Illinois Disposition of Remains Act Upheld In Illinois Supreme Court
Carlson v. Glueckert Funeral Home, Ltd.
Patton & Ryan LLC recently won an important victory in the Supreme Court of Illinois in the case of Carlson v. Glueckert Funeral Home, Ltd. That case involved a question of first impression as to the Illinois Disposition of Remains Act, 755 ILCS 65/5, 15, 40 and 50 (West 2011) (“Act”).
The Act states that where a dispute exists as to the right to control the disposition of a decedent’s remains, a court of competent jurisdiction will resolve the dispute, and the cemetery organization or funeral home will not be liable for refusing to accept the decedent’s remains or to otherwise dispose of those remains until it receives a court order or other confirmation that the dispute has, indeed, been settled.
In Glueckert, a dispute arose between the adult children of Eleanor Carlson as to the manner in which to dispose of Ms. Carlson’s remains. Two days after her death in September of 2007, Ms. Carlson’s son, Scott, contacted the Glueckert Funeral Home to arrange for Ms. Carlson’s funeral and burial. Scott presented the funeral home with Ms. Carlson’s power of attorney, will and trust documents as proof of his authority to dispose of her remains. After discussing funeral arrangements, Glueckert Funeral Home took possession of Ms. Carlson’s body. Shortly thereafter, however, Ms. Carlson’s estranged daughter, Denise, contacted the funeral home, demanding that other arrangements be made. The funeral home then contacted Scott and informed him that the funeral would be delayed because of the dispute. Later that month, Glueckert Funeral Home transferred Ms. Carlson’s body to the Lake County coroner’s office; the funeral home then informed Scott that it considered the body abandoned and noted that it had not been refrigerated for the prior 11 days, causing extensive decay. On October 11, 2007, Scott obtained a court order for the release of Ms. Carlson’s body. Ms. Carlson was buried a week later.
Ms. Carlson’s family brought suit the next year, claiming a number of theories, including breach of contract, common law fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and “interference with the next of kin’s right to possess and preserve the decedent’s body.” Glueckert Funeral Home moved to dismiss the Carlsons’ lawsuit on several grounds. The funeral home claimed that it was protected under the Illinois Disposition of Remains Act and, as such, was subject to no liability related to Ms. Carlson’s remains.
The Cook County Circuit Court agreed with Glueckert Funeral Home and granted its Motion to Dismiss. The Carlsons then appealed the issue to the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court. The Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s dismissal.
In doing so, the Appellate Court defined the protections offered to funeral homes under the Illinois Disposition of Remains Act. The Court stated, “It is not the role of funeral homes and cemeteries to judge the relative legal rights of feuding family members. That task is left to the courts and for good reason.” The Court additionally noted that the term “dispute” is undefined in the Act; however, it held that “[t]he conflicting assertions of rights by Scott and Denise, in the plain and ordinary sense of the term, qualify as a dispute[.] Therefore, the circuit court did not err in concluding that a dispute existed between Eleanor’s children and its judgment is affirmed.”
Unhappy with the result, the Carlson’s filed a Motion for Leave to Appeal in the Supreme Court of Illinois. On September 28, 2011, in an unpublished decision, the Supreme Court denied the Carlsons’ Motion for Leave to Appeal, allowing the ruling of the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court to stand.
Once again, Patton & Ryan LLC successfully defended its client on a cutting-edge issue, one brought to the highest court in the State of Illinois. Through diligence, ingenuity and strong advocacy, Patton & Ryan LLC obtained the best possible outcome for its client in a case involving a legal question never before addressed in Illinois. This is the skillful work for which Patton & Ryan LLC is known.