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Ghantous v. Ghantous

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

November 4, 2014

SOUAD GHANTOUS, Individually, and as Administrator with Will Annexed of the Estate of Camille I. Ghantous Revocable Trust Agreement Dated April 4, 1999, and as Trustee of the Souad Ghantous Revocable Trust Agreement Dated April 8, 1999, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ELIAS C. GHANTOUS, a/k/a Leo Ghantous, REGIONS BANK and HAYMEADOW INVESTMENTS, LLC, an Illinois Limited Liability Corporation, Defendants-Appellees

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois. Circuit No. 12-CH-95. Honorable Michael E. Brandt, Judge, Presiding.

SYLLABUS

In an action that was one of five simultaneous pending suits arising from disputes between plaintiff and her children following the death of plaintiff's husband and the discovery that one son, an attorney, had used his parents' money to purchase a large apartment complex in his name for investment purposes, the trial court, following negotiations between the parties and various hearings, entered an order that was found by the trial court to include " all of the terms of the global settlement" of all the pending cases between the parties as set forth in a draft prepared by the attorney son and ordered the parties to execute the agreement and comply with its terms, but when the trial court rejected plaintiff's motion to reconsider the trial court's decision based on the claim that her proposed draft of the agreement more accurately reflected the offer she made and she appealed, the appellate court dismissed plaintiff's appeal on the ground that the appellate court could not effectuate the relief she requested based on the doctrines of mootness and release of errors since the order entered in the case filed by plaintiff's son resolved the same issue pending in plaintiff's chancery action; furthermore, plaintiff accepted benefits from the decision, while a reversal would be disadvantageous for the son.

Daniel G. O'Day (argued), Robert J. Hanauer, and Daniel Hanuska, all of Cusack, Gilfillan & O'Day, of Peoria, for appellant.

Joshua G. Vincent and Kimberly A. Jansen (argued), both of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, of Chicago, and David E. Jones, of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, of Peoria, for appellees.

JUSTICE WRIGHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

WRIGHT, JUSTICE.

Page 835

[¶1] The controversy in the case at bar was one of five lawsuits simultaneously pending in the Peoria County circuit court involving disputes between plaintiff Souad Ghantous (Souad) and/or her children. Defendant Leo Ghantous (Leo) is a party in all five cases and Souad is either named as a party plaintiff or beneficiary in two cases, namely, the instant chancery case, case No. 12-CH-95 and a pending probate case, case No. 10-P-100.

[¶2] Even though Souad was not a named party in all five cases, she initiated settlement discussions with Leo by proposing a global settlement agreement to resolve all five pending cases. Souad's proposal suggested the dismissal of four lawsuits with prejudice and dictated, in part, the conduct of the beneficiaries with respect to the administration of the probate estate.

[¶3] According to Leo, he incorporated every one of the enforceable conditions his mother proposed into a written release and settlement agreement (Exhibit E), which his mother, Souad, refused to sign. Consequently, Leo simultaneously filed the identical " Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement" (Motion to Enforce) in all five pending cases. After two contested motion hearings, the trial court found the parties had reached a global release and settlement agreement affecting all five cases and ordered the parties to sign a modified release and settlement agreement

Page 836

(Exhibit G) prepared by Souad's attorney. The court denied Souad's motion to reconsider that ruling.

[¶4] Souad appeals the order denying her request to reconsider the entry of the order enforcing the global release and settlement agreement in case No. 12-CH-95, alone. The same order enforcing the global release and settlement agreement has not been challenged in the other four cases and remains binding on all parties to the agreement, including Souad. Consequently, we are unable to effectuate the relief requested by Souad and dismiss the appeal according to the doctrine of mootness and the doctrine of release of errors.

[¶5] BACKGROUND

[¶6] On February 7, 2012, Souad Ghantous filed this chancery complaint against her son, Leo, alleging Leo breached a fiduciary duty. According to the complaint, Souad and Camille Ghantous were " elderly immigrants from Lebanon" who relied on their son, Leo, a licensed attorney, for both legal and financial advice. In addition to their son Leo, Souad and Camille had three more children: Elza, Ibrahim, and Antoun Ghantous. This controversy was one of five lawsuits simultaneously pending in the Peoria County circuit court involving disputes between Souad and/or three of her children, Leo, Elza, and Ibrahim, and the probate of Camille's estate following his death in 2010.

[¶7] In Camille's probate case, case No. 10-P-100 -- In re Estate of Ghantous -- Souad was named administrator of Camille's estate. Thereafter, Leo initiated the following three separate lawsuits involving financial disputes with his siblings: case No. 11-L-343 -- Ghantous v. Elza Ghantous; case No. 12-L-240 -- Ghantous v. Elza Ghantous; and case No. 12-L-287 -- Ghantous v. Elza and Ibrahim Ghantous.

[¶8] On February 7, 2012, Souad initiated this chancery action against Leo; Leo's company, Haymeadow Investments, LLC; and Regions Bank. In this complaint, Souad is named plaintiff, acting in three separate and distinct capacities: (1) as the " Administrator with Will annexed of the Estate of Camille I. Ghantous Revocable Trust Agreement dated April 4, 1999" ; (2) as the " Trustee of the Souad Ghantous Revocable Trust Agreement dated April 8, 1999" ; and (3) individually, on her own behalf.

[¶9] The chancery complaint, filed by Souad, sought equitable relief and money damages against Leo for " Breach of Fiduciary Duty." The complaint stated Leo persuaded his parents to personally borrow $1.1 million in January of 2007, using their own multiple properties as collateral, to contribute toward the purchase price of the Haymeadow Apartments as a " family business." Souad, Camille, and Leo were to share ownership interests in the apartments in percentages that reflected their contributions toward the purchase of the property. According to this complaint, Leo breached a fiduciary duty to his parents when he drafted legal documents creating Haymeadow Investments, LLC (LLC), in his name alone as the only title holder to the newly acquired Haymeadow Apartments. The complaint alleged Leo's actions were contrary to his verbal agreement with his elderly parents.

[¶10] According to the complaint, the documents Leo prepared did not address the $1.1 million investment Souad and Camille made toward the purchase of the apartments, which they believed would be operated as a family business. Souad alleged in the complaint that Leo obtained a loan for the Haymeadow Apartments, excluding the $1.1 million paid by Souad and Camille, for $7,100,000. Souad and Camille's $1.1 million investment came from a loan that

Page 837

was secured by Souad and Camille's other real estate properties and not the Haymeadow Apartments. Thus, the complaint alleged Leo, through his LLC, solely obtained title to the Haymeadow Apartments while his parents became solely responsible to repay the ...


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