DEBORAH CRAIG, as Administratrix for the Estate of Rebecca Craig, Plaintiff-Appellant,
STEVEN R. ZINK, Defendant-Appellee.
from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 14P199 Honorable Paul
G. Lawrence, Judge Presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices Holder White and Steigmann concurred
in the judgment and opinion.
1 On July 6, 2014, Rebecca Craig died intestate leaving one
child, Deborah Craig, as her only living heir. In August
2014, the trial court appointed Deborah Craig as
administratrix of the estate of Rebecca Craig (Estate). In
February 2015, Steven R. Zink filed a claim against the
Estate. In November 2015, the trial court entered a written
order (1) striking with prejudice the Estate's amended
affirmative defenses against Zink's claim and (2)
dismissing with prejudice the Estate's second amended
counterclaim against Zink.
2 The Estate appeals, arguing the trial court erred by (1)
applying the wrong legal standard to evaluate the sufficiency
of its pleadings and (2) finding its amended affirmative
defenses were insufficient as a matter of law and its second
amended counterclaim failed to state a cause of action. In
the alternative, the Estate asserts, even if it its pleadings
contained technical deficiencies, the court erred by not
allowing it an additional opportunity for amendment. We
reverse and remand with directions.
3 I. BACKGROUND
4 In February 2015, Zink filed a claim against the Estate for
the amount of $188, 660.70. Zink alleged:
"The nature of the [c]laim is partly for services
rendered in the amount of $167, 400.00 to and for
the benefit of the decedent by the [c]laimant while acting as
the decedent's personal caretaker. In addition, the
[c]laimant performed maintenance and upkeep on the
decedent's home in the amount of $18, 335.53 and
made car loan payments on behalf of the decedent in the
amount of $2, 925.17."
5 In March 2015, the Estate filed a (1) motion to dismiss
Zink's claim and (2) counterclaim against Zink. As to its
motion to dismiss, the Estate asserted Zink's claim
consisted of factual and legal conclusions and was barred by
other affirmative matter. As to its counterclaim, the Estate
sought (1) in excess of $500, 000 for domestic services
decedent provided to Zink over the course of 14 years while
Zink lived in decedent's residence and (2) one-half of
the monies owed for decedent's funeral and grave marker
6 On April 8, 2015, Zink filed a (1) response to the
Estate's motion to dismiss and (2) motion to strike the
Estate's counterclaim under section 2-615 of the Code of
Civil Procedure (Civil Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)).
As to his response to the Estate's motion to dismiss,
Zink asserted (1) section 18-2 of the Probate Act of 1975
(Probate Act) (755 ILCS 5/18- 2 (West 2014)) did not require
formal pleading in presenting a claim, (2) his written claim
provided sufficient information to notify the Estate of the
nature of the claim, and (3) the affirmative matters raised
were not proper bases for dismissal. As to his motion to
strike the Estate's counterclaim, defendant asserted,
under section 2-608(b) of the Civil Code (735 ILCS 5/2-608(b)
(West 2014)), the Estate's counterclaim was improper as
it was filed without an answer to defendant's claim.
7 On April 27, 2015, the Estate filed a (1) reply to
Zink's response to its motion to dismiss Zink's claim
and (2) response to Zink's motion to strike its
counterclaim. As to its reply to Zink's response to its
motion to dismiss Zink's claim, the Estate admitted
formal pleading was unnecessary in presenting a claim but
maintained Zink's claim was insufficient as it failed to
allege the dates the alleged services were rendered. As to
its response to Zink's motion to strike its counterclaim,
the Estate asserted, under section 18-5(a) of the Probate Act
(755 ILCS 5/18-5(a) (West 2014)), it properly filed its
counterclaim within 30 days of receiving Zink's claim.
8 In May 2015, Zink filed a reply to the Estate's
response to his motion to strike the Estate's
counterclaim. Zink asserted, while section 18-5(a) of the
Probate Act (id.) indicates the administrator of an
estate may file a counterclaim in response to a claim within
30 days of the receipt of the claim, it did not indicate the
administrator may prosecute a counterclaim without first
filing an answer to the claim.
9 On June 12, 2015, the trial court held a hearing on (1) the
Estate's motion to dismiss Zink's claim and (2)
Zink's motion to strike the Estate's counterclaim. A
transcript from the hearing or a bystander's report is
not included in the record on appeal. A docket entry
indicates the court (1) denied the Estate's motion to
dismiss Zink's claim and (2) granted Zink's motion to
strike the Estate's counterclaim. The Estate was given 30
days to file an answer and an amended counterclaim.
10 On June 16, 2015, the Estate filed a pleading titled
"Answer to Claim of [Zink], Affirmative Defenses, and
Amended Counterclaim." The Estate's answer denied
being indebted to Zink for any amount alleged in his claim.
As to its affirmative defenses, the Estate alleged Zink's
claim was barred by (1) the statute of frauds, (2)
decedent's 2008 discharge in bankruptcy, (3) the facts
alleged in its counterclaim, (4) the "clean hands"
doctrine due to past financial dealing with decedent and the
Estate's administratrix, (5) any setoff of any jury award
on its counterclaim, and (6) the ...