Uber and Lyft Users Unite! City of Chicago Beats Back Cab Drivers’ Constitutional Challenge to City Ridesharing Ordinance

An association representing Chicago taxicab drivers recently lost their attempt to invalidate a City of Chicago ridesharing ordinance as unconstitutional.

The crux of the cab drivers claim in Illinois Transportation Trade Ass’n v. City of Chicago, was that a City ordinance governing Transportation Network Providers (TNPs) like Uber and Lyft was too mild and didn’t subject TNPs to the same level of government oversight as Chicago cab drivers; especially in the areas of licensing and fair rates. (For example, TNPs are free to set their own rates by private contracts; something taxicabs can’t do.)

The cab drivers argued the Ordinance’s less onerous TNP strictures made it hard if not impossible for the City cabs to compete with TNPs for consumer business.

The Seventh Circuit struck down all of the plaintiffs claims and in doing so, discussed the nature of constitutional challenges to statutes in the modern, ridesharing context.

Deprivation of Property Right Without Compensation

The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ first argument that allowing TNPs to enter the Chicago taxicab market deprived plaintiffs of a property interest without compensation.

Finding that a protected property right does not include the right to be free from competition, the Court noted the City wasn’t depriving the plaintiffs of tangible or intangible property.  All the Ordinance did was codify Chicago cab drivers’ exposure to a new form of competition – competition from ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

And since the right to be free from competition is not a legally valid property right, the plaintiffs’ misappropriation of property theory failed.  The Court wrote that to indulge the plaintiffs’ argument that it had a property right in eliminating transportation service competition would give taxi drivers an unfair monopoly on all commercial transportation.

Equal Protection Claim: Cab Drivers and TNPs Should Be Subject to the Same Regulations

Striking down the plaintiffs’ equal protection claims, the Court framed the issue as whether “regulatory differences between Chicago taxicabs and Chicago TNPs are arbitrary or defensible.”  It found the regulatory variations were indeed defensible.  In reaching this holding the Court focused on the salient differences between taxicabs and TNPs including their distinct business models and levels of driver oversight and screening, as well as stark differences in consumer accessibility: where riders can hail a cab on any street, TNP users must first sign up with the TNP and install an app on their smartphone to hire TNP drivers.

A Dog Differs From a Cat and a Taxi Differs from a TNP Like Uber

In the end, it was the blatant qualitative differences between cab service and TNPs that carried the day and sealed the fate of plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to the Ordinance.  The Court found there were measurable differences between taxis and TNPs in the areas of business model, driver screening and rate-setting, among others, that justified the City’s different regulatory schemes.

The Court found that the watered-down (according to Plaintiffs, anyway) TNP Ordinance rightly recognized the glaring differences between taxis and TNPs and was rationally related to the City’s interest in fostering competition in commercial transportation business.


This case presents an interesting application of established constitutional equal protection principles to a progressive electronic commerce context.

In the end the case turned on whether leveling the competitive playing field to the cab drivers’ liking by striking down the Ordinance resulted in stifled competition.  Since the Court said the answer to the question was “yes,” the taxi drivers’ constitutional challenge failed.



Non-shareholder Liable For Chinese Restaurant’s Lease Obligations Where No Apparent Corporate Connection – IL Case Note

fortune-cookiePink Fox v. Kwok, 2016 IL App (1st) 150868-U, examines the corporate versus personal liability dichotomy through the lens of a commercial lease dispute.  There, a nonshareholder signed a lease for a corporate tenant (a Chinese restaurant) but failed to mention the tenant’s business name next to his signature.  This had predictable bad results for him as the lease signer was hit with a money judgment of almost $200K in past-due rent and nearly $20K in attorneys’ fees and court costs.

The restaurant lease had a ten-year term and required the tenant to pay over $13K in monthly rent along with real estate taxes and maintenance costs.  The lease was signed by a non-shareholder of the corporate tenant who was friends with the tenant’s officers.

The non-shareholder and other lease guarantors appealed a bench trial judgment holding them personally responsible for the defunct tenant’s lease obligations.

Held: Affirmed


The first procedural question was whether the trial court erred when it refused to deem the defendants’ affirmative defenses admitted based on the plaintiff’s failure to respond to the defenses.

