard (1966), 34 Ill. 2d 487, 216 N.E.2d 140, the court considered whether a wrongful death action abated upon the death of a beneficiary. The court opined that the narrow, technical construction given the Survival Act by Jones and subsequent cases ought no longer be followed:

"Whatever may be the distinction between a property right in its most general sense and 'real or personal property,' we cannot consider property tangible merely because people usually thought of it that way in the 19th century. Such a rule of statutory construction would lead to absurd consequences and would largely defeat the object of the Survival Act in modern society. Broad terms like 'personal property' must be construed with reference to the conditions of present-day life. The fact that particular forms of it were not in existence at the time of enactment, or were not specifically contemplated by the lawmakers, does not limit the application of the statute. Legislative enactments which are prospective in operation, and phrased in terms comprehensive enough to include things of the same class subsequently coming into existence, should be held applicable where such is consistent with the general legislative purpose. The act involved here does not say 'goods and chattels,' as it might well have done had it contemplated the narrow scope given to it in the Wilcox [ Wilcox v. Bierd (1928), 330 Ill. 571, 162 N.E. 170] and Jones cases. Instead it employs the all-embracing term 'personal property.' The word 'property' is a generic term and its meaning in any case must be determined by the sense in which it is used. Looking ...

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