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Turcios v. DeBruler Co.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

June 11, 2014

MARIA TURCIOS, Individually and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Nelsyn Caceres, and ALICE CACERES-ORTIZ and NELSYN CACERES-ORTIZ, by Maria Turcios, their Mother and Next Friend, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE DeBRULER COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 12-L-4. Honorable Margaret J. Mullen, Judge, Presiding.

SYLLABUS

In an action arising from the suicide of plaintiff's decedent as an alleged result of defendant's intentional infliction of emotional distress by forcing decedent and his family to vacate the apartment they had validly rented from defendant in order to accommodate defendant's decision to demolish the building in which the apartment was located, the dismissal of the wrongful death and survival counts of plaintiff's complaint with prejudice on the ground that there was no cause of action under Illinois law for wrongful death or survival claims via suicide was vacated and the cause was remanded to allow the trial court to reconsider its decision, since a victim's suicide is not, as a matter of law, an intervening cause that allows defendant to escape liability and does not limit defendant's liability in a case of intentional infliction of emotional distress when the emotional distress is a substantial factor in causing the suicide.

Richard D. Grossman, of Law Offices of Richard D. Grossman, of Chicago, for appellants.

Stephen A. Rehfeldt, of Mulherin, Rehfeldt & Varchetto, P.C., of Wheaton, for appellee.

JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Jorgensen concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HUDSON, JUSTICE

Page 168

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Maria Turcios (both individually and in her capacity as special administrator of the estate of Nelsyn Caceres) and Alice and Nelsyn Caceres-Ortiz (by their mother and next friend, Maria Turcios) appeal an order of the circuit court of Lake County dismissing two counts of their five-count complaint[1] (counts IV and V) against defendant, the DeBruler Company. Count IV was a wrongful death action and count V was a survival action. The trial court dismissed both counts, as they were premised on decedent Nelsyn Caceres's suicide, which, the complaint alleged, was the result of defendant's intentional infliction of emotional distress. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the trial court's order dismissing counts IV and V and remand for further proceedings.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' complaint alleged, in pertinent part, as follows. Maria Turcios and Nelsyn Caceres (a/k/a Ricardo Ortiz) had three children together. Two of the children, Alice and Nelsyn, lived with them. When the complaint was filed, Maria was 35 years old. She is a Honduran immigrant and does not speak English fluently.

On April 20, 2011, Maria and Nelsyn signed a lease for an apartment located in a complex known as the Colonial Park Apartments in Park City. The period of the lease was from May 1, 2011, to April 30, 2012. They tendered the required security deposit, paid the first month's rent, and moved in.

On May 10, 2011, they received a notice from defendant stating that they were being evicted and that they had 30 days to vacate the apartment. The complaint further alleged that nothing in the lease allowed defendant to unilaterally terminate the lease. Maria and Nelsyn sought legal advice and were informed that the lease was valid. They also contacted

Page 169

Catholic Charities, which had previously assisted them in leasing the apartment. A case manager, Juan Barrera, contacted Gilena Borkoski (an agent of defendant). Borkoski stated that the lease was not valid and could be revoked at any time. From May 12 to May 18, defendant called Maria and Nelsyn, pressuring them to move. They received a letter on May 20, stating that the building they were living in would be demolished beginning on June 10, 2011. On May 31, they received another notice stating that the last day they could be in their apartment was June 9, 2011. It also stated that the washers and dryers would be removed on May 31, and it offered them one week of free rent.

On June 1, Maria and Nelsyn attempted to pay the rent, but defendant declined to accept it. They also went to see Barrera. Barrera's notes from that meeting state that Maria and Nelsyn were experiencing depression, anxiety, and anger over the matter. They were fatigued from lack of sleep.

On June 7, Maria and Nelsyn received another notice informing them that the building would be demolished. It offered to provide them with another unit, free, for 30 days. They again met with Barerra on June 10. His notes indicate, inter alia, that Maria and Nelsyn were " extremely upset." Their children were " very tense and would cry all the time." Borkoski offered them $2,000 to move. Nelsyn called Barrera later that day and told him that defendant's agents had ordered them to move " ASAP."

