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Regions Bank v. Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

August 12, 2014

REGIONS BANK, d/b/a Regions Morgan-Keegan Trust, as Independent Administrator of the Estates of Sheri Coleman, Garett Coleman, and Gavin Coleman, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JOYCE MEYER MINISTRIES, INC., a Missouri Nonprofit Corporation, Defendant-Appellee (Christopher Coleman, Defendant)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 547

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Monroe County. No. 11-L-14. Honorable Richard A. Aguirre, Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

In a wrongful death action against the employer of a man who murdered his wife and two sons after using his work computer for several months to email death threats to himself, the decedents and his employer, the trial court properly dismissed the count filed by the administrator of the decedents' estates under a theory of negligent retention of the employee, since the complaint lacked sufficient factual allegations to establish that his continued employment was a substantial factor in the deaths; however, the counts based on the employer's negligent undertaking to protect the decedents from threatened harm and the corresponding survival claims were improperly dismissed, because the complaint adequately alleged that the employer failed to perform or negligently performed its voluntary undertaking to investigate the death threats made or received through the employer's communications systems and equipment and to provide security at decedents' home, especially when the anticipation of harm to them was objectively reasonable, and therefore, those counts were reinstated and the cause was remanded for further proceedings.

For Appellant: Antonio Romanucci, Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, Chicago, IL; Jack Carey, Belleville, IL.

For Appellee: Dennis M. Field, Strellis & Field, Chartered, Waterloo, IL; S. Greg Pittman, Michael J. King, Winters & King, Inc., Tulsa, OK.

JUSTICE CATES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Honorable Thomas M. Welch, P.J., and Honorable Melissa A. Chapman, J., Concur.

OPINION

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CATES, JUSTICE.

[¶1] The plaintiff, Regions Bank, d/b/a Regions Morgan-Keegan Trust, as independent administrator of the estates of Sheri Coleman, Garett Coleman, and Gavin Coleman, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Monroe County dismissing with prejudice its claims against the defendant, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc., on the ground that the plaintiff failed to state any claim upon which relief could be granted. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case for further proceedings.

[¶2] On May 5, 2009, Sheri Coleman and her young sons, Garett Coleman and Gavin Coleman (the decedents), were murdered in their home in Columbia, Illinois. Christopher Coleman, the husband of Sheri and the father of Garett and Gavin, was charged with and subsequently convicted of the murders. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for these crimes. On May 5, 2009, and for more than eight years prior, Christopher Coleman had been employed in high-level security positions by Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc. It is alleged that in the months leading up to the murders, Coleman used his work computer to email death threats directed at himself, the decedents, and Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc.

[¶3] On May 4, 2011, the plaintiff filed a multicount complaint for wrongful death against Christopher Coleman, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc. (JMM), Joyce Meyer, and Daniel B. Meyer. Christopher Coleman has not entered an appearance in this case. Following a short period for discovery on the issue of personal jurisdiction, Joyce Meyer and Daniel Meyer were voluntarily dismissed from the case pursuant to a stipulation by the parties.

[¶4] JMM entered its appearance and filed a motion to dismiss the counts against it pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)), on the ground that the plaintiff failed to state any claim upon which relief could be granted. The trial court granted JMM's motion, but permitted the plaintiff to amend the complaint.

[¶5] The first amended complaint contains three counts against JMM. Count III alleges wrongful death under a theory of a negligent undertaking to protect the decedents from threatened harm. Count IV is the corresponding survival action. Count V is brought under a theory of negligent retention of the employment of Christopher Coleman. JMM renewed its motion to dismiss all counts under section 2-615 of the Code for failure to state any claim upon which relief could be granted. In the motion, JMM argued that count III should be dismissed because it did not allege sufficient facts to establish that JMM undertook to protect the decedents from the harmful acts of a third party, and that count V should be dismissed because the plaintiff did not allege a logical connection between retaining Christopher Coleman as an employee and his murderous acts. After considering the briefs and arguments of counsel, the trial court granted JMM's

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motion and dismissed counts III, IV, and V of the first amended complaint with prejudice.

[¶6] On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in dismissing with prejudice its claims against JMM. The plaintiff argues that the first amended complaint contains sufficient allegations of fact to establish duties owed by JMM to the decedents under ...


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