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Tedrick v. Community Resource Center

September 24, 2009

BRENDA TEDRICK, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF TERESA STREET, DECEASED, ET AL., APPELLEES,
v.
COMMUNITY RESOURCE CENTER, INC., ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Karmeier

Chief Justice Fitzgerald and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Garman, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

The plaintiffs, Brenda Tedrick, administrator of the estate of Teresa Street, deceased, and Brenda Tedrick and James Tedrick, guardians of the estates of Dalton Ryan Street and Dylan Bryce Street, minors, brought this action seeking damages resulting from the death of Teresa Street, who was killed by her husband, Richard Street, on June 9, 2003. The complaint contains 20 counts sounding in wrongful death or survival against 10 healthcare providers, including physicians, psychologists, social workers and their employers. The defendants are alleged to have negligently provided Richard with medical care over a period of time from May 13, 2003, until June 6, 2003, that defendants had a duty and failed to warn Teresa of, and protect her from, Richard's threats and potential violent acts, and further that defendants' alleged negligence was transferred to Teresa. Defendants filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to section 2--615 and section 2--619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615, 2--619 (West 2002)). They argued that no duty was owed by them because, under Illinois law, the duty of care of a health-care professional runs only to the patient and not to nonpatient third parties citing Doe v. McKay, 183 Ill. 2d 272 (1998).

The circuit court dismissed the third amended complaint finding that plaintiffs failed to allege a recognized duty by any named defendant to Teresa or any special relationship recognized by existing Illinois authority such as to allow the transfer of negligence to Teresa. The appellate court held the third amended complaint set forth sufficient factual allegations to establish a cause of action based on theories of a voluntary undertaking and transferred negligence and reversed that part of the trial court judgment which held to the contrary. It affirmed that part of the trial court judgment that held the third amended complaint did not state a cause of action based on section 315 or any of the other special relationship exceptions to section 315 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (Restatement (Second) of Torts §§315 through 319 (1965)) and also affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' request for reimbursement of attorney fees and costs they incurred because a doctor refused to answer certain questions during a discovery deposition.*fn1 The appellate court then reinstated the third amended compliant in its entirety and remanded the cause to the trial court for further proceedings. 373 Ill. App. 3d 761.

We granted the separate petitions for leave to appeal of each of two groups of defendants and consolidated them for our review. 210 Ill. 2d R. 315. In addition, we allowed the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association to file an amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiffs and the Illinois State Medical Society to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the defendants. For the reasons that follow, the judgment of the appellate court is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.

Procedural Background

The defendants filed motions to dismiss under sections 2--615 and 2--619 and did not specify what argument was made under which section. Plaintiffs filed a combined response to the motions to dismiss of all defendants. Like defendants, plaintiffs did not specify which arguments were made under sections 2--615 and 2--619. The trial court did not note in its order dismissing the complaint whether the dismissal was granted under section 2--615 or section 2--619. The appellate court stated: "[W]e conclude that the third amended complaint sets forth sufficient factual allegations to establish a cause of action based on theories of a voluntary undertaking and transferred negligence and that the trial court erred in dismissing the action. *** We caution that this appeal is limited to the legal sufficiency of the complaint for purposes of a motion to dismiss under section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure." 373 Ill. App. 3d at 772.

Many facts, occurrences, and conversations were uncovered during discovery, which was ongoing while the motions to dismiss were pending, and were used by the parties to argue for and against the motions to dismiss. This resulted in a 10-volume record containing 2,135 pages. The briefs of plaintiffs, each group of defendants and the appellate court opinion discussed many of these facts, occurrences and conversations that are outside of the allegations of the third amended complaint. We believe that it is appropriate to decide this case on the motion filed under section 2--615 and, therefore, limit our review to the legal sufficiency of the third amended complaint and the allegations of fact contained therein. Illinois Graphics Co. v. Nickum, 159 Ill. 2d 469 (1994).

The Third Amended Complaint

As mentioned earlier, the complaint contains 20 counts sounding in wrongful death or survival against 10 health-care providers, including physicians, psychologists, social workers and their employers. Except for times, places, and defendants, the allegations against all of the defendants are essentially the same and are as follows: that Richard was lawfully married to Teresa; that he had paranoid delusions that his wife was committing adultery and that she was trying to poison him; that he had thoughts of killing his wife and that he threatened to kill her; that Richard "retained the services" of defendants for "psychiatric care," for his "physical, psychological and emotional condition," or for "physical, psychiatric and emotional care," and that defendants "knew or should have known" of Richard's paranoid delusions and his thoughts and threats of killing his wife; that it was reasonably foreseeable to defendants that Richard would injure and/or kill his wife and that defendants knew and/or should have known that Richard posed a specific threat of harm to his wife; that defendants undertook, either gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to Richard which defendants recognized or should have recognized as necessary for the protection of Teresa and that Teresa relied upon defendants' undertaking, assuming that they would appropriately evaluate, treat and supervise Richard, warn Teresa, and all others to whom Richard posed a threat of harm, warn the appropriate authorities of the threat posed by Richard, and hospitalize and/or otherwise control him; that defendants' duties included the duty of ordinary care, the duty of professional care, the duty to protect Teresa, the duty to supervise the treatment and condition of Richard, and the duty to control Richard; that defendants' provided substandard care to Richard by failing to properly diagnose, treat, and monitor Richard's physical, psychological and emotional condition, by failing to warn Teresa and the police and by failing to hospitalize and/or otherwise control Richard.

