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Miller v. Lawrence

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

August 19, 2016

JAMES MILLER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STANLEY E. LAWRENCE and SHARI E. LAWRENCE, Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 13 CH 473 The Honorable Diane J. Larsen, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Reyes and Justice Lampkin concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GORDON, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The instant appeal arises from the dismissal of plaintiff James Miller's complaint for conversion, which plaintiff filed against defendants Stanley and Shari Lawrence based on their actions after the death of defendants' mother, for whom plaintiff had been a caregiver. The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice after (1) granting defendant Stanley Lawrence's motion for summary judgment and (2) granting defendant Shari Lawrence's combined motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619(a)(6) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619(a)(6) (West 2012)). Plaintiff appeals, arguing that (1) his lawsuit was not barred by the doctrine of res judicata and (2) his lawsuit was not encompassed by a release plaintiff had previously executed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On January 8, 2013, plaintiff filed a verified complaint against defendants, in which he alleged that he had been the caretaker of Frances J. Lawrence, defendants' mother, for approximately 15 years prior to her August 21, 2009, death. Frances had an annuity and a life insurance policy, both of which named plaintiff as the sole beneficiary. Frances also had a bank account that listed plaintiff as the beneficiary.

         ¶ 4 The complaint alleges that in April 2009, [1] Frances signed a power of attorney for property appointing defendant Shari Lawrence as her agent. On April 15, 2009, Shari used the power of attorney to remove plaintiff as beneficiary of the annuity and life insurance policies and substitute herself and Stanley as beneficiaries. Additionally, on July 15, 2009, Shari used the power of attorney to remove plaintiff as the beneficiary of the bank account, close the account, and withdraw the proceeds. Frances died on August 21, 2009, and defendants collected the funds from the annuity and life insurance policies.

         ¶ 5 The complaint alleges that Shari's use of a power of attorney in this manner was improper and further alleges that the funds collected by defendants were wrongfully converted by defendants and should be returned to plaintiff.

         ¶ 6 Attached to the complaint was a copy of the power of attorney, which named Shari as Frances' agent and named Stanley as successor agent. The power of attorney was signed by "Frances Lawrence by Stanley Lawrence, " and also contained a handwritten "X" next to the signature line. Immediately preceding the signature was a statement that, "[b]ecause of my disability (gout in both hands), I am asking my son, Stanley Lawrence, to sign this power of attorney on my behalf and at my request."

         ¶ 7 On March 6, 2014, Shari filed a combined motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619(a)(6) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619(a)(6) (West 2012)). In support of a dismissal pursuant to section 2-619(a)(6), the motion claimed that plaintiff had previously filed a case in federal district court against Shari and Stanley, which resulted in a settlement agreement that released any claims that could have been raised in the federal case. In support of a dismissal pursuant to section 2-615, the motion claimed that plaintiff could not state a cause of action for conversion, as the subject matter of the litigation was monetary funds and not chattel.

         ¶ 8 On March 24, 2014, Stanley filed a motion for summary judgment also claiming that plaintiff's claims against him were barred by a release that plaintiff executed on June 10, 2013, in connection with a settlement of the prior federal court action. The motion claimed that at the time plaintiff executed the release, plaintiff had litigated state law claims in the federal lawsuit "and was aware of the [instant] pending lawsuit." The motion additionally claimed that plaintiff's claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata because the claims alleged in the state court case could have been raised in the federal court case.

         ¶ 9 Attached to the motion for summary judgment was a copy of a release, signed by plaintiff on June 10, 2013. The release is entitled "Release of All Claims Against Stanley Lawrence" and provides, in pertinent part:

"In consideration of the payment of One Hundred Two, Seven Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($102, 750), Plaintiff, JAMES MILLER, does hereby release Defendant, STANLEY LAWRENCE, and all of his heirs, relatives, executors, administrators, successors, assigns, agents, employees, insurance carriers, of and from any causes of action and claims for wrongful eviction, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, personal injuries, property loss, will contests, demands, costs, loss of services, expenses, compensation, damages, and any other claims or causes of action whether or not presently known, direct or vicarious, pending or threatened, which he now has or may have hereafter on account of, arising out of or relating to any of the matters alleged or which could have been alleged and tried in the lawsuit entitled JAMES MILLER v. STANLEY LAWRENCE, filed in the United Stated District Court for the Northern District of Illinois as Case No. 11 C 01520, including without limitation, any demand, claim, or cause of action on account of, arising out of, or relating to the property located at *** South Wabash, Chicago, Illinois and JAMES MILLER's removal from it. ***
This Release contains the ENTIRE AGREEMENT between the parties hereto, and the terms of this Release are contractual and not a mere recital. The undersigned have CAREFULLY READ this release, fully understand it, and sign this as the free and voluntary act of the undersigned."

         ¶ 10 Also attached to the motion for summary judgment were the original and fifth amended complaints in the federal case referenced by the motion and release. The fifth amended complaint named Stanley, Shari, and three Chicago police officers as defendants and alleged that plaintiff began living at a residence on South Wabash Avenue (Wabash property) in Chicago in April 1993 with the permission of Frances, the owner of the residence. Plaintiff resided at the residence for over 16 years and provided care for Frances, who battled cancer near the end of her life. According to the complaint: "[d]uring that time, Frances Lawrence established a strong friendship with Plaintiff. Frances Lawrence ...


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