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O'Callaghan v. Satherlie

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

July 8, 2015


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 L 011014. The Honorable Sheryl A. Pethers, Judge Presiding.


LAVIN, JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Mason and Cobbs concurred in the judgment and opinion.



[¶1] This appeal arises from the trial court's judgment dismissing a complaint filed by plaintiffs Joseph Michael O'Callaghan and Suzanne T. O'Callaghan (the O'Callaghans) against defendants Jacqueline M. Satherlie and her law firm, Kopka, Pinkus & Dolin, P.C. (Kopka). The O'Callaghans essentially alleged that Satherlie and Kopka, who had represented the O'Callaghans' adversaries in underlying litigation regarding toxic black mold that had infiltrated the O'Callaghans' property, had committed intentional infliction of severe emotional distress and were otherwise strictly liable for ultrahazardous activity, specifically, the remediation of toxic black mold. On appeal, the O'Callaghans assert the trial court improperly dismissed their complaint because (1) Satherlie and Kopka moved to dismiss pursuant to the wrong statute; (2) they did not file an answer pleading any affirmative defenses; (3) they lacked valid affirmative defenses; (4) the complaint sufficiently alleged causes of action; and (5) the trial court denied the O'Callaghans the opportunity to respond to the substance of the affirmative defenses raised in the motion to dismiss. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the complaint, as the O'Callaghans' claims are barred by the absolute litigation privilege, which belongs to attorneys.


[¶3] A. The Underlying Action

[¶4] In 2007, the O'Callaghans filed a 14-count amended complaint against City Centre Condominium Association as well as various members of the association's board of directors (collectively the Association) (No. 07 L 000795). The O'Callaghans alleged, in pertinent part, that the Association had failed to properly remedy a ceiling leak, causing toxic black mold to infiltrate their condominium. The complaint's caption named the Association's counsel, Satherlie and Kopka, as defendants and asked the court to enter damages against them. In 2008, the trial court dismissed the majority of the counts with prejudice, including the O'Callaghans' requests for relief against Satherlie and Kopka.

[¶5] Years later, in 2011, the O'Callaghans filed a second-amended complaint, omitting Satherlie and Kopka as defendants but adding several parties involved with the installation of heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment in the condominium building. That complaint essentially alleged that improper installation led to the precipitation of moisture onto the O'Callaghans' drywall drop ceiling. In addition, the O'Callaghans alleged that while attempting remedial measures, defendant Steamatic Chicago South West, Inc., doing business as Brouwer Brothers Steamatic (Steamatic), removed a containment barrier and, under the direction of defendant Environ International Corporation (Environ), which was in turn acting under the direction of Satherlie, allowed a large opening to remain unsealed for an hour and a half. The O'Callaghans similarly alleged that Steamatic was operating at the direction of Environ and Environ was operating at the direction of Satherlie when Steamatic sealed a cavity in the wall and ceiling while still wet and subsequently cut slits in the plastic seal, destroying the seal's effectiveness. According to the O'Callaghans, these actions permitted the toxic mold to spread.

[¶6] On May 14, 2013, the trial court entered an agreed order dismissing the case with prejudice as to the Association defendants. The case against Steamatic and Environ, however, remained pending. It appears from the circuit court website that the rest of the case was voluntarily dismissed by agreement on October 22, 2013, but neither the record nor the parties' briefs reveal the fate of the remaining claims.

[¶7] B. The Present Action

[¶8] Meanwhile, on October 3, 2013, the O'Callaghans filed the instant action against Satherlie and Kopka, alleging intentional infliction of severe emotional distress and strict liability for ultrahazardous activity, and seeking punitive damages (No. 13 L 011014). The complaint alleged that in the underlying action, Satherlie failed to disclose an expert's recommendations for remediating the mold in 2007, a report not discovered by the O'Callaghans until some unspecified time later. The complaint also alleged that in light of the report, Satherlie and Kopka knew that the defendants in the underlying action had no meritorious defense but nonetheless contrived a defense that the O'Callaghans had caused the toxic mold to form due to the unapproved modification of their condominium. In addition, rather than producing in discovery the Association's approval of the prior condominium owners' application to so modify the condominium, Satherlie concealed such information. Satherlie and Kopka, in bad faith, unnecessarily prolonged the underlying action based on a nonmeritorious defense, filed baseless motions and discovery, refused to produce discovery until ordered to do so, contested the O'Callaghans' meritorious motions and concealed documents. The O'Callaghans also alleged that Satherlie and Kopka refused to negotiate terms for inspecting the O'Callaghans' condominium, did not participate in settlement conferences or mediation in good faith, and obtained an improper court order prohibiting the O'Callaghans from meeting with Association members to resolves the issues themselves. When experts hired by Satherlie and Kopka did not find the O'Callaghans' actions were the source of the water leaks, Satherlie and Kopka attempted to have the experts amend their reports and fired them when they would not do so.

[¶9] As in the underlying action, the O'Callaghans alleged that Satherlie directed the inspectors to open or remove containment barriers that had been erected to prevent the spread of mold, thereby allowing the toxic black mold to spread. The O'Callaghans were required to obtain court orders to have containment barriers re-erected. There was also ill will between the O'Callaghans and other condominium owners in the building because the underlying action prevented other unit owners from selling or refinancing their properties and Satherlie had told various owners that the O'Callaghans were prolonging litigation by failing to cooperate. Additionally, the unlicensed roofing consultants hired by Satherlie and Kopka made inadequate repairs. The O'Callaghans further alleged that Satherlie was motivated by economic benefit to her in the form of attorney fees and engaged in the aforementioned conduct without her clients' knowledge.

[¶10] Satherlie and Kopka then moved to dismiss the complaint, citing section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2012)). The motion argued that the O'Callaghans' claims were barred by an attorney's absolute litigation privilege, res judicata, and a policy against claim-splitting. In addition, the motion argued that the O'Callaghans had not stated a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or strict liability and that punitive damages were not available for the former cause of action. Furthermore, Satherlie and Kopka noted that the trial ...

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