Code Section 2-602 requires a plaintiff to reply to an affirmative defense within 21 days.  The failure to reply to an affirmative defense is an admission of the facts pled in the defense.  But the failure to reply only admits the truth of factual matter; not legal conclusions. 

A failure to reply doesn’t admit the validity of the unanswered defense.  The court has wide discretion to allow late replies to affirmative defenses in keeping with Illinois’ stated policy of having cases decided on their merits instead of technicalities.  (¶ 55)

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s allowing the plaintiff’s late reply.  The court noted the defendants had several months to seek a judgment for the plaintiff’s failure to reply to the defenses yet waited until the day of trial to “spring” a motion on the plaintiff.  Since the Illinois Code is to be construed liberally and not in a draconian fashion, the Court found there was no prejudice to the defendants in allowing the plaintiff’s late reply.

The court next considered whether the trial court properly entertained extrinsic evidence to interpret the commercial lease.  The body of the lease stated that the tenant was a corporation yet the signature page indicated that an individual was the tenant.  This textual clash created a lease ambiguity that merited hearing evidence of the parties’ intent at trial.

Generally, when an agent signs a contract in his own name and fails to mention the identity of his corporate principal, the agent remains liable on the contract he signs.  But where an agent signs a document and does note his corporate affiliation, he usually is not personally responsible on the contract.  Where an agent lacks authority to sign on behalf of his corporate employer, the agent will be personally liable.  (¶¶ 76-77)

Since the person signing the lease testified at trial that he did so “out of friendship,” the trial court properly found he was personally responsible for the defunct Chinese restaurant’s lease obligations.

The court also affirmed the money judgment against the lease guarantors and rejected their claim that there was no consideration to support the guarantees.

Under black letter lease guarantee rules, where a guarantee is signed at the same time as the lease, the consideration supporting the lease will also support the guarantee.  In such a case, the guarantor does not need to receive separate or additional consideration from the underlying tenant to be bound by the guarantee.

So long as the primary obligor – here the corporate tenant – receives consideration, the law deems the same consideration as flowing to the guarantor.


1/ Signing a lease on behalf of a corporate entity without denoting corporate connection is risky business;

2/ If you sign something out of friendship, like the defendant here, you should make sure you are indemnified by the friend/person (individual or corporation) you’re signing for;

3/ Where a guaranty is signed at the same time as the underlying lease, no additional consideration to the guarantor is required.  The consideration flowing to the tenant is sufficient to also bind the guarantor.



Italian Lawsuit Filed Against Auto Repair Giant Dooms Later Illinois Lawsuit Under ‘Same Parties/Same Cause’ Rule

Where two lawsuits are pending simultaneously and involve the same parties and issues, the later filed case is generally subject to dismissal.  Illinois Code Section 2-619(a)(3) allows for dismissal where “there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause.”

Midas Intern. Corp. v. Mesa, S.p.A., 2013 IL App (1st) 122048, while dated, gives a useful summary of the same-cause dismissal guideposts in the context of an international franchise dispute.

Midas, the well-known car repair company entered into a written contract with Mesa, an Italian car repairer, to license Midas’s business “System” and related trademarks.  In exchange for licensing Midas’s business model and marks, Mesa paid a multi-million dollar license fee and made monthly royalty payments.  The contract had a mandatory arbitration clause and a separate license agreement incorporated into it that fixed Milan, Italy or Chicago, Illinois as the venues for license agreement litigation.

Mesa sued Midas in an Italian court claiming Midas violated the license agreement by not making capital investments in some of Mesa’s projects.  A month or so later, Midas sued Mesa in Illinois state court for breach of contract and a declaratory judgment that Midas was in compliance with the license agreement and was owed royalties.  The trial court dismissed Midas’ suit based on the pending Italian lawsuit filed by Mesa.  Midas appealed.

Held: Affirmed.


