Cases against accountants oftentimes include counts for breach of fiduciary duty in addition to negligence and breach of contract. In cases where the accountant performed attest services, such as an audit or review, a few states had law that supported no fiduciary duty was owed with this type of work, but Illinois had been silent on that issue until now.
On February 14, 2020, the Illinois Appellate Court First District issued a ruling on a Falkenberg Ives case that will be very helpful in dismissing any such counts in the future. In Asian Human Services Family Health Center v. Wong, 2020 IL App (1st) 191049, an auditor of the client was sued for the breach of a fiduciary duty when the auditor allegedly assisted an affiliate of the plaintiff terminate a contractual relationship. The trial court found that no fiduciary duty was owed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that as a matter of law an independent auditor does not owe a fiduciary duty to its client. An auditor acts independently, objectively and impartially, which is inconsistent with the nature of a fiduciary duty which requires to party to act in a representative capacity.
This decision will be very helpful in resolving matters where a fiduciary duty is alleged of an accountant, and especially in situations where independence is required. A copy of the opinion can be found at: https://courts.illinois.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2020/1stDistrict/1191049.pdf