Illinois Court of Appeals Reinstates Malpractice Claim | Novack and Macey LLP
A three-judge panel of the Illinois Court of Appeals reinstated a malpractice lawsuit against Sneckenberg Thompson & Brody LLP (“STB”) after finding that the trial court abused its discretion when he had refused to allow the plaintiff’s ex-wife trust to pursue the lawsuit on the plaintiff’s behalf after his death. Seifert v. Sneckenberg Thompson & Brody, LLP, no. 1-20-0966 (February 9, 2022). The plaintiff, Robert Seifert, acting “for himself and as property manager” for his ex-wife’s trust (the “Duffy Trust”), brought an action against STB alleging professional misconduct in connection with a dispute over a Barrington, Illinois property that Seifert owned with his ex-wife. ID. at 6.
When Seifert passed away in December 2019, the plaintiff’s own trust (the “RJS Trust”) moved in to stand in as the plaintiff. The Circuit Court denied the motion for replacement on February 21, 2020. ID. at ¶¶ 11-13. In doing so, the Circuit Court found that because Seifert brought the malpractice suit under a power of attorney granted to him by his ex-wife, his agency did not transition to the RJS Trust upon his death. . ID. at ¶ 12. The Circuit Court explicitly found that the power to make decisions regarding Barrington’s property and the malpractice action rested with his ex-wife “as trustee of the Duffy Trust”. ID. On March 5, 2020, the RJS Trust filed a motion for reconsideration. ID. at ¶ 14. This motion was denied and the case was dismissed for lack of prosecution a week later on March 12, 2020. ID. at ¶ 15. Just a week after that, on March 19, 2020, the Duffy Trust filed a motion to quash the dismissal for want of prosecution and substituted itself as the plaintiff. ID. at ¶ 16. Again, the Circuit Court dismissed the motion, citing the Duffy Trust’s lack of diligence in pursuing the claim. ID. at ¶ 18. The panel reversed the Circuit Court’s decision on appeal. She rejected an argument by the STB that the applicable section of the Code of Civil Procedure limited the substitution period to 90 days after Seifert’s death. The panel also noted that it “failed[ed] to see a lack of diligence on the part of the Duffy Trust. ID. at ¶ 39. She noted the close succession of the relevant dates. After the initial motion for substitution was denied in February 2020, the RJS Trust filed a timely motion to reconsider that decision two weeks later. ID. The Duffy Trust filed its replacement petition just two weeks after that. ID. The Court found that instead of suggesting a lack of due diligence, the Duffy Trust was simply waiting for the Circuit Court to rule on the pending motions. The fact that Duffy Trust was initially mistaken as to the identity of the appropriate replacement plaintiff does not suggest a lack of care on the part of Duffy Trust. ID. The panel further noted the absence of any intentional or willful disregard for any direction from the courts that resulted in harm or prejudice to either party as a contributing factor in re-igniting the claim. ID. at ¶ 40.
Seifert v. Sneckenberg Thompson & Brody, LLP, No. 1-20-0966