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Lipscomb v. Sisters of St. Francis Health Services

September 15, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 01 M6 4215 Hon. Joseph M. Macellaio, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE


Plaintiff, Eugenia Lipscomb, individually and as mother of Nicole Lipscomb, a minor, filed a five-count complaint against defendant, Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, Inc., d/b/a St. James Hospital and Health Center. The complaint alleged that defendant wrongfully suspected Nicole had been sexually abused, which resulted in the wrongful investigation and detention of Nicole, and the emotional distress and defamation of plaintiff. The complaint also alleged that defendant prohibited Nicole from leaving its premises until she had been "cleared and released" by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss all counts of the complaint under section 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2000)), claiming that it was immune from liability under section 9 of the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (Reporting Act) (325 ILCS 5/9 (West 2000)). Section 9 grants immunity for certain required reporting duties and investigations of abuse under the Reporting Act. On April 18, 2002, the trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss with prejudice. Plaintiff appeals.

We review whether the trial court properly granted defendant's motion to dismiss de novo. Neppl v. Murphy, 316 Ill. App. 3d 581, 583, 736 N.E.2d 1174 (2000). The following background facts are taken from the complaint and the record.

Nicole Lipscomb, an eight-year-old minor and plaintiff's daughter, was a resident of Cook County, Illinois. Defendant is a hospital corporation with principal places of business in Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields, Illinois. On December 23, 2000, plaintiff brought Nicole to the emergency room at defendant's Chicago Heights "campus" for treatment of a fever. In the emergency room, defendant, through its employees, conducted a variety of laboratory tests on Nicole including a urinalysis.

After the first test, plaintiff was informed that the urinalysis indicated "trace amounts of spermatozoa, moderate bacteria levels, and [pH] of 7.5." Because of the spermatozoa finding, plaintiff was advised that defendant was required to call the Chicago Heights police and DCFS due to the possibility that the child had been sexually abused. Immediately thereafter, the Chicago Heights police appeared at the hospital and began to question plaintiff.

When plaintiff learned of the urinalysis results, she insisted that defendant had confused Nicole's test results with those of another patient, and plaintiff requested that a second urinalysis be conducted. Defendant repeated the urinalysis and the second test revealed, "no spermatozoa present, slight bacteria level, and a [pH] of 6.0."

Defendant then insisted upon performing a vaginal examination on Nicole. After the vaginal exam, defendant advised plaintiff that no evidence of abuse was found and that the first urinalysis was misidentified as being Nicole's. Defendant apologized to plaintiff for the embarrassment, anxiety, and distress caused by its error.

Defendant then informed plaintiff that Nicole's fever could not be treated at the Chicago Heights "campus" and that she would have to be transferred to the "campus" at Olympia Fields. Nicole was then transferred by ambulance to Olympia Fields, where she was admitted and brought to a room. Once in the room, plaintiff alleged that defendant's agents began questioning plaintiff and Nicole about child abuse. Further, plaintiff claimed that defendant's agents insisted on performing multiple and repeated vaginal examinations on Nicole. Defendant then recontacted DCFS about possible child abuse and informed plaintiff that she would not be permitted to take Nicole home until DCFS consented to her release.

Plaintiff claims that she repeatedly advised defendant's agents at the Olympia Fields campus that personnel at the Chicago Heights campus had recognized their laboratory error, had examined Nicole, and had determined that Nicole had not been sexually abused. Plaintiff alleged that she encouraged personnel at the Olympia Fields campus to review Nicole's file sent by the Chicago Heights campus to confirm that the first urinalysis indicating the presence of spermatozoa had been misidentified as Nicole's.

Even though Nicole's fever had subsided on December 24, 2000, defendant refused to permit plaintiff to take Nicole home. On December 25, 2000, plaintiff expressed concern to Dr. Minor that DCFS had not yet contacted her about the allegations of abuse. The doctor agreed to contact DCFS. When the DCFS hotline was contacted, a DCFS employee indicated that no record of a case report had been filed, but that the doctor's call on December 25, 2000, would constitute an official report. Because plaintiff was unwilling to allow Nicole to remain alone at the hospital, plaintiff was forced to stay at the hospital over the Christmas holiday and until December 26, 2000, when Nicole was finally "cleared and released" by DCFS.

On August 28, 2001, plaintiff filed a five-count complaint against defendant alleging false imprisonment (count I), invasion of privacy (count II), battery (count III), intentional infliction of emotional distress (count IV), and defamation (count V). As we noted above, the trial court dismissed these counts with prejudice on April 18, 2002. While there is no transcript of the hearing on the motion to dismiss in the record, the parties agree the trial court's basis for dismissing the complaint was that defendant was immune from liability under section 9 of the Reporting Act.

We now address whether the trial court properly granted defendant's motion to dismiss. As pointed out above, the standard for reviewing a motion to dismiss granted under section 2-619 is de novo. Neppl, 316 Ill. App. 3d at 583. This court has stated:

"In a section 2-619 motion, all well-pleaded allegations in support of the claim are taken as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiff's favor. [Citations.] A section 2-619 motion should be granted only if no set of facts can be proven that would support the plaintiff's cause of action. [Citation.]" Nosbaum v. Martini, 312 Ill. App. 3d 108, 113, 726 N.E.2d 84 (2000).

Like a summary judgment motion, the trial court can consider the affidavits and evidence submitted by the parties under section 2-619(c). Nosbaum, 312 Ill. App. 3d at 114. Additionally:

"An appeal from such a dismissal is similar to one following a grant of summary judgment. [Citation.] 'The appellate court must consider whether the existence of a genuine issue of material fact should have precluded the dismissal or, absent such an issue of fact, whether dismissal is proper as a matter of law.' [Citation.]" Nosbaum, 312 Ill. App. 3d at 114.

As background, we note that "parents enjoy an inherent right to the care and custody of their own children." Lehman v. Stephens, 148 Ill. App. 3d 538, 547, 499 N.E.2d 103 (1986). However, "the State, in its recognized role as parens patriae, is the ultimate protector ...

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