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Holloway v. Chicago Heart & Vascular Consultants, Ltd.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

June 16, 2017

AGNES HOLLOWAY, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Byron Byars, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 L 12140HonorableJanet Adams Brosnahan, Judge Presiding.

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


          HALL JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 This appeal involves a wrongful death action based on alleged medical negligence. The action was brought by plaintiff Agnes Holloway as special administrator of the estate of her deceased husband Byron Byars. Plaintiff appeals a circuit court order dismissing the pro se complaint she brought against defendants Chicago Heart & Vascular Consultants, Ltd., Dr. Anil Ranginani, and Mercy Hospital & Medical Center (collectively "defendants").

         ¶ 2 Plaintiff's complaint asserted a cause of action under the Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/0.01 et seq. (West 2014)). She claimed that defendants provided negligent medical treatment and follow-up care to the decedent who suffered a fatal cardiac tamponade allegedly resulting from a perforated superior vena cava occurring during a venogram procedure.[1]

¶ 3 Defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2012)). Defendants argued that the plaintiff, as a pro se litigant, could not bring a wrongful death action on behalf of her husband's estate because such an action is properly brought in a representative capacity, and although a lay person may file a complaint on his or her own behalf, a lay person may not initiate legal proceedings on behalf of someone else. Defendants maintained that because the wrongful death action was filed by plaintiff pro se, in her capacity as special administrator of her husband's estate, the pleading was a nullity and void ab initio. Defendants added that since the complaint was a nullity, and it was the only complaint that was filed within the two-year statute of limitations for medical negligence actions (735 ILCS 5/13-212(a) (West 2012)), subsequent actions brought by plaintiff after the statute of limitations had expired were time-barred.

         ¶ 4 Defendants further argued that the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice because the plaintiff failed to comply with section 2-622(a)(1) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-622(a)(1) (West 2014)), which requires that a plaintiff alleging medical malpractice file an affidavit stating that she has obtained a statement from a health professional opining that there is a "reasonable and meritorious cause for the filing of such action."

         ¶ 5 The circuit court ultimately granted the motions to dismiss and entered judgment for the defendants. The court determined that the plaintiff's complaint was a nullity and that she did not establish good cause for failing to comply with section 2-622(a)(1) of the Code. The circuit court upheld its ruling upon reconsideration. This appeal followed. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 6 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 7 On November 21, 2012, plaintiff's decedent, Mr. Byars, was under the care and treatment of the defendants when he died from cardiac tamponade. Plaintiff believed her husband died as a result of negligent medical care and subsequently obtained his medical records to determine whether she could proceed with legal action. Approximately a year after the decedent's death, plaintiff began searching for legal counsel to represent the decedent's estate in a medical negligence action. Plaintiff first consulted with Attorney Michael Bucchi, who referred her to Attorney David Heyer.

         ¶ 8 Plaintiff met with Heyer in January 2014, and provided him with the medical records in her possession. She also signed authorization permitting Heyer and his law firm to obtain additional material and documents necessary to evaluate the case.

         ¶ 9 Nine months later, in October 2014, plaintiff was informed that neither Heyer nor Bucchi would be proceeding with the case. Plaintiff was further advised that the applicable statute of limitations would expire on November 21, 2014, and that if she wished to pursue legal action against any of the potential defendants, suit would have to be filed no later than this date.

         ¶ 10 After failing to secure legal counsel, plaintiff decided to proceed pro se in an effort to meet the applicable statute of limitations. On November 21, 2014, plaintiff successfully petitioned a circuit court to appoint her special administrator of the decedent's estate. That same day, plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against defendants seeking damages for the decedent's alleged wrongful death. Plaintiff did not attach an affidavit stating that she was attempting to consult with a healthcare professional and did not attach a report from a healthcare professional as required by section 2-622 of the Code. Plaintiff issued summons to the defendants, who were served with process by December 17, 2014.

         ¶ 11 During that December, plaintiff consulted with attorney Antone D. Smith, who declined the request for representation, but recommended plaintiff to the law firm of Power, Rogers & Smith. Attorney Smith forwarded the complaint and medical records ...

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