Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
PATRICK L. RUCKER, Plaintiff-Appellee,
WILLIE JAMES RUCKER, Defendant-Appellant
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 04 CH 2270. The Honorable Mosche Jacobius, Judge, presiding.
In an action alleging that defendant mishandled the guardian estate established for his nephew following the death of the nephew's mother and that defendant was guilty of breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and conversion, and seeking an equitable accounting, the trial court properly denied defendant's motions for a directed finding and summary judgment based on the finding that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support his claims, and after a bench trial, plaintiff was properly awarded $20,000 in damages as a result of defendant's conduct, especially in the absence of any documentary evidence supporting defendant's oral accounting of the management of the nephew's estate.
For PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE: Ellen E. Douglass, Attorney for Patrick Rucker; Jean Adams, Guardian of Estate of Elijah Ragland-Rucker, Law Offices of Ellen E. Douglass, Chicago, Illinois.
For DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: Charles E. Pinkston, Chicago, Illinois.
JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] Plaintiff Patrick Rucker accused his uncle, defendant Willie Rucker, of mishandling the guardian estate established after
the death of Patrick's mother. Patrick brought suit alleging breach of fiduciary duty, equitable accounting, negligence, and conversion. After a bench trial, the trial court found in Patrick's favor on two counts: breach of fiduciary duty and negligence. The court entered judgment against Willie for $20,000.
[¶2] Willie contends the trial court erred in finding he breached his fiduciary duty and was negligent as guardian of Patrick's estate by retaining all rents and profits derived from estate property, failing to provide an accounting, and not properly transferring the estate property when Patrick reached majority. Willie also contends Patrick failed to establish he suffered any quantifiable actual damages or any damages at all as a result of Willie's guardianship. Willie further contends the court improperly denied both his motion to dismiss and later motion for summary judgment.
[¶3] The trial court properly held Willie acted negligently as guardian of Patrick's estate. As a result of Willie's breach of his duty to provide accountings of the estate, there is no proof of how he managed Patrick's estate. Plaintiff suffered damages as result of Willie's conduct, particularly his failure to document expenditures. We uphold the trial court's damages award for $20,000. The damages are not purely speculative, as Willie suggests, but rather based on the record.
[¶5] In February 1993, Patrick's mother and Willie's sister, Anna Rucker died. Patrick was 14 years old. Willie was appointed guardian of Patrick's estate and charged with administering the estate in accordance with the Illinois Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq. (West 1992)). Patrick's grandmother and Willie's mother, Shirley Rucker, became guardian over Patrick's person. In re Estate of Rucker, No. 93 PG 5529 (Cir. Ct. Will Co.). Patrick's $75,000 estate included $50,000 in cash proceeds from a life insurance policy and $25,000 of real estate located in University Park, Illinois (first property).
[¶6] During his minority Patrick lived with his grandmother and his care was provided for by $300 in social security income a month and by Willie, who received $50,000 on behalf of Patrick. Willie gave Patrick $20,000 of the $50,000 as a lump sum when he reached the age of majority (18). The following disbursements, totaling $21,600, were also made: (i) $6,200 in funeral expenses for Anna Rucker; (ii) $5,500 in educational expenses for Patrick; (iii) $1,800 bond to act as guardian; (iv) $3,600 car 1 for Patrick; and (v) $4,500 car 2 for Patrick. Willie maintains the remaining amount, totaling less than $10,000, was used up in living expenses and to pay legal defense fees (while Patrick was still a minor, he was charged in a murder case).
[¶7] As guardian, Willie rented out the first property. Willie claimed the property never turned a profit and all rental income went toward the mortgage and expenses. (The property was sold after this case began, netting a profit of about $10,000, which Willie claims was given to Patrick's heir due to Patrick's death on May 15, 2004.)
[¶8] Patrick alleged that Willie used $20,000 from the estate to purchase an income property located in Phoenix, Illinois (second property). The second property was purchased in Willie's name and is rental property. Willie denied estate funds were used to purchase the property.
[¶9] Patrick moved into the second property on November 15, 2003, and paid rent to Willie. Patrick claimed Willie threatened to evict him from the second property
if he did not keep current on his rental payments. (On January 7, 2011, a foreclosure lien was filed regarding the second property.)
[¶10] Willie never charged Patrick's estate administration fees. He contends he used personal funds to pay the mortgage on the first property and for food, clothing, and everyday expenses for Patrick.
[¶11] Willie admitted he never filed an accounting as guardian of Patrick's estate, claiming he was unaware this duty existed. When Patrick turned 21 years old, Willie sought a court order to have the guardianship terminated. The record shows that at that time, Patrick never expressed dissatisfaction with Willie's administration of his estate. On June 7, 1999, the Will County probate court entered an order terminating Willie's guardianship of Patrick's estate. Both Willie and Patrick were present in court. The legal process involving the estate of Patrick Rucker was filed, opened, administered, and closed in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois.
[¶12] In February 2004, Patrick filed a complaint in Cook County against Willie alleging conversion, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and equitable accounting. Patrick claimed Willie breached his fiduciary duty as guardian of his estate by failing to provide an accounting from 1993 through 1999 and by willfully using and retaining monies from the estate. Patrick claimed Willie retained all rents and profits from the first property and failed to properly transfer the property to Patrick when he reached majority. He further claimed that Willie used money from Patrick's estate for his own gain, specifically the purchase of the second property and the rents derived from it.
[¶13] Willie filed a motion to dismiss on July 23, 2004. (After Patrick died, the original complaint was amended to substitute the plaintiff to Jean Adams, the court-appointed guardian of the estate of Elijah Ragland-Rucker, Patrick's son and sole heir. Elijah was born to Shenine Ragland, an unmarried woman, on October 4, 2000. Three years later, Patrick signed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, which was filed with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.) The amended complaint sought an accounting of the estate, imposition of a constructive trust, punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs. The court denied Willie's motion to dismiss and Willie filed a second motion to dismiss, which the court also denied.
[¶14] In denying Willie's motions to dismiss, the court found that when the guardianship terminated, Patrick was entitled to receive the estate in full, which included all estate property, as well as profits, if any, the estate generated. The court found plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to sustain the claims against Willie because Willie failed to turn over possession or ownership of the estate property to Patrick or the estate's profits when the guardianship terminated.
[¶15] On September 6, 2011, Willie filed a motion for summary judgment arguing jurisdictional issues and improper venue. Willie also contended plaintiff could not establish conversion, negligence, or breach of fiduciary duty in his handling of Patrick's estate. Willie attached an affidavit to his motion, attesting he spent a considerable amount of his own money on Patrick's care and support and never sought reimbursement from Patrick's estate. Willie claimed he did not use $20,000 of Patrick's death benefit proceeds to purchase real estate in Phoenix, Illinois, or any other asset belonging to Patrick or his estate for his own ...