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Cochran v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

August 3, 2016

DONNA COCHRAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
SECURITAS SECURITY SERVICES USA, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 12L245, Honorable Peter C. Cavanagh, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holder White and Appleton concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HARRIS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Donna Cochran, brought a cause of action against defendant, Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., alleging interference with her right to possession of the remains of her deceased son, Walter Andrew Cochran (decedent). The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, and she appeals. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 The following facts are undisputed. In September 2010, the decedent, then age 39, died at his home in Moultrie County, Illinois. On September 14, 2010, his body was transported to the Moultrie County morgue and then to Memorial Medical Center (Memorial) in Springfield, Illinois, for an autopsy. On September 16, 2010, representatives of Butler Funeral Home (Butler) arrived at Memorial's morgue to obtain the remains of an individual named William Carroll. However, rather than obtaining Carroll's remains, Butler was mistakenly provided with decedent's remains. Decedent's body was then cremated by Butler.

         ¶ 4 In September 2013, plaintiff, individually and as the independent administrator of decedent's estate, filed a complaint against Memorial, Butler, and defendant-an entity that contracted with Memorial to provide certain security services to the hospital. Plaintiff raised various claims related to the wrongful cremation of decedent, including an "interference with right to possession of decedent" claim against defendant. In June 2015, plaintiff settled her claims with Memorial and Butler.

         ¶ 5 Also in June 2015, plaintiff filed a third amended complaint against defendant only. Again, she alleged defendant wrongfully interfered with her right to possession of the decedent's remains. Plaintiff alleged she was decedent's mother and next of kin, and she had the right to possession of her son's body to make an appropriate disposition "by burial or otherwise." She asserted defendant "had a duty not to interfere" with her right to possession of her son's body but violated that duty by failing to follow Memorial's rules and policies regarding the care and handling of deceased individuals.

         ¶ 6 Specifically, plaintiff alleged defendant's employees "were responsible for receiv- ing, tracking, and releasing bodies processed by [Memorial's] morgue" and had to "conform their conduct with written documents, entitled 'Security Policies.' " She identified the relevant policies as follows:

"12. At all relevant times, Security Policies #1014 and #1014-2, titled 'Receiving/Releasing Deceased Persons' were in effect and required that 'The Security officer must also make sure that an identification tag is left visible with/on the body.'
19. At all relevant times, Paragraph 5 of Security Policy #1014-2 state[d] that 'A Coroner's Case cannot be released to a funeral home until verbal confirmation to do so has been received from the Memorial Pathologists and the Coroner's office.' ***
21. At all relevant times, Paragraph 5 of Security Policy #1014 state[d] that 'Upon release of a deceased person to a funeral home a Security officer must be present, or must verify the deceased person with the funeral home and with the Nursing Service Print-out before removal from Memorial can take place. Also, before removal the Nursing Service Print-out must be signed by both the Security officer and the funeral home representative. The time and date of pick-up must also be recorded.' "

Plaintiff also alleged defendant's employees "were responsible for maintaining a log book identifying the bodies in the morgue and their location."

         ¶ 7 According to plaintiff, defendant's employees received decedent's body from the Moultrie County Coroner's office on September 14, 2010, and placed his body in Memorial's morgue. She alleged defendant's employees "did not place an identification tag on [decedent's] body to ensure that a tag was left visible with/on the body when it was received at [Memorial]." Decedent's body was then placed within a Ziegler case, a case used for severely decomposed bodies. Plaintiff alleged defendant's employees failed to place an identification tag on either the Ziegler case containing decedent's body or on the body of decedent. Additionally, she asserted defendant's employees "did not accurately record the location of [decedent's] body in the morgue log book and instead recorded that the body of decedent William Carroll was located in the Ziegler case."

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff also alleged that on September 16, 2010, defendant's employee's mistak- enly transferred possession of decedent's body to Butler and told Butler's representatives that the body transferred was that of William Carroll. She asserted defendant's employees (1) did not have verbal confirmation to release decedent's body to a funeral home; (2) did not verify the identity of the deceased person with Butler or on the "Nursing Service Print-out, " sign the "Nursing Service Print-out, " or obtain the signature of a Butler representative on the "Nursing Service Print-out"; (3) relied on an erroneous morgue log book entry to determine the identity of the body in the Ziegler case and did not confirm the identity by checking for an identification tag on the body prior to releasing the body to Butler; and (4) did not attempt to make a visual identification of the body in the Ziegler case to ensure that it matched the description of William Carroll.

         ¶ 9 Plaintiff alleged defendant breached its duty not to interfere with her possession of decedent's body through the following acts or omissions:

"a. Failed to conform with the provisions of written security policies established by Memorial *** designed to prevent misidentification of bodies in its morgue;
b. Failed to keep an accurate morgue log book that correctly stated the lo- cation and identity of bodies in the Memorial *** morgue;
c. Violated both hospital policy and industry standards by releasing the incorrect body to representatives of a funeral home.
d. Violated both hospital policy and industry standards by releasing a body that lacked an identification tag to a funeral home;
e. Released a body to representatives of a funeral home when it knew or should have known the body in its possession did not match the description of the body to be transported;
f. Relied entirely on an erroneous log book entry to confirm the identity of a body in the morgue in contradiction with security policies and industry standards.
g. Was otherwise careless and/or reckless in its care and handling of [d]ecedent ***."

         Additionally, plaintiff asserted that as a proximate result of defendant's "wrongful acts and/or omissions" she experienced severe emotional distress and mental suffering, suffered embarrassment and humiliation, and suffered financial loss.

         ¶ 10 In July 2015, defendant filed a combined motion to dismiss plaintiff's third amended complaint pursuant to section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2014)), seeking dismissal of the complaint pursuant to both section 2-615 and section 2-619 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 2014)). It argued dismissal was warranted under section 2-615 because plaintiff (1) failed to allege sufficient facts to show a duty owed by defendant; (2) was required, but failed, to plead sufficient facts to demonstrate willful and wanton conduct by defendant; (3) failed to plead sufficient facts to show that defendant's conduct was a proximate cause of her claimed damages; and (4) failed to plead sufficient facts to support a claim for emotional damages.

         ¶ 11 Defendant argued dismissal of plaintiff's third amended complaint was warranted under section 2-619 because plaintiff "ignore[d] both the facts known to her and her counsel at the time of the filing of her pleading in violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137 [(eff. July 1, 2013)] and the pleading requirements of a cause of action for interference with the right to possession of the body of a decedent under Illinois law." It maintained that, as a result, plaintiff "failed to plead a cause of action for interference with the right to possess the body of the [d]ecedent" and "[t]he facts plead [sic] and the facts known to *** [p]laintiff at the time of pleading ...


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