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Craig v. Zink

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

September 27, 2016

DEBORAH CRAIG, as Administratrix for the Estate of Rebecca Craig, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STEVEN R. ZINK, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal 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.

          OPINION

          KNECHT PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 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 expenses.

         ¶ 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 ...


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