The case turned on whether Mesa’s lawsuit stemmed from the same cause as Midas’s Illinois action.  Dismissal of an action under Code Section 2-619(a)(3) is a “procedural tool designed to avoid duplicative litigation.”  Under this section, actions involve the same cause when the relief sought in two cases rest on substantially the same set of facts.  The test is whether the two actions stem from the same underlying transaction or occurrence; not whether the pled causes of action or legal theories in the two cases are the same or different.

Two cases don’t have to be identical for Section 2-619(a)(3) to apply.  All that’s required is the cases feature a “substantial similarity of issues.”  (¶ 13)

If the same cause and same party requirements are met, the Court can still refuse dismissal if the prejudice to the party whose case is dismissed outweighs the policy against duplicative litigation.  In assessing prejudice caused by dismissal, the court considers issues of comity, prevention of multiplicity of lawsuits, vexation, harassment, likelihood of obtaining complete relief in the foreign forum, and the res judicata effect of a foreign judgment in the local forum (here, Illinois).

Courts also look to which case was filed first; although order of case filing isn’t by itself a dispositive factor.

Rejecting Midas’ argument that the Italian lawsuit was separated in time and topics from the Illinois lawsuit, the Court noted that Mesa’s lawsuit objective was to preemptively defend against Midas’s royalty claims.  Midas Illinois lawsuit, filed only weeks after Mesa’s action, sought damages under a breach of contract theory – that Mesa breached the license agreement by not paying royalties.

Since the outcome in the Mesa (Italian) case will determine the Midas (Illinois) case, the Court found the Illinois case was barred because Mesa’s action involved the same parties and same cause: both cases originated from the same license agreement.

The Court also found that Midas wouldn’t be prejudiced due to the dismissal of the Illinois action. Midas has the resources to file a counterclaim in the Italy case and the license agreement provides that either Milan or Chicago are possible lawsuit venues.  Since Illinois and Italy each had similar interests in and a connection to the dispute (the royalty payments were sent from Italy and received in Illinois), the trial court had discretion to dismiss Midas’ Illinois lawsuit. (¶ 25).


1/ This case lays out the different factors a court considers when determining whether to dismiss an action under the same cause/same parties Code section;

2/ The timing of the filing of two lawsuits along with each forum’s connection to the dispute are key factors considered by the court when deciding whether avoiding redundancy in litigation trumps a party’s right to have its case heard on the merits.

Avvo’s ‘Sponsored Listings’ Not Commercial Enough to Escape First Amendment Protection in Lawyer’s Publicity Suit – IL ND


In its decade old existence, Avvo, Inc., an “on line legal services marketplace,” has been no stranger to controversy.  Private attorneys and bar associations alike have objected to Avvo’s business model and practices – some filing defamation lawsuits against the company while others have demanded in regulatory venues that Avvo stop its unconsented “scraping” of attorney data.

Vrdolyak v. Avvo, Inc. is the latest installment of a lawyer suing Avvo; this time challenging Avvo-pro, the on-line directory’s pay-to-play service.

For about $50 a month, Avvo-pro users can ensure that no rival attorney ads appear on their profile page.  But if the attorney chooses not to participate in Avvo-pro, he will likely see competitor ads on his Avvo page.

The plaintiff, a non-Avvo-pro participant, sued Avvo under Illinois’ Right to Publicity Act.  He argued that by selling competitor ads on his profile page, Avvo usurped plaintiff’s right to monetize his identity.

In effect, according to plaintiff, Avvo was capitalizing on plaintiff’s brand and using it as a platform for rival lawyers to peddle their services to anyone who visited plaintiff’s Avvo page.

The Court granted Avvo’s motion to dismiss on the basis that Avvo’s ads were protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The key inquiry was whether Avvo’s site constitutes commercial or non-commercial speech.  If speech is non-commercial, it is entitled to expansive First Amendment protection that can only be restricted in extraordinary circumstances.

Commercial speech, by contrast, receives less First Amendment protection.  It can be more easily scrutinized and vulnerable to defamation or publicity statute claims.

The court cited daily newspapers and telephone directory “yellow pages” as prototypical examples of non-commercial speech.

While both sell advertising, a newspaper’s and yellow pages’ main purpose is to provide information.  Any ad revenue derived by the paper or phone directory is ancillary to their primary function as information distributor.

