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Feltmeier v. Feltmeier

September 18, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick



Plaintiff, Lynn Feltmeier, and defendant, Robert Feltmeier, were married on October 11, 1986, and divorced on December 16, 1997. The judgment for dissolution of marriage incorporated the terms of a December 10, 1997, marital settlement agreement. On August 25, 1999, Lynn sued Robert for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the allegations contained in the complaint, Robert engaged in a pattern of domestic abuse, both physical and mental in nature, which began shortly after the marriage and did not cease even after its dissolution.

On October 20, 1999, Robert filed a motion to dismiss the suit under sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 1998)), maintaining that the complaint failed to allege facts that give rise to an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress and that, even if the conduct alleged was actionable, the claim was not viable because the statute of limitations had run on most of the alleged misconduct. The circuit court denied Robert's motion to dismiss on February 14, 2000. Robert then filed an amended motion to dismiss under section 2-619, arguing that provisions contained in the marital settlement agreement released him from the claim presented in Lynn's lawsuit. The circuit court denied this motion on June 23, 2000.

On April 10, 2001, following a hearing on Robert's motion for permissive interlocutory appeal, and pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 308(a)), the circuit court made a written finding that its orders denying Robert's motions to dismiss involved questions of law as to which there are substantial grounds for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the orders might materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. The three questions of law identified by the court were as follows:

"a. Whether the plaintiff's Complaint states a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

b. Whether the plaintiff's claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on conduct prior to August 25, 1997, are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

c. Whether the plaintiff's claim against defendant for intentional infliction of emotional distress has been released by the language of the Marital Settlement Agreement."

After the circuit court made its written finding, Robert applied to the appellate court for leave to appeal and his application was granted. In addition to the three issues certified for review, the court addressed an immunity issue raised by Robert on appeal. The appellate court concluded that Lynn, as plaintiff, could "maintain an action at law to recover monetary damages proximately caused by her ex-husband's pattern of abusive treatment during the course of their ill-fated marriage." 333 Ill. App. 3d 1167, 1170. One justice dissented in part. We granted Robert's petition for leave to appeal from the appellate court's judgment (177 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now affirm.

Because this appeal concerns questions of law certified by the circuit court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308, and because it arose in the context of orders denying section 2-619 and section 2-615 motions to dismiss, our review is de novo. Eads v. Heritage Enterprises, Inc., 204 Ill. 2d 92, 96 (2003); Robinson v. Toyota Motor Credit Corp., 201 Ill. 2d 403, 418-19 (2002); Weatherman v. Gary-Wheaton Bank of Fox Valley, N.A., 186 Ill. 2d 472, 480, 491 (1999). Additionally, we review de novo Robert's claim of immunity, as it involves a question of statutory interpretation. Eads, 204 Ill. 2d at 96; Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 503 (2000). While the immunity question was not certified for review, we agree with the appellate court that the question is properly addressed, because it "relates to the appropriateness of the orders that gave rise to this appeal." 333 Ill. App. 3d at 1184; see Bright v. Dicke, 166 Ill. 2d 204, 208 (1995).

The first matter before us for review is whether Lynn's complaint states a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In ruling on a section 2-615 motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and all reasonable inferences which can be drawn therefrom. Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting Corp., 154 Ill. 2d 1, 8-9 (1992). The question presented by a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a cause of action is whether sufficient facts are contained in the pleadings which, if established, could entitle the plaintiff to relief. Kolegas, 154 Ill. 2d at 9; see also McGrath v. Fahey, 126 Ill. 2d 78, 90 (1988). In making this determination, the court is to interpret the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Kolegas, 126 Ill. 2d at 9; McGrath, 126 Ill. 2d at 90.

According to the allegations contained in Lynn's complaint, since the parties' marriage in October 1986, and continuing for over a year after the December 1997 dissolution of their marriage:

"[Robert] entered into a continuous and outrageous course of conduct toward [Lynn] with either the intent to cause emotional distress to [Lynn] or with reckless disregard as to whether such conduct would cause emotional distress to [Lynn], said continuing course of conduct, including but not limited to, the following:

A. On repeated occasions, [Robert] has battered [Lynn] by striking, kicking, shoving, pulling hair and bending and twisting her limbs and toes.

B. On repeated occasions, [Robert] has prevented [Lynn] from leaving the house to escape the abuse.

C. On repeated occasions, [Robert] has yelled insulting and demeaning epithets at [Lynn]. Further, [Robert] has engaged in verbal abuse which included threats and constant criticism of [Lynn] in such a way as to demean, humiliate, and degrade [Lynn].

D. On repeated occasions, [Robert] threw items at [Lynn] with the intent to cause her harm.

E. On repeated occasions, [Robert] attempted to isolate [Lynn] from her family and friends and would get very upset if [Lynn] would show the marks and bruises resulting from [Robert's] abuse to others.

F. On repeated occasions since the divorce, [Robert] has engaged in stalking behavior.

G. On at least one occasion, [Robert] has attempted to interfere with [Lynn's] employment by confiscating her computer. Additionally, [Robert] broke into [Lynn's] locked drug ...

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