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Logan v. U.S. Bank, a National Association

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

November 4, 2016

KIA RASHIKI LOGAN, CARRIE CHANELLE TAYLOR, SEAN DEANGELO LOGAN, DUANE WILLIE TAYLOR, WILLIAM LEON TAYLOR, ANGEL LOGAN, JORDAN LENON TAYLOR, and DOMINIQUE SONYA LOGAN, All Individually; and SANDRA LOGAN, as Mother and Next Friend and Guardian of Essence Destiny Taylor, Antwon Assante Taylor, Martrell Francisco Taylor, and Jurea Saquill Taylor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
U.S. BANK, a National Association, F. JOHN CUSHING III, MICHAEL J. KRALOVEC, DANIEL C. MEEHAN, JR., and KRALOVEC MEEHAN, P.C. Defendants, (F. John Cushing III, Michael J. Kralovec, Daniel C. Meehan, Jr., and Kralovec Meehan, P.C. Defendants-Appellees).

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 2010 L 12471 Honorable Brigid Mary McGrath, Judge, Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cunningham and Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HOFFMAN PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The plaintiffs, Kia Rashiki Logan, Carrie Chanelle Taylor, Sean Deangelo Logan, Duane Willie Taylor, William Leon Taylor, Angel Logan, Jordan Lenon Taylor, and Dominique Sonya Logan, all individually (collectively referred to as the adult plaintiffs); and Sandra Logan, as mother, next friend, and guardian of Essence Destiny Taylor, Antwon Assante Taylor, Martrell Francisco Taylor, and Jurea Saquill Taylor (collectively referred to as the minors), appeal from an order of the circuit court which granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, F. John Cushing III, Michael J. Kralovec, Daniel C. Meehen, Jr. and Kralovec Meehan, P.C. (collectively referred to as the attorney defendants) and denied the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on their third amended complaint for professional malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 2 The adult plaintiffs and the minors are the next of kin of Willie Taylor (decedent) who died as the result of being crushed by a motor vehicle as he was unloading a truck on July 28, 2003. U.S. Bank, as the independent administrator of the estate of Willie Taylor (Estate), maintained a wrongful death action against Harold Lindsey, the driver of the truck that crushed the decedent, and Carmichael Leasing Company, Inc. (Carmichael), the lessor of the truck which Lindsey was driving (hereinafter referred to as the underlying action). Cushing prosecuted that action for the Estate. Following trial, the jury returned a $3 million verdict in favor of the Estate reduced by 50% for the decedent's contributory negligence, resulting in a net verdict of $1.5 million; and judgment was entered on the verdict. Following the denial of the posttrial motions, Lindsey and Carmichael filed an appeal from the $1.5 million judgment entered against them. The Estate, represented by Cushing, appealed from the $1.5 million contributory negligence reduction in the verdict. The Estate's appeal was docketed in this court as No. 1-07-2353. While the appeals were pending and with the approval of the bank, Cushing retained Kralovec, Meehan, and Kralovec Meehan, P.C. (collectively referred to as the Kralovec defendants) to assist in the appellate proceedings. The attorney defendants filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the Estate's appeal, which this court granted. Subsequently, the $1.5 million judgment in favor of the Estate was affirmed. U.S. Bank v. Lindsey, 397 Ill.App.3d 437 (2009).

         ¶ 3 The plaintiffs filed the instant action against the defendants asserting claims of professional malpractice and breach of fiduciary duties by reason of the voluntary dismissal of the Estate's appeal without their consent. In the latest iteration, their third amended complaint, the plaintiffs asserted claims of professional malpractice and breach of fiduciary duties against Cushing in counts I and III, respectively. In count I, the professional malpractice claim, the plaintiffs alleged that Cushing breached the duties owed to them by voluntarily dismissing the Estate's appeal without their consent and without first attempting to obtain consideration for the dismissal. In count III, the plaintiffs claimed that Cushing breached his fiduciary duties by failing to inform them that he delegated the responsibility of representing the Estate on appeal to the Kralovec defendants and by voluntarily dismissing the Estate's appeal without their consent and without attempting to obtain consideration for the dismissal. In counts II and IV, the plaintiffs asserted essentially the same claims against the Kralovec defendants as had been pled against Cushing. In count V, the plaintiffs asserted a claim of breach of fiduciary duty against U.S. Bank, alleging that it breached its duties by failing to inform them that Cushing had delegated the responsibility of handling the Estate's appeal to the Kralovec defendants, failing to properly monitor the progress and status of the Estate's appeal, failing to obtain their authorization before dismissing the Estate's appeal, and by dismissing the Estate's appeal without first attempting to obtain consideration for the dismissal. The five counts contain other allegations against the defendants that are essentially restatements of the allegations already noted or merely conclusions unsupported by factual allegations upon which the conclusions rest.