Commercial speech proposes a commercial transaction, including through the use of a trademark or a company’s brand awareness.  If speech has both commercial and non-commercial elements (e.g. where a commercial transaction is offered at the same time a matter of social importance is discussed), the court tries to divine the main purpose of the speech by considering if (1) the speech is an advertisement, (2) it refers to a specific product and (3) the speaker’s economic motivation.

The Court agreed with Avvo that its site was akin to a computerized yellow pages; That the core of Avvo was non-commercial speech: it provides attorney information culled from various sources.

The court distinguished basketball legend Michael Jordan’s recent lawsuit against Jewel food stores for taking out an ad in Sports Illustrated, ostensibly for commending Jordan on his recent basketball hall of fame induction.

The Seventh Circuit there found that Jewel’s conduct clearly aimed to associate Jordan with Jewel’s brand and in the process promote Jewel’s supermarkets.  As a result, Jewel’s actions were deemed commercial speech and subject to a higher level of court scrutiny. Jordan v. Jewel Food Stores, Inc., 743 F.3d 509, 515 (7th Cir. 2014).

In the end, the Avvo case turned on this binary question: was Avvo a non-commercial attorney directory with incidental advertising, or was each Avvo attorney profile an advertisement for the competitors’ “Sponsored Listings” (the name ascribed to competing attorneys who paid for ads to be placed on plaintiff’s profile page).

Since not every attorney profile contained advertisements and none of the challenged ads used plaintiff’s name, the Court found Avvo was like a newspaper or yellow pages directory entitled to free speech protection.

The Court likened Avvo to Sports Illustrated – a publication that features ads but whose main purpose is non-commercial (i.e. Providing sports news).  Like SI, Avvo publishes non-commercial information – attorney stats – and within that information, places advertisements.

To hold otherwise and allow plaintiff’s publicity suit to go forward, “any entity that publishes truthful newsworthy information about….professionals, such as a newspaper or yellow page directory, would risk civil liability simply because it generated ad revenue” from competing vendors.

Afterword:  This case presents an interesting application of venerable First Amendment principles to the post-modern, computerized context.

A case lesson is that even if speech has some obvious money-making byproducts, it still  can garner constitutional protection where its main purpose is to impart information rather than to attract paying customers.





Non-reliance Clause Defeats Fraud In Inducement Claim In Employment Agreement Dispute – IL Court

Colagrossi v. Bank of Scotland, 2016 IL (App) 1st 142216 examines fraud in the inducement in an employment dispute involving parent and subsidiary companies and their respective successors.

The key question was whether a non-reliance or “integration” clause in an employment contract barred a fraud in the inducement claim based on pre-contract statements by a party?  The answer:  “Yes.”

The case features a tortured procedural history and this tedious litigation timeline:

2005 – Plaintiff receives offer letter from Company 1 for plaintiff to perform futures trading services.  The offer letter contains a non-reliance clause that subsumes all oral representations concerning the offer letter’s subject matter.

2006 – Plaintiff enters into employment agreement with Company 2 – Company 1’s successor.  This agreement also has a non-reliance clause.

2006-2007 – Plaintiff contends that while negotiating the offer letter specifics, Company 1’s officer fails to disclose to Plaintiff that Company 1 is about to be sold to Company 2 and had plaintiff known this, he wouldn’t have accepted Company 1’s offer.

2008 – Plaintiff files two lawsuits.  He sues Company 1 for fraud in the inducement and then sues Company 2 under the same legal theories.  Company 2 removes that case to Federal Court (based on diversity of citizenship).

2011 – Plaintiff files a third lawsuit; this time naming Company 3 – Company 1’s parent – and Company 4, the entity that purchased Company 3.

2013 – Summary judgment for Company 1 is entered in the 2008 fraud in inducement case based on non-reliance language of offer letter.

2014 – Federal court grants summary judgment for Company 2 in removed Federal case (the removed 2008 case) based on same non-reliance clause

2014 – Plaintiff’s 2011 lawsuit against Companies 3 and 4 dismissed based on res judicata in that the same issues were already litigated in the 2008 fraud in inducement case against Company 1

Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of the 2011 lawsuit.

