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Crampton v. Crampton

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

November 21, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois.Appeal No. 3-16-0402 Circuit No. 15-CH-18 Honorable John L. Hauptman, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SCHMIDT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McDade and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Plaintiffs are two of the decedent's surviving children (Ronald Crampton and Jody Borgman) and three of her surviving grandchildren (Rene Council, Samantha Sweeney, and Cassie Sweeney). They filed suit against William and Robert Crampton, who are also the decedent's children. Plaintiffs seek to set aside the decedent's living trust. They allege that Robert unduly influenced the decedent to execute estate documents that devised all of her property to him. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)). Their motion argued that plaintiffs failed to plead facts sufficient to set forth a cause of action for undue influence. Plaintiffs appeal the Whiteside County circuit court's order dismissing the complaint.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiffs filed their complaint to set aside the trust on February 23, 2015. The decedent, Ruth Crampton, passed away on September 27, 2013. Four children survived her: Ronald Crampton (plaintiff), Jody Borgman (plaintiff), Robert Crampton (defendant), and William Crampton (defendant). Two of Ruth's children, including Loretta Crampton Meeker, predeceased her; however, Loretta's three surviving children are also plaintiffs in this case. Plaintiffs attached Ruth's estate documents to their complaint.

         ¶ 4 Ruth executed her estate documents on January 2, 2013. She named Robert as her power of attorney, executor, and trustee of her revocable living trust. She named Jody as Robert's successor. Ruth's will devised all of her personal property to Robert, or to Jody if Robert predeceased his mother. Ruth conveyed the residue of her estate to her trust.

         ¶ 5 On December 17, 2013, Robert, acting as trustee, conveyed the trust property to himself. On February 10, 2014, Robert conveyed the former trust property to William by quitclaim deed. Ruth's other children and grandchildren received nothing from her estate.

         ¶ 6 Plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended complaint on March 28, 2016. It alleged the following relevant facts: Robert lived with Ruth from 2005 until her death; Ruth depended on Robert to assist with her healthcare and business matters; Robert and Ruth shared a joint bank account to which only Ruth contributed; Robert also had Ruth's card and personal identification number (PIN) to access her bank account; as a result of Ruth's reliance on Robert, he became the dominant party in their relationship; Robert secured a lawyer's services to prepare estate documents that devised all of Ruth's property to Robert; Robert sat next to Ruth when she executed her will, trust, and deed; Robert exploited his dominant relationship with Ruth in breach of their fiduciary relationship; Robert exerted undue influence over Ruth when she executed her estate documents.

         ¶ 7 Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on April 18, 2016. Although defendants sought dismissal pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)), they submitted affidavits in support of their motion. Plaintiffs responded with counteraffidavits. Defendants stipulated in the trial court and on appeal that they filed their motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615. Because section 2-615 addresses only facial pleading defects, the affidavits are irrelevant.

         ¶ 8 The trial court dismissed the amended complaint with prejudice on June 16, 2016. We reverse the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 9 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 We review de novo the trial court's order granting defendants' section 2-615 motion to dismiss. Wakulich v. Mraz, 203 Ill.2d 223, 228 (2003). A section 2-615 motion challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint based on defects apparent on its face. Marshall v. Burger King Corp., 222 Ill.2d 422, 429 (2006). In reviewing section 2-615 motions, we accept as true all well-pled facts and "all inferences that may reasonably be drawn in the plaintiff's favor." Ferguson v. City of Chicago, 213 Ill.2d 94, 96-97 (2004). A section 2-615 motion can prevail only where it is clearly apparent that the plaintiff cannot prove, by any set of facts, the necessary elements of the action. Canel v. Topinka, 212 Ill.2d 311, 318 (2004).

         ¶ 11 Illinois is a fact-pleading jurisdiction; plaintiffs must allege facts sufficient to state a legally cognizable cause of action. Weiss v. Waterhouse Securities, Inc., 208 Ill.2d 439, 451 (2004). Although plaintiffs are not required to present evidence in the complaint (Chandler v.Illinois Central R.R. Co., 207 Ill.2d 331, 348 (2003)), mere conclusions of law or fact are insufficient. See Anderson v. Vanden Dorpel, 172 Ill.2d 399, 408 (1996). In determining a complaint's sufficiency, courts must disregard unsupported conclusions and inferences within the pleading. Knox College v. Celotex Corp., 88 Ill.2d 407, 426 (1981). ...

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