Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
from the Trial Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 13 L 7592
The Honorable John P. Callahan, Jr., Judge Presiding.
JUSTICE LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Cobbs and Justice Fitzgerald Smith
concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 Plaintiff Dionne Vassell gave birth to a stillborn daughter
and named her Zealia. She then signed a form authorizing
defendant Presence Saint Francis Hospital to dispose of
Zealia's remains. According to plaintiff, defendant's
employees also orally told her that defendant would bury
Zealia in a short period of time. Approximately one year
later, Zealia's remains were still in the cooler of
defendant's morgue, in a container with numerous other
2 Shortly after learning that defendant had not buried
Zealia's remains, plaintiff filed this action against
defendant, who ultimately obtained summary judgment on
plaintiff's negligence claim. Specifically, defendant
asserted that plaintiff could not establish duty, breach, or
damages. Plaintiff now appeals. Based only on the arguments
properly raised in the trial court and preserved on appeal,
we affirm the Cook County circuit court's judgment.
3 I. THE BRIEFS
4 As a threshold matter, defendant urges us to strike
plaintiff's brief for failing to comply with our supreme
court's rules. Ill. S.Ct. R. 341 (eff. Nov. 1, 2017); R.
342 (eff. July 1, 2017). Specifically, defendant argues that
(1) plaintiff's points and authorities section lacks
references to the relevant pages of her brief, (2) her
standard of review section is incomplete, (3) her
jurisdictional statement is inaccurate, and (4) her fact
statement contains argument and omits necessary citations to
the record. We are inclined to agree, but defendant's
brief suffers from its own deficiencies, including a
selective fact section, improper legal citations, and
arguments that are less than cohesive in certain regards.
While this court may strike a brief as a sanction, we decline
to strike either brief in this instance. See Rottman v.
Illinois State Officers Electoral Board, 2018
IL App (1st) 180234, ¶ 23. These violations interfere
with, but do not preclude, our review. Id. We urge
counsel to review our supreme court's rules and take
greater care in the future.
5 II. BACKGROUND
6 A. Initial Burial Arrangements
7 At a medical appointment on August 8, 2011, no heartbeat
was detected in plaintiff's unborn child, who was over 20
weeks in gestational age. Labor was induced, and plaintiff
delivered a stillborn girl the next day. According to
plaintiff's mother, Denise Panton, the family was
devastated. Plaintiff had obtained treatment at that hospital
because Denise and plaintiff's father, Joseph Panton,
both worked there.
8 Plaintiff asked for an autopsy to be performed and met with
a female chaplain and two doctors, although she could not
remember their names. The chaplain said the hospital could do
the burial for her or she could arrange for the burial.
Plaintiff testified in her deposition that upon inquiry of
Oneil Young, Zealia's father, either a doctor or the
chaplain said the burial would happen within a week or two.
9 Denise related a somewhat different conversation. She
testified in her deposition that outside of Young's
presence, a tall, unidentified, older blonde woman said the
hospital would contact plaintiff to inform her where Zealia
was buried. The woman also said the burial would take place
"as soon as paperwork is signed and everything is
done[.] *** They don't keep [the] body long in the
10 In contrast, Maureen O'Brien, plaintiff's nurse,
testified she would tell patients they could choose private
burial or hospital burial. She also told patients that the
latter option involved a mass burial at All Saints Cemetery
and she had no information on when the burial would occur.
O'Brien also testified that a number of people could
potentially speak with a mother about fetal disposition.
O'Brien had no specific recollection of plaintiff or
11 In any event, plaintiff testified that she told Young she
was "not in my right mind to do any burial right
now." Consequently, the couple agreed that defendant
would handle the burial. To that end, plaintiff signed a
"Fetal Death Disposition-Notification Form" (the
12 Although Zealia was over 20 weeks in gestation, the
consent form stated that it "shall be used to notify a
mother of her disposition rights and options after
experiencing a spontaneous fetal demise of less than 20
completed weeks of gestation." The Hospital Licensing
Act had required the Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records to create this form with respect to
fetuses less than 20 weeks in gestational age and required
hospitals to provide that form to mothers. See 210 ILCS
85/11.4 (West 2010).
13 As executed by plaintiff, the consent form stated as
"I, Dionne Vassell, understand that within 24 hours of
reading this notification, I have the right to arrange for
the burial or cremation of these remains, or choose to let
the hospital handle the disposition under the terms and
conditions that the hospital may prescribe."
Plaintiff chose the latter option.
14 The consent form added, "I elect to have the hospital
handle the disposition of these remains under the terms and
conditions that it may prescribe. The hospital can explain
the costs for this service, if any." The form was
singularly lacking any informative terms, conditions, or
circumstances relative to the disposition. Most notably given
the facts of this unfortunate tale, it said nothing about the
length of time it might take to bury the remains and did not
mention the possibility that the remains might be commingled
with other fetal remains. Additionally, plaintiff testified
that no one from the hospital described any of
defendant's terms and conditions, aside from the timing
of the burial. She signed the document without reading it
because "we" had already discussed it. She claimed
that her emotional distress and medication also prevented her
from reading it.
15 B. After Discharge
16 According to plaintiff, she called defendant every day
following discharge for the autopsy results. She spoke to a
woman in the laboratory about 20 times and obtained the
autopsy report in person a month or two after Zealia's
delivery but did not inquire about the burial at that time.
17 Almost a year after Zealia's delivery, plaintiff and
Young decided she was strong enough to visit Zealia.
Plaintiff also wanted to obtain the death certificate so she
and Young could have closure. Plaintiff testified that at the
office of vital records in Evanston, the receptionist told
plaintiff and Young to return to the hospital because Zealia
was not in the system. Plaintiff, accompanied by some family
members, returned to the hospital, but the several accounts
of what followed are not entirely consistent.
18 C. Three Accounts
19 Plaintiff testified that she went to the laboratory to see
the older African American woman who was previously involved
with the autopsy report. Plaintiff relayed her attempt to get
the death certificate and asked if Zealia had been buried.
According to plaintiff, the woman said, "Oh, I'm so
sorry. I'm so sorry." She then said she needed to
call her supervisor. Joseph said, however, that he was going
down to the morgue to see if Zealia was really there.
Plaintiff testified, "once they tell me my baby
wasn't buried, I wanted to go see for myself." She
was crying and upset. In addition, Denise and the woman from
the laboratory accompanied them, although the woman said,
"I'm not supposed to do this."
20 When Joseph opened the morgue cooler, they all went
inside, where they saw several containers. One container was
labeled with a list bearing 10 to 14 names, including
Zealia's name. When plaintiff asked the woman how she
knew Zealia was inside the container in light of the list,
the woman again apologized and noted that she was not
supposed to be there. She also said they could not open the
container due to the chemicals inside. Plaintiff became very
angry and wanted to speak to the supervisor, who finally
arrived when they returned upstairs.
21 The supervisor, described as an older Hispanic woman,
suggested that Zealia had only been there for a month and
that the hospital had been "backed up." Plaintiff
responded that it had not been a mere month and sent the
supervisor to check her records. The supervisor never
returned, however. Plaintiff ...