Stephen A. Rehfeldt, of Mulherin, Rehfeldt & Varchetto, P.C., of Wheaton, for appellant.
Richard D. Grossman, of Chicago, for appellees.
Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] This appeal involves an action for wrongful death predicated on a suicide, allegedly brought about by the defendant's
intentional infliction of emotional distress. The circuit court of Lake County granted defendant's motion to dismiss the wrongful death action, along with the related survival action, with prejudice, finding that " wrongful death via suicide" is not cognizable in Illinois. The appellate court vacated the trial court's dismissal order and remanded for further proceedings. 2014 IL App. (2d) 130331, 382 Ill.Dec. 167, 12 N.E.3d 167.
[¶2] For the reasons stated below, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the trial court.
[¶4] On June 15, 2011, Nelsyn Caceras, also known as Ricardo Ortiz, allegedly committed suicide in the apartment he and his wife, Maria Turcios, rented in a development known as the Colonial Park Apartments, located in Park City, Illinois. Approximately six months later, Turcios filed a complaint in the Lake County circuit court against defendant, The DeBruler Company, the agent for Colonial Park Apartments. Turcios filed the complaint on behalf of herself and the couple's two minor children. Plaintiffs sought damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress (count I), wrongful eviction (count II), and breach of contract (count III). Plaintiffs amended the complaint by adding count IV, seeking damages under the Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/0.01 et seq. (West 2012)), and count V, seeking damages under the survival statute (755 ILCS 5/27-6 (West 2012)). Turcios was later appointed special administrator of her late husband's estate, and the complaint was once again amended.
[¶5] At issue here are the wrongful death and survival counts in the second amended complaint. According to the complaint, Turcios and Caceras entered into a written lease with defendant running from May 1, 2011, to April 30, 2012. Plaintiffs took possession of the apartment on May 1, and tendered the required security deposit and first month's rent. Just 10 days into the lease, Caceras received a letter from Colonial Park Apartments purporting to be " an official 30 days notice" of eviction. The letter advised that " [c]onstruction begins June 10," and " unfortunately," Caceras and Turcios did not qualify for an unspecified " new program." Three additional letters followed. On May 20, the couple received a general reminder that they must vacate the apartment by June 9. On May 31, the couple was advised that the washers and dryers would be removed from the laundry room on June 13, and that " Colonial Park has decided to allow June 1-9, 2011 to be rent free." On June 7, the couple received a letter advising that demolition work would begin soon, but the family could be transferred to another unit with free rent for the month of June. The couple received two telephone calls from defendant's agents pressuring them to move, and on June 1, 2011, the couple's tender of the June rent was refused.
[¶6] The complaint further alleges that the couple sought legal advice and were told that the lease was valid and that the landlord could not unilaterally terminate the lease. The couple also sought assistance through Catholic Charities, which had helped them navigate the leasing process
because they did not speak English. The case manager, Juan Barrera, allegedly called defendant's agent, Gilena Borkoski, on May 12 and was told that the lease could be revoked at any time and was no longer valid. The complaint purportedly quotes portions of Barrera's case reports. His report from June 1 states that the couple reported " fatigue due to lack of sleep over this matter," and that they both expressed that they are " depressed, anxious and angry" because " they feel that management is not willing to work with them." Barrera's report from June 10, as quoted in the complaint, states:
" Ricardo and Maria met with this case manager and were extremely upset. They mention that management called them last night and asked if the children were born in the U.S. The clients were told that a possibility of qualifying for the new subsidy program existed through the children. The clients were told to bring birth certificates and other documentation so that they might be able to talk about this and begin [the] application process. Both Ricardo and Maria felt that this was a set up and were reluctant to go meet with them at 10:00 a.m. At this point both Ricardo and Maria expressed anger and frustration at the management office. Ricardo also mentions that at one point Gilena Borkoski[,] the office manager[,] offered them $2000 to move out. They both felt discriminated [ sic ] and harassed[.] [T]hey were confused and felt they were given misleading information all along. They expressed that all they wanted was for management to honor the lease and give them a new unit; they felt that management just did not want them there anymore. Client wanted to seek legal advice because of all the events that occurred and did not want another family to have to go through this. Both Ricardo and Maria express that this contributed to lack of sleep and depression and anxiety. They were upset because their daughters were also very tense and would cry all the time. This [case manager] provided clients with the number to Fair Housing and to the Lake County Bar [A]ssociation for legal advice."
[¶7] According to the complaint, demolition of the building began after June 10, 2011, despite the fact that the couple and their children were still occupying their apartment. " The demolition company tore into the outside walls of the building in which [the couple's] unit was located," and then began to demolish the surrounding units. On June 14, Caceras allegedly told his wife that he could not tolerate the situation any longer, but did not know what to do. The following day, Caceras committed suicide in the apartment, leaving a note that read: " Please forgive me my daughters, and you also Carmen. Sell the land and build the house." Plaintiffs subsequently vacated the apartment.
[¶8] The wrongful death count states simply that, " [a]s a result of the wrongful acts of Defendant described above, Nelson [ sic ] Caceras committed suicide." This count seeks compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages, " in light of the intentional wrongdoing of Defendant."
[¶9] The survival count alleges that defendant's conduct, in forcing Caceras and his family out of their validly rented apartment by demolishing the building around them, was extreme and outrageous which defendant knew, or should have known, would cause severe emotional distress. According to the complaint, Caceras did, in fact, experience severe emotional distress including, but not limited to fright, grief, shame, worry, and ...