In Ghantous v. Ghantous, 2014 IL App (3d) 130792, the Illinois Appellate Court discussed the doctrines of mootness and release of errors in the context of a family dispute. The father, Camille Ghantous, died in 2010. In Camille’s probate case, his wife, Souad, was named administrator of the estate. Id. ¶ 7. As administrator, Souad discovered that she and Camille did not have any ownership interest in the apartment building for which they had given their son, Leo, $1.1 million toward the purchase price. Id. ¶¶ 9, 11.
Thereafter, Souad filed a breach of fiduciary duty action against Leo, alleging that Leo, a licensed attorney, persuaded her and Camille to personally borrow $1.1 million to contribute toward the purchase price of an apartment building as a family business, and use their own multiple properties as collateral. Id. Souad alleged that she discovered that she and Camille did not have any ownership interest that corresponded to the percentage of funds they had contributed to the purchase price of the apartment building. Id. ¶ 11. Leo then initiated three separate lawsuits of his own involving financial disputes with his siblings in the law division. Id. ¶ 7.
On April 8, 2013, Souad sent an offer letter to Leo detailing terms for a proposed global settlement agreement to resolve the family disputes pending in the chancery action, the probate proceeding, and the three pending lawsuits among her children. Id. ¶ 13.
On April 15, 2013, Leo’s attorney sent a draft release and settlement agreement incorporating the agreed terms for Souad’s signature. Id. ¶ 14. Souad did not sign and return the proposed release form, so Leo’s attorney filed a motion to enforce on June 12, 2013, in all five pending cases. Souad responded to the motion by alleging that the parties had not reached an agreement because Leo’s proposed release and settlement agreement included language which deviated from Souad’s April 8 offer letter. Id. ¶ 16.
The trial court found that Leo’s draft release and settlement agreement set forth all the terms of the global settlement agreement. The court ordered all parties to execute the release and settlement agreement and to comply with its terms.
Souad then filed a motion to reconsider in all five cases, attaching a document, drafted by her attorney and listed as Exhibit G, which was a modified release and settlement agreement. Leo agreed that Exhibit G more accurately reflected the agreed terms of the April 8 letter. On September 24, 2013, the court entered an order, which included all five case numbers, denying Souad’s motion to reconsider. The court then directed the parties to execute the release and settlement agreement prepared by Souad (Exhibit G), with some modifications. Id. ¶ 20. The court entered the same order in all five cases.
Souad filed a notice of appeal only in the chancery case, arguing that the release and settlement agreement Leo submitted for her signature operated as an acceptance of the terms proposed by Souad in her April 8 offer letter to settle all five cases. Leo contended that the appellate court must decline to exercise its appellate jurisdiction because the doctrines of mootness and release of errors precluded appellate review. Id. ¶ 24. Leo argued that all five cases were functionally consolidated in the trial court and that Souad must comply with the same global release agreement pursuant to the same order entered in all five cases. Souad responded that the five lawsuits were not functionally consolidated.
The Appellate Court found that, even assuming that the five cases were not functionally consolidated for settlement purposes, the doctrines of mootness and release of errors applied. Id. ¶ 25. Regarding mootness, the reviewing court noted that an appeal is considered moot where events occur that make it impossible for the appellate court to grant effectual relief or where the issues have ceased to exist. Id. ¶27. Because the trial court entered an order simultaneously enforcing the same global release and settlement agreement in the chancery case and the probate case, it would be impossible for the court to effectuate the relief Souad sought without seeking similar relief in the probate action. Id. The court noted that to date, Souad had not sought to avoid the impact of the release and settlement agreement with respect to the probate action.
Accordingly, even if the appellate court had directed the trial court to vacate the order enforcing the global release and settlement agreement in the chancery case, thereby vacating the court order dismissing this lawsuit against Leo, Souad would still be compelled by court order in the probate case to dismiss the chancery lawsuit as part of the global release and settlement agreement that remained viable in the probate matter. Id. ¶ 30. The appellate court found that the issue raised in the appeal was moot since another identical order was binding on Souad in the probate action. Id.
Regarding the doctrine of release of errors, the appellate court noted that a litigant was barred or estopped on appeal from attaching a decree or judgment if the same litigant has enjoyed the benefits of that judgment and the opposing party would be placed at a distinct disadvantage upon reversal. Id. ¶ 33. The court found that, in this case, Leo would be at a distinct disadvantage if the court vacated the global release and settlement agreement because that agreement required dismissal of Leo’s three cases against his siblings, which directly impacted the proceedings involving Souad’s husband’s estate. Id. ¶ 36.
Further, the appellate court found that the order enforcing the global release and settlement agreement entered by the trial court in the probate division required Leo to abandon his active approach to the probate action, which directly benefited Souad. Accordingly, the appellate court concluded that the doctrine of release of errors estopped Souad from attempting to obtain a reversal of the order dismissing her chancery lawsuit since she had accepted the benefits of a similar order enforcing the very same global release and settlement agreement in the probate action. Id. ¶ 39.
Recommended Citation: April Oboikowitch, Family Feud: Illinois Appellate Court Applies Mootness and Release of Errors Doctrines in Case Involving Family Estate, The Brief, (January 30, 2015), http://http://applawyers-thebrief.blogspot.com/2015/01/family-feud-illinois-appellate-court.html#more.