Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
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,
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).
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.
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
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
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,
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 ...