Held: Affirmed


Fraud in the inducement  requires a plaintiff to plead and prove (1) a false representation of material fact, (2) made with knowledge or belief in the representation’s falsity, (3) made with the purpose of inducing a plaintiff to act or refrain from acting, and (iv) the plaintiff reasonably relied on the defendant’s representation (or non-representation) to plaintiff’s detriment. (¶¶ 44-45)

Fraud normally is no defense to the enforceability of a written agreement where the party claiming fraud had ample opportunity to discover the fraud by reading the document.

Here, the plaintiff admitted that he read the 2005 offer letter and 2006 employment contract and signed them after reviewing with his attorney.  In addition, the two agreements each spelled out that plaintiff had not relied on any oral or written representations of the parties in signing the agreements. 

The Court held that the clear non-reliance language prevented plaintiff from establishing justifiable reliance on any oral statements made by Company 1 to induce plaintiff to sign the offer letter or on Company 2 statements before signing the employment agreement. (¶ 47)

The next question for the Court was whether summary judgment for Company 1 in the 2008 case was res judicata to the 2011 case against Companies 3 and 4.  Again, Company 3 was Company 1’s corporate parent and Company 4 purchased Company 3’s assets.

In Illinois, res judicata applies where (1) there is an identity of parties or their privies, (2) identity of causes of action, and (3) final judgment on the merits.

For the first, identity of parties prong, to apply, the parties don’t have to identical.  All that’s required is their interest must be sufficiently similar.  Under Illinois law, a corporate parent and its subsidiaries can be deemed sufficiently similar for res judicata purposes as can successor and predecessor companies.  When the only difference between a predecessor and a successor (like between Company 2 and 3 here) is a name change, “obvious privity” is present.  (¶¶ 53-54)

Since the two 2008 cases and the 2011 case all stemmed from the same underlying facts, involved the same employment contract and same corporate principals, summary judgment for Company 1 and 2 in the 2008 cases barred plaintiff from repackaging the same facts and claims against Companies 3 and 4 in the 2011 case.


This case and others like it make clear that for a fraud in the inducement plaintiff to establish reliance in the breach of written contract setting, he should show he was deprived of a chance to read the contract.  Otherwise, the rule against allowing fraud claims by one who fails to read a document will defeat the claim.

Another important case holding is that the ‘same parties’ res judicata element applies where parent and subsidiary (or predecessor and successor) companies are sufficiently connected so they sufficiently represents the other’s legal interests in two separate lawsuits.

‘Helpful’ Client List Not Secret Enough to Merit Trade Secret Injunction – IL Court

Customer lists are common topics of trade secrets litigation.  A typical fact pattern: Company A sues Ex-employee B who joined or started a competitor and is contacting company A’s clients.  Company A argues that its customer list is secret and only known by Ex-employee B through his prior association with Company A.

Whether such a claim has legal legs depends mainly on whether A’s customer list qualifies for trade secret protection and secondarily on whether the sued employee signed a noncompete or nondisclosure contract. (In my experience, that’s usually the case.)  If the court deems the list secret enough, the claim may win.  If the court says the opposite, the trade secrets claim loses.

Novamed v. Universal Quality Solutions, 2016 IL App (1st) 152673-U, is a recent Illinois case addressing the quality and quantity of proof a trade secrets plaintiff must offer at an injunction hearing to prevent a former employee from using his ex-employer’s customer data to compete with the employer.

The plaintiff pipette (a syringe used in medical labs) company sued to stop two former sales agents who joined one of plaintiff’s rivals.  Both salesmen signed restrictive covenants that prevented them from competing with plaintiff or contacting plaintiff’s customers for a 2.5 year period and that geographically spanned much of the Midwest.  The trial court denied plaintiff’s application for injunctive relief on the basis that the plaintiff failed to establish a protectable interest in its clients.

Result: Trial court’s judgment affirmed.  While plaintiff’s customer list is “helpful” in marketing plaintiff’s services, it does not rise to the level of a protectable trade secret.