The complaint continued, " After June 10, 2011, despite Maria and her family's occupancy of the apartment, [d]efendant allowed demolition to proceed around Maria's unit." It stated, " The demolition company tore into the outside walls of the building in which Maria's unit was located, and then began to demolish the units surrounding Maria's unit." On June 14, Nelsyn told Maria that he could not tolerate the situation any longer but did not know what to do. On June 15, Nelsyn committed suicide in the apartment. He left a note stating, " Please forgive me my daughters, and you also Carmen. Sell the land and build the house."

Maria and her children moved in with a friend the next day. They left most of their belongings in the apartment. Defendant contacted Maria on June 21 and, despite her husband's recent death, informed Maria that she had to remove all of her belongings from the apartment, as demolition of her apartment would commence on June 22. On June 22, the demolition crew began to demolish Maria's apartment. She and her children " packed their belongings and began to move out that day, even though the stairs to their 3rd floor apartment had been mostly demolished." As they were moving, an " enormous rain storm occurred and ruined most of Maria's family's belongings."

As a result of these events, Maria " has fallen into a very deep depression." Her health has significantly deteriorated. She is prone to fits of sobbing.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleged five counts: (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (2) wrongful eviction; (3) breach of contract; (4) wrongful death; and (5) survivorship. The fourth and fifth counts incorporated the allegations set forth above. The fourth count went on to allege that " as a result of the wrongful acts of [d]efendant described above, Nelsyn Caceres committed suicide." It did not expressly allege a mental state except in the prayer for relief in connection with a claim for punitive damages. The fifth count alleged, inter alia, " Defendant's conduct in forcing Nelsyn Caceres and his family out of their validly-rented apartment by demolishing the building around them and

Page 170

then demolishing the rented premises even while he was living there, in reckless pursuit of an economic goal, is extreme and outrageous conduct which cannot be tolerated in a civilized society." (Emphasis added.) The trial court dismissed with prejudice the final two counts pursuant to section 2-615 of the Civil Practice Law (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2012)). The trial court flatly held that, under Illinois law, " there is no cause of action for wrongful death via suicide, or survival claims." We disagree with the trial court.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Background Legal Principles

As a threshold matter, since this appeal comes to us following a dismissal pursuant to section 2-615 of the Civil Practice Law (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2012)), our review is de novo. Interstate Bankers Casualty Co. v. Hernandez, 2013 IL App (1st) 123035, ¶ 8, 378 Ill.Dec. 73, 3 N.E.3d 353. Since review is de novo, we owe no deference to the trial court. Khan v. BDO Seidman, LLP, 408 Ill.App.3d 564, 595, 948 N.E.2d 132, 350 Ill.Dec. 63 (2011). A motion to dismiss in accordance with section 2-615 " challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings and the court determines whether the allegations of the complaint, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and taking all well-pleaded facts as true, are sufficient to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted." Gibbs v. Blitt & Gaines, P.C., 2014 IL App (1st) 123681, ¶ 10, 379 Ill.Dec. 427, 6 N.E.3d 755. Moreover, we construe " the pleadings and any supporting documentary evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id.

The trial court concluded that, because plaintiffs' decedent's death was the result of a suicide, plaintiffs could not maintain either a wrongful death or a survival action against defendant as a matter of law. This is undoubtedly the case in an action based upon a defendant's negligence. See Luss v. Village of Forest Park, 377 Ill.App.3d 318, 332-33, 878 N.E.2d 1193, 316 Ill.Dec. 169 (2007). The rationale for this rule is that the decedent's suicide is an " 'independent intervening event that the tortfeasor cannot be expected to foresee.'" Crumpton v. Walgreen Co., 375 Ill.App.3d 73, 79, 871 N.E.2d 905, 313 Ill.Dec. 178 (2007) (quoting Chalhoub v. Dixon, 338 Ill.App.3d 535, 539-40, 788 N.E.2d 164, 272 Ill.Dec. 860 (2003)). However, plaintiffs point out that they have alleged an intentional tort. As such, they reason, an intervening-cause analysis is inappropriate in this case. See Department of Law Enforcement v. Willis, 61 Ill.App.3d 495, 499, 378 N.E.2d 239, 18 Ill.Dec. 775 (1978). Of course, " [i]ntentional torts and negligence are distinct causes of action." Topps v. Ferraro, 235 Ill.App.3d 43, 52, 601 N.E.2d 292, ...


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