There is no allegation in the third amended complaint that Teresa was a patient of any of the defendants except for a conclusory allegation that James R. Goggin, M.D., was a family practice physician and that Teresa was his patient. This allegation is out of context with the other allegations of the two counts against Dr. Goggin, the other counts of the complaint and the arguments of the parties pertaining to a duty of care to a nonpatient third party.

Standard of Review

A section 2--615 motion to dismiss challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint based on defects apparent on its face. Marshall v. Burger King Corp., 222 Ill. 2d 422, 429 (2006). Therefore, we review de novo an order granting or denying a section 2--615 motion. Heastie v. Roberts, 226 Ill. 2d 515, 531 (2007). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, we accept as true all well-pleaded facts and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from those facts. Ferguson v. City of Chicago, 213 Ill. 2d 94, 96-97 (2004). We also construe the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. King v. First Capital Financial Services Corp., 215 Ill. 2d 1, 11-12 (2005). Given these standards, a cause of action should not be dismissed, pursuant to a section 2--615 motion, unless it is clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proved that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Canel v. Topinka, 212 Ill. 2d 311, 318 (2004). However, the plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to bring a claim within a legally recognized cause of action. Marshall, 222 Ill. 2d at 429-30.

ANALYSIS

Defendants argue that under Illinois law a plaintiff cannot maintain a medical malpractice action absent a direct physician-patient relationship between the doctor and plaintiff or a special relationship between the patient and the plaintiff citing Kirk v. Michael Reese Hospital & Medical Center, 117 Ill. 2d 507 (1987), and Doe v. McKay, 183 Ill. 2d 272 (1998). In Kirk plaintiff sought to recover damages for injuries he sustained while he was a passenger in a vehicle operated by a patient who had been recently released from a hospital. Prior to the discharge, the patient had taken prescription psychiatric medication. Shortly after leaving the hospital, the patient consumed alcoholic beverages and then drove into a tree. Plaintiff filed suit against the doctor who prescribed the medication, alleging the doctor failed to warn the driver of the medication's side effects. The Kirk court considered decisions from a number of foreign jurisdictions, the social and public policy of Illinois, and this court's own holdings, and concluded that "the preferable view, and the one consistent with this court's holdings and with legislation based on social and public policy, is that a plaintiff cannot maintain a medical malpractice action absent a direct physician-patient relationship between the doctor and plaintiff or a special relationship, as present in Renslow,*fn2 between the patient and the plaintiff." Kirk v. Michael Reese Hospital & Medical Center, 117 Ill. 2d at 531.

In Doe the defendant psychologist treated the plaintiff's daughter. Plaintiff alleged the defendant induced his daughter into falsely believing plaintiff had sexually abused her when she was a child. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant's treatment of his daughter deprived him of his daughter's society and companionship and resulted in an intentional interference with the parent-child relationship. The Doe court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case, stating "[T]his court recognized in Kirk, the duty of care owed by a health care professional runs only to the patient, and not to third parties." Doe v. McKay, 183 Ill. 2d at 279. The court then discussed at length the problem of divided loyalties and the strong public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of therapist-patient communications. Doe v. McKay, 183 Ill. 2d at 281--84. The Doe court, in following the ruling in Kirk, concluded that the problem of divided loyalties and the concerns about compromising patient confidentiality, "argue strongly against imposing on therapists a duty of care toward non-patients." Doe v. McKay, 183 Ill. 2d at 284.

Voluntary Undertaking

Plaintiffs argue that the voluntary undertakings of the defendant mental-health-care providers created a duty to protect Teresa irrespective of a patient-physician relationship or special relationship between the patient and a third party. They contend that the defendants owed a duty to warn and to protect Teresa against potential violent acts of her husband pursuant to section 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (Restatement (Second) of Torts §324A (1965)). This court in Pippin v. Chicago Housing Authority, 78 Ill. 2d 204, 210-11 (1979), adopted section 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which concerns "Liability to Third Person for Negligent Performance of Undertaking." See also Scott & Fetzer Co. v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 112 Ill. 2d 378, 390 (1986). Plaintiffs assert that the Illinois appellate court has repeatedly held that the duty that arises from a voluntary undertaking exists in the absence of a patient-physician or a special relationship.

Section 324A provides:

"One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his ...


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