Despite offering testimony that its customer list was the culmination of over two-decades of arduous development, the court still decided in the ex-sales employees’ favor.  For a court to issue a preliminary injunction, Illinois requires the plaintiff to show: (1) it possesses a clear right or interest that needs protection; (2) no adequate remedy at law exists, (3) irreparable harm will result if the injunction is not granted, and (4) there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the case (plaintiff is likely to win, i.e.)

A restrictive covenant – be it a noncompete, nondisclosure or nonsolicitation clause – will be upheld if is a “reasonable restraint” and is supported by consideration.  To determine whether a restrictive covenant is enforceable, it must (1) be no greater than is required to protect a legitimate business interest of the employer, (2) not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) not be injurious to the public.  (¶ 35)

The legitimate business interest question (element (1) above) distills to a fact-based inquiry where the court looks at (a) whether the employee tried to use confidential information for his own benefit and (b) whether the employer has near-permanent relationships with its customers.

Here, there was no near-permanent relationship between the plaintiff and its clients.  Both defendants testified that many of plaintiff’s customers simultaneously use competing pipette vendors.  The court also noted that plaintiff did not have any contracts with its customers and had to continually solicit clients to do business with it.

The court then pointed out that a customer list generally is not considered confidential where it can be duplicated or pieced together by cross-referencing telephone directories, the Internet, where the customers use competitors at the same time and customer names are generally known in a given industry.  According to the Court, “[i]f the information can be [obtained] by calling the company and asking, it is not protectable confidential information.” (¶ 40)

Since the injunction hearing evidence showed that plaintiff’s pipettes were typically used by universities, hospitals and research labs, the universe of plaintiff’s existing and prospective customers was well-defined and known to competitors.

Next, the court rejected plaintiff’s argument that it had a protectable interest because of the training it invested into the defendants; making them highly skilled workers. The court credited evidence at the hearing that it only takes a few days to teach someone how to clean a pipette and all pipette businesses use the same servicing method.  These factors weighed against trade secret protection attaching to the plaintiff’s customers.

Lastly, the court found that regardless of whether defendants were highly skilled workers, preventing defendants from working would be an undue hardship in that they would have to move out of the Midwest to earn a livelihood in their chosen field.


This case provides a useful summary of what a plaintiff must show to establish a protectable business interest in its clients.  If the plaintiff cannot show that the customer identities are near-permanent, that they invested time and money in highly skilled workers or that customer names are not discoverable through basic research efforts (phone directories, Google search, etc.), a trade secrets claim based on ex-employee’s use of plaintiff’s customer list will fail.

Filing Lawsuit Doesn’t Meet Conversion Suit ‘Demand for Possession’ Requirement – 7th Cir. (applying IL law)

Conversion, or civil theft, requires a plaintiff to make a demand for possession of the converted property before suing for its return.  This pre-suit demand’s purpose is to give a defendant the opportunity to return plaintiff’s property and avoid unnecessary litigation.

What constitutes a demand though?  The easiest case is where a plaintiff serves a written demand for return of property and the defendant refuses.  But what if the plaintiff doesn’t send a demand but instead files a lawsuit.  Is the act of filing the lawsuit equivalent to sending a demand?

The Seventh Circuit recently answered “no” to the question in Stevens v. Interactive Financial Advisors, Inc., 2016 WL 4056401 (N.D.Ill. 2016)

That case’s plaintiff sued his former brokerage firm for tortious interference and with contract and conversion based when the firm blocked plaintiff’s access to investment client data after the firm fired the plaintiff.  The District Court granted summary judgment on the plaintiff’s tortious interference claim and a jury entered judgment for the defendant on the conversion count.

At trial on the conversion count, the jury submitted this question to the trial judge: “Can we consider [filing] the lawsuit a demand for property?”  The trial judge answered no – under Illinois law, filing a lawsuit does not qualify as a demand for possession.  The jury then found for the defendant and plaintiff appealed.

Affirming the jury verdict, the Seventh Circuit addressed if and when impeding access to financial data can give rise to a conversion action in light of Illinois law’s pre-suit demand requirement and various applicable Federal securities laws.

To prove conversion under Illinois law, a plaintiff must show (1) he has a right to personal property, (2) he has an absolute and unconditional right to immediate possession of the property, (3) he made a demand for possession, and (4) defendant wrongfully and without authorization assumed control, dominion, or ownership over the property.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendant investment firm on the plaintiff’s conversion count that sought access to client information for clients plaintiff brought to the firm.

