Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 95 L 14261 Honorable David Donnersberger, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cahill
This consolidated appeal asks us to decide whether nine statements made by defendant Bob Greene in four columns published by defendant Chicago Tribune Company state a cause of action under Illinois defamation law. The trial court found that seven of the statements did not support claims for defamation and invasion of privacy under Illinois law. The court dismissed those claims with an express written finding to allow interlocutory appeal under Rule 304(a). 155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a). The court then found the remaining two statements actionable, but further found that its order involved a question of law appropriate for appeal under Rule 308(a). 155 Ill. 2d R. 308(a). Plaintiff appealed the Rule 304(a) order. Defendants appealed the Rule 308(a) order. We allowed the Rule 308(a) appeal and consolidated both matters. We affirm the Rule 304(a) order of the trial court, dismissing seven of the claims. We answer the first certified question under Rule 308(a) "yes," affirming the order of the trial court, and remand for further proceedings. We answer the second certified question "no," reversing the order of the trial court and dismissing the claim.
A child custody dispute was resolved in a 1995 opinion of our supreme court granting custody to the biological father "forthwith." The child had been placed for adoption by his biological mother immediately after birth and remained in the care and custody of the adoptive parents for four years, until the supreme court granted custody to the biological father in January 1995. See In re Petition of Doe, 254 Ill. App. 3d 405, 627 N.E.2d 648 (1993), rev'd, 159 Ill. 2d 347, 631 N.E.2d 181 (1994), reh'g denied, 159 Ill. 2d 362, 638 N.E.2d 181 (1994). Plaintiff, a licensed clinical psychologist, coordinated a team of mental health professionals assembled at the father's request to implement the supreme court order awarding custody.
Efforts to arrange a transition period for the transfer of custody from the adoptive parents failed. The biological father, who took immediate custody of the child from the adoptive parents in April 1995, dismissed the team. Plaintiff was then chosen by the biological father to counsel the child and to help him adjust to the new custody arrangement.
Defendant Greene is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work appears locally in the Chicago Tribune. Greene wrote several columns about the case. Four of these columns address plaintiff's professional role in the case and contain the alleged defamatory statements.
Greene's first column was published on May 17, 1995, several weeks after the father took custody of the child. This column bears a caption "What Doctor Would Allow This?" Plaintiff is identified as a member of the team of therapists assembled to carry out the court's custody order and as the only therapist later retained by the biological father. The column criticizes the father's choice because plaintiff, though a psychologist, was not trained in child psychology. The column then poses a question: what kind of child psychologist would recommend that a child be removed from the only home and family he had ever known and be given to strangers on one hour's notice? Greene answers this question by saying "apparently none." Bob Greene, What Doctor Would Allow This?, Chi. Trib., May 17, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1.
A second column, captioned "Have You Ever Promised a Kid...," was published on May 21, 1995. This column criticizes the father's alleged broken promise to the child that he could visit his adoptive family whenever he wished to do so. Greene expresses a disbelief in statements attributed to the father and plaintiff that the child had not asked to see or talk to his adoptive family. Greene then states that plaintiff "readily admitted that she sees her job as doing whatever the natural parents instruct her to do." Green also states that plaintiff went on a vacation two weeks after the transfer, despite a promise to be available to the child daily. Bob Greene, Have You Ever Promised a Kid . . ., Chi. Trib., May 21, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1.
A third column, captioned "You Just Don't Know What To Say," published on August 27, 1995, suggests that the child experienced difficulties adjusting to his new life. The column includes accounts of the child in imaginary conversations with his adoptive family. The father's attorney is quoted as saying that the child and another child of the adoptive parents should be allowed to see each other. The column ends with the statement that "another voice [is helping] to keep that from happening." Bob Greene, You Just Don't Know What to Say, Chi. Trib., August 27, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1.
Plaintiff is identified as the "other voice" in a fourth column published on August 28, 1995, captioned "Doctor's Trust Has a Catch." The column suggests that plaintiff's decision to keep the children apart was motivated by plaintiff's plan to write a book. Greene criticizes plaintiff's intention to write a book about the child's experience. Greene writes "and the woman [he] has been told is a doctor he can trust is talking to him, getting him to confide in her, and then thinking about selling that child's thoughts on the open market." The column concludes with plaintiff's statement that "'it would be a wonderful feather in my professional hat' to prove that her plan for [the boy] had worked." Bob Greene, Doctor's Trust Has a Catch, Chi. Trib., August 28, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1. Plaintiff also alleges that this column attributes the abrupt change in custody to her, in what Greene characterizes as a "sudden removal plan."
The pleadings and motions in this case ultimately led to the filing of a fourth amended complaint that is the platform for the Rule 304(a) and Rule 308(a) orders under appeal. No issues are raised with respect to the interlocutory orders disposing of the first three complaints. The fourth amended complaint addresses the following nine statements contained in the three columns:
(1) "Some people wondered what kind of child psychologist could recommend a 4-year old boy be taken from his home and family on one hour's notice, loaded into a van with strangers and separated without contact from the people he considered his parent and his brother?" Bob Greene, What Doctor Would Allow This?, Chi. Trib., May 17, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1;
(2) Plaintiff "has readily admitted that she sees her job as doing whatever the natural parents instruct her to do." Bob Greene, Have You Ever Promised a Kid ..., Chi. Trib., May 21, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1;
(3) "Within two weeks of [the child's] removal from his adoptive home . . . [plaintiff] reportedly had left the country for a trip of uncertain duration." Bob Greene, Have You Ever Promised a Kid ..., Chi. Trib., May 21, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1;
(4) "another voice is helping to keep [a meeting between the child and his adoptive brother] from happening." Bob Greene, You Just Don't Know What to Say, Chi. Trib., August 27, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1;
(5) Plaintiff was "the woman who came up with the plan to take [the child] from his adoptive home suddenly with no transition period." Bob Greene, Doctor's Trust Has a Catch, Chi. Trib., August 28, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1;
(6) Plaintiff was "the person selected by the natural parents to treat [the child,] and she does not feel the brothers who loved each other need to see or speak with each other." Bob Greene, Doctor's Trust Has a Catch, Chi. Trib., August 28, 1995 (Tempo Section), at 1;
(7) It was plaintiff's "sudden removal plan." Bob Greene, Doctor's Trust Has a Catch, Chi. Trib., August ...