Vague Conclusions Fail to Establish Attorney Malpractice

Elder Law Answers case summary.The Illinois Appellate Court affirms the dismissal of an attorney malpractice action because the complaint draws vague legal conclusions and fails to show what the accused attorney could have done differently to avoid negligence. In Uskup v. Johnson (Ill. App. Ct., No. 1-22-0269, May 15, 2023).

Attorney Joseph Johnson created a revocable trust for his client, Ergin Uskup. The trust provided for the client’s wife, Sezgin Uskup, and his children, including his sons, Ilhan Uskup and Timur Uskup.

It included a provision requiring the consent of the client’s wife to change the trust unless their marriage ended or she predeceased him. After the client’s wife initiated divorce proceedings, Atty. Johnson amended the trust. The amendment directed the trustee to administer the trust as if his wife had died.

Before the divorce was finalized, the client died. The trustee asked the court to interpret the ambiguity in the trust. One provision required Mrs. Uskup’s consent to change what she would receive under it, while another amendment disinherited her without her consent.

The court found that Mrs. Uskup could not inherit from the trust. The litigation resulted in $300,000 in fees from the trust and attorney fees for Mr. Ilhan Uskup and Mr. Timur Uskup. As beneficiaries, they claimed they would have received the $300,000 from the trust, had the litigation not occurred, and also would not have had to pay legal fees. They alleged that they lost this money as a result of Atty. Johnson’s malpractice.

The attorney motioned to dismiss. The trial court dismissed the action, finding that the amended complaint failed to provide sufficient facts that the alleged negligence proximately caused their injuries. This appeal followed.

The brothers make two allegations of negligence. First, they claim the attorney was negligent in drafting the 2011 restatement ambiguously. Second, they argue attempting to disinherit the wife via an amendment rather than using another method, such as revoking and restating the trust, constituted negligence.

Finding these allegations too vague and conclusory to establish a proximate cause, the appellate court disagrees. The complaint fails to explain how a non-negligent attorney could have amended the trust unambiguously. The sole allegation that not drafting the vague trust would have prevented the trust litigation was not enough to establish that negligent drafting proximately caused their injury.

The claim that revoking and restating the trust would have avoided litigation is too speculative. The client’s wife might still have brought a legal challenge. At the time, it was unclear whether revoking the trust without her consent would have been permissive under its terms.

Because the complaint draws vague legal conclusions and does not provide enough evidence to show proximate cause, the appellate court affirms the trial court’s dismissal of the action.

Read the full opinion.