Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, McDonough County, Illinois. No. 01-CH-15 Honorable James B. Stewart, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McDADE
Modified Upon Denial of Rehearing
Plaintiffs, Donald Lee Brush, Deborah Brush, and Danielle Brush, brought an action for breach of fiduciary duty against their attorneys Craig F. Pierce and Jesse R. Gilsdorf and their law firm. The trial court ordered plaintiffs' request for punitive damages stricken from the complaint. Plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a)(134 Ill. 2d R. 308(a)), which this court accepted. The sole question on appeal is whether punitive damages are available in an action for breach of fiduciary duty against an attorney. We find that they are not and we affirm.
This appeal arises from an action brought by Jennifer Brush, the executrix of the estate of her deceased husband, Michael Brush, to recover estate property from Michael's father, Donald Brush and sister, Danielle Brush.
Michael suffered from an impulse disorder as a result of a traumatic brain injury sustained in a motorcycle accident in March 1997. His ability to function independently was also impaired.
Following the accident, Michael was arrested more than eight times and was charged in McDonough County with traffic violations, disorderly conduct offenses and one aggravated battery offense against a police officer. Michael's sister, Danielle, hired attorney Craig F. Pierce and his law firm, the Pierce Law Offices, to represent Michael on these criminal charges. Defendant Jesse R. Gilsdorf, then an assistant State's Attorney, represented the State on several of these charges. Michael's fitness to stand trial became an issue, and Gilsdorf had access to the report concerning Michael's confidential psychological examination. In November 1997, Michael was found unfit.
Michael died of a gunshot wound on July 25, 1998. He was intestate and his sole heir at law was his wife, Jennifer. On July 17, eight days before his death, Michael transferred $60,000 from a savings account he jointly held with Jennifer to a bank account under Donald's name.
At the time of his death, Michael lived, apparently alone, in a mobile home in which he had an equity interest of approximately $3,300. He owed the seller $1,700. In August of 1998, Danielle contacted Pierce regarding Michael's estate. Pierce immediately prepared a small estate affidavit, with Danielle serving as executrix. Danielle moved into the mobile home in the same month. In October 1998, Donald paid the remaining balance owing on the mobile home from the funds given to him by Michael in July 1998.
On February 11, 1999, Jennifer was named the independent administrator of Michael's estate. Through her counsel, Jennifer contacted Donald and Danielle seeking the return of any property belonging to Michael's estate.
Donald and Danielle then requested Pierce to represent them against the property claim made by Jennifer. Citing to a possible conflict of interest from his previous representation of Michael, Pierce referred Donald and Danielle to Gilsdorf, who had left the State's Attorney's office and had become an associate attorney at the Pierce Law Offices.
Gilsdorf undertook the representation and Pierce agreed to serve as a consulting attorney. According to Donald and Danielle, neither Pierce nor Gilsdorf explained to them that Gilsdorf's previous prosecution of criminal charges against Michael and his knowledge of Michael's confidential psychological report could create a possible conflict of interest.
On December 16, 1999, Jennifer sued Donald and Danielle to recover estate property. Between November 1999 and May 2000, Jennifer made several written offers to settle her property claims against Donald and Danielle. Jennifer moved to disqualify attorneys Pierce, Gilsdorf and the Pierce Law Offices on July 12, 2000, alleging Gilsdorf's conflict of interest. By October 25, 2000, Pierce, Gilsdorf and the Pierce Law Offices had sought and were granted leave to voluntarily withdraw as counsel for Donald and Danielle.
On November 15, 2000, a judgment was entered against Donald and Danielle in an amount exceeding ...