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Hoopingarner v. Stenzel

April 15, 2002

KLARA HOOPINGARNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JENNIFER L. STENZEL AND FRED L. ELMORE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois No. 99-L-333 Stuart P. Borden, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer

UNPUBLISHED

Klara Hoopingarner filed a three-count complaint against Jennifer Stenzel, New York Life Insurance and Annuity Corporation (New York Life) and Fred Elmore. Count I alleged that Stenzel violated the Illinois Power of Attorney Act, count II alleged that New York Life committed fraud, and count III alleged fraud against Fred Elmore. Count II was dismissed, and Hoopingarner does not appeal that dismissal. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Stenzel on count I and granted Elmore's motion to dismiss count II. Hoopingarner appeals, and we affirm.

BACKGROUND

In 1989, Helen Peters was issued an annuity by New York Life. Peters' daughter, Karen Elmore, and granddaughter, Jennifer Stenzel, were named the beneficiaries. Karen Elmore died in August of 1993. In October of 1993, Peters executed her last will. She named Jennifer Stenzel the sole beneficiary, and First of America Bank was named trustee. That same year, Peters executed a power of attorney naming her son-in-law, Fred Elmore, and Jennifer Stenzel her attorneys in fact.

In 1995, Klara Hoopingarner began working for Helen Peters as a housekeeper. In 1996, Peters executed a change of beneficiary form, designating Hoopingarner the sole beneficiary of the New York Life annuity. Peters also executed a codicil to her will giving the annuity and $15,000 to Hoopingarner. Robert Kunz, an attorney who had previously done work for Hoopingarner, prepared the codicil and helped Peters complete the New York Life change of beneficiary form. At the time Peters completed the change of beneficiary form, Kunz made a copy of it and gave the original to Peters. Peters did not send the completed form to New York Life. Kunz died in 1997. In March of 1999, Peters health worsened, and Hoopingarner called Barbara Patterson, Kunz's former secretary and Hoopingarner's personal friend, and asked her to send the change of beneficiary form to New York Life. Patterson mailed the copy of the form to New York Life by express mail.

Soon after the copy of the change of beneficiary form was sent to New York Life, Fred Elmore, the agent for the policy, was notified that the beneficiary had been changed. He then contacted Stenzel and informed her. The next day, Stenzel signed a change of beneficiary form as Peters' attorney in fact, designating First of America Bank the beneficiary of the annuity as trustee, with Stenzel as the sole beneficiary of the trust. One week later, upon advice from an attorney, Stenzel requested a full surrender of the annuity, and the proceeds were placed into Peters' checking account. Two months later, Peters died. Upon her death, the original change of beneficiary form and codicil were not found.

Elmore filed a petition to probate Peters' will, and Hoopingarner filed a three-count complaint against Stenzel, New York Life, and Elmore. New York Life was later dismissed. In her complaint, Hoopingarner alleged that the change of beneficiary form completed by Peters was effective to make her the beneficiary of the annuity. She further claimed that Stenzel did not have the authority to change the beneficiary and surrender the annuity and that Stenzel acted in bad faith when she did so. Hoopingarner also sought damages against Elmore for fraud associated with his acts of helping Stenzel to change the beneficiary and surrender Peters' annuity.

Stenzel filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that (1) the change of beneficiary form was ineffective to make Hoopingarner the beneficiary of the annuity, (2) the power of attorney given by Peters authorized her to surrender the annuity, and (3) she acted in good faith in her transactions. Elmore filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 2000) arguing that (1) the complaint failed to state a cause of action for fraud, (2) the complaint improperly included a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty for which the plaintiff lacked standing to claim, and (3) the complaint improperly sought punitive damages. Hoopingarner then filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Stenzel's and Elmore's motions were granted by the trial court, and Hoopingarner's motion was denied. Hoopingarner appeals.

DISCUSSION

I. Grant of summary judgment to Stenzel

An appellate court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo. Warren v. Burris, 325 Ill. App. 3d 599, 603, 758 N.E. 2d 889, 892 (2001). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Warren, 325 Ill. App. 3d at 602-03, 758 N.E. 2d at 892.

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, admissions and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Warren, 325 Ill. App. 3d at 602, 758 N.E. 2d at 892. Hoopingarner claims that the trial court's grant of summary judgment was inappropriate for the following reasons: (1) whether Peters had effectively changed her beneficiary was a question of fact for the jury; (2) the trial court's holding that Stenzel had the authority to surrender the annuity was erroneous; and (3) the trial court failed to require Stenzel to prove that she did not violate her duty as a fiduciary.

Stenzel's motion for summary judgment was granted because the court found, as a matter of law, that the attempted change of beneficiary form signed by Peters in 1996 was ineffective because Peters did not forward the form to New York Life; rather, a copy was sent in by someone else over two and one-half years after it had been completed. Hoopingarner asserts that whether Peters effectively changed the beneficiary of ...


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