Supreme Court Summaries


Opinions filed January 25, 2013

 

Bjork v. O’Meara, 2013 IL 114044

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (1st) 111617.

 

      JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

 

      This action to recover damages for the tort of intentional interference with a testamentary expectancy was filed in the circuit court of Cook County. The decedent, Frank Dama, died in 2009. Plaintiff Colleen Bjork had been a hospice worker for decedent’s late wife, while the defendant, Frank O’Meara, had been the decedent’s dentist. Neither is related to decedent.

      The decedent had taken initial steps, in 2005, to set the plaintiff up as a pay-on-death beneficiary of one of his bank accounts, which was worth over half a million dollars. Plaintiff had signed papers with the decedent’s personal banker concerning this. After his demise, that bank informed plaintiff that she was not a beneficiary of any of decedent’s accounts with it. After the will was admitted to probate, O’Meara was appointed as the independent representative of the estate. The will contained a general residuary clause leaving the entire estate to O’Meara and his wife. Plaintiff was not a beneficiary.

      In the probate proceeding, plaintiff tried to find out what had happened. Pursuant to a citation for discovery, the bank produced some documents, but plaintiff alleged she needed more information. She filed a petition to depose the decedent’s personal banker, with whom she had dealt in the setting up of the pay-on-death beneficiary account, but her request was denied. The estate assets were distributed, the estate was closed, and plaintiff filed this lawsuit. It was dismissed as not having been filed within the period for filing will contests, and the appellate court affirmed.

      In this decision, the supreme court said that the results below were incorrect. In bringing her tort action, plaintiff was not challenging the will, but seeking damages from O’Meara for wrongfully influencing the decedent. Furthermore, the denial of her request to depose the personal banker had been erroneous, leaving her, in any case, with no available remedy in the probate proceeding. Earlier case authority concerning plaintiffs who could have filed claims in probate and failed to do so was, thus, not applicable.

      The cause should not have been dismissed and was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. The circuit and appellate courts were reversed.