         ¶ 4 On July 30, 2014, the circuit court entered an agreed order dismissing all claims against U.S. Bank, and consequently, U.S. Bank is not a party to this appeal. The Kralovec defendants filed a motion for summary judgment directed against the plaintiffs' third amended complaint, arguing both that the plaintiffs are unable to prove that any action on their part was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs' claimed damages and that they did not breach their duty by dismissing the Estate's appeal because their decision to do so was made in good faith and well reasoned. Cushing joined in the motion filed by the Kralovec defendants. Subsequently, the plaintiffs filed what they styled as motions for partial summary judgment on the issues of duty and proximate cause. Following the filing of briefs by all remaining parties and having entertained argument, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the attorney defendants and denied the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 5 In urging reversal of the summary judgment entered in favor of the attorney defendants, the plaintiffs argue that the evidentiary material on file established that the attorney defendants owed them, as the decedent's next of kin, a duty of care in the prosecution and handling of the Estate's appeal; that they breached that duty by dismissing the Estate's appeal without their consent; and that, as a proximate result, they have been damaged to the extent of $1.5 million. The plaintiffs' argument as to proximate cause is based upon the assertion that, had the Estate's appeal not been dismissed, the appellate court would have reinstated the jury's gross verdict of $3 million. In this regard, the claimant contends that the trial court in the underlying action erred in admitting the testimony of Dr. O'Donnell who opined that the decedent was impaired at the time of the accident leading to his death as a result of morphine in his blood. They also assert that there is "not a scintilla of evidence" in the record from the trial of the underlying action that the conduct of the decedent contributed to the accident or his resulting death.

         ¶ 6 As this case comes to us on appeal from a summary judgment entered in favor of the attorney defendants, our review is de novo. In re Estate of Hoover, 155 Ill.2d 402, 411 (1993). As such, we must independently examine the evidentiary material submitted in support of and in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Arra v. First State Bank & Trust Co. of Franklin Park, 250 Ill.App.3d 403, 406 (1993). We strictly construe all of the evidentiary material submitted in support of the motion and liberally construe all evidentiary material submitted in opposition. Williams v. Manchester, 228 Ill.2d 404, 417 (2008).

         ¶ 7 The purpose of a motion for summary judgment is to determine the existence or absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Illinois State Bar Ass'n Mutual Insurance Co. v. Law Office of Tuzzolino & Terpinas, 2015 IL 117096, ¶ 14. Summary judgment is a drastic method of disposing of litigation, and it should not be employed unless the pleadings, depositions, affidavits and admissions on file, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant's right to judgment as a matter of law is free from doubt. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2014); Bruns v. City of Centralia, 2014 IL 116998, ¶ 12. However, when the movant's right to judgment as a matter of law is free from doubt, summary judgment should be encouraged as it aids in the expeditious disposition of the litigation. Purtill v. Hess, 111 Ill.2d 229, 240 (1986).

         ¶ 8 Whether labeled professional malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty, the plaintiffs' claims against the attorney defendants are based upon their having voluntarily dismissed the Estate's appeal from the jury's finding of contributory negligence on the part of the decedent and the resulting $1.5 million reduction in recoverable damages. This is a case of appellate legal malpractice. As in any legal malpractice claim, it was the plaintiffs' burden to plead and prove that the attorney defendants owed them a duty of care, that the attorney defendants breached that duty, and that they suffered damages as a proximate result of the breach. Fox v. Seiden, 382 Ill.App.3d 288, 294 (2008). However, assuming arguendo that the attorney defendants owed a duty to the plaintiffs, which they deny, and further assuming that the attorney defendants breached that duty by voluntarily dismissing the Estate's appeal, which the attorney defendants also deny, we may still directly address the issue of proximate cause to determine whether the attorney defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Abrams v. City of Chicago, 211 Ill.2d 251, 257 (2004).

         ¶ 9 To prevail in this case, the plaintiffs were required to prove that, but for the attorney defendants having voluntarily dismissed the Estate's appeal, the appellate court would have reversed that portion of the jury's verdict which fixed the decedent's contributory negligence at 50% and reinstated the jury's gross verdict of $3 million. Whether the plaintiffs could recover in the instant action rests upon how the appellate court would have ruled on the Estate's appeal had it not been dismissed. The issue of proximate cause in an appellate legal malpractice action is a question of law for the court, not a question of fact. See Governmental Interinsurance Exchange v. Judge, 221 Ill.2d 195, 212-14 (2006).

         ¶ 10 We first address the plaintiffs' argument that, in the trial of the underlying action, the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of Dr. O'Donnell, the pharmacologist, who testified that, at the time of the accident leading to his death, the decedent had morphine in his blood and as a result was impaired. The plaintiffs contend that the admission of Dr. O'Donnell's testimony was prejudicial and that, had the Estate's appeal not been dismissed, the appellate court would have found error in its admission. We disagree.

         ¶ 11 The admission of evidence at trial is a matter left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and its resolution of such issues will not be disturbed on review absent an abuse of that discretion. Roach v. Union Pacific R.R., 2014 IL App (1st) 132015, ¶ 19; Matthews v. Avalon Petroleum Co., 375 Ill.App.3d 1, 9 (2007). An abuse of discretion occurs only when the trial court's ruling is arbitrary, fanciful, unreasonable, or when no reasonable person would adopt the trial court's view. Roach, 2014 IL App ...


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