The Court held that since the firm was bound by Federal securities laws prohibiting it from disclosing nonpublic client information to third parties, and the plaintiff had been fired, the plaintiff could not show a right to immediate possession of the client financial information.  The plaintiff did possibly have a right to insurance client information (as opposed to securities clients) and the Court denied summary judgment as to plaintiff’s insurance clients.

The Seventh Circuit upheld the jury verdict on the insurance clients conversion suit based on the plaintiff’s failure to make a demand for possession.  The Court stated the demand requirement’s purpose as trying to motivate the return of property “before a plaintiff is required to submit to unnecessary litigation.”

The plaintiff did not make a demand for return of his insurance client’s data before he filing suit.  And since Illinois courts have never held that the act of suing was tantamount to a demand for possession, the Seventh Circuit found that the District Court correctly instructed the jury that the failure to make a demand for possession before suing defeats a conversion claim.

The Court also nixed the plaintiff’s “demand futility” argument: that a demand for possession would have been pointless given the circumstances of the given case. (Demand futility typically applies where the property has been sold or fundamentally damaged.)

The Seventh Circuit found that the jury properly considered the demand futility question and ruled against the plaintiff and there was no basis to reverse that finding.


1/ A conversion plaintiff’s right to client data will not trump a Federal securities law that protects the data.  In addition, a pre-suit demand for possession is required to make out a conversion action unless the plaintiff can show that the demand is pointless or futile;

2/ The act of filing a lawsuit will not serve as a proxy for a demand for possession.

3/Conversion plaintiffs should take great care to make a demand for possession before suing.

3-a/ This is true even where the demand is likely to meet resistance.  Otherwise, like the plaintiff experienced here, the risk is too great that the lack of a demand will defeat the conversion claim.


Of Styx, Starbucks and A Drink Is Not A Beverage (??)

I remember being frantic one weeknight in the Fall of 1978. In a good way. My dad had picked me up from school (St. Thomas Aquinas – East Wichita, KS) in his Ice Blue Monte Carlo and together we trekked to David’s, the long shuttered department store in Wichita’s Parklane shopping mall. (I still recall the store’s ultra-catchy “D! A-V-I-D! Apostrophe S! – Come on into David’s!” ad jingle saturating local radio and television at the time.)

Nearing David’s and nearly hyperventilating with excitement, I was on the verge of buying my very first record album. Over the next few decades, I would accumulate well over a thousand records, cassettes, CDs and .mp3 singles. But Styx’s Pieces of Eight – the “Blue Collar Man” album, was my first record buy. And I do remember the event (to me it was an event given my life-long love of rock music and its history) like it was yesterday: the album’s plastic packaging, its glossy texture, the lemony smells of the store. All of it.

I had been on a mission to buy PoE ever since I heard “Renegade” on a Fourth Grade classmate’s K-Tel 8-track tape (showing my age alert!) a few weeks prior. The song was sandwiched between Amy Stewart’s “Knock on Wood” cover and Kansas’ “Point of No Return.” (That’s how much I listened to “Renegade” on my friend’s 8-track machine – I still remember – almost forty years later – the songs that both preceded and followed it with the same vividness as the song itself.)

PoE did not disappoint. Besides the mighty “Renegade,” some other choice PoE cuts include “Queen of Spades”, “Great White Hope,” and the title track. The aforementioned “Blue Collar Man,” still a rock radio staple and one of the most prominent in the Styx catalog, is yet another of PoE’s high-octane offerings. And so Styx became my favorite band. And I wore PoE out; listening to it on all days and at all hours.

Fast forward to the early 1980s and I was introduced to heavier fare like Maiden, Priest and Dio. My interest in Styx waned. I suspected, and peer pressure confirmed, that the band just wasn’t metal enough. Jump ahead a year or two when another classmate’s older brother played Into the Void‘s menacing and atonal intro and Black Sabbath (or “Sab” as metal aficianados are want to call them) quickly became (and would later become) my all-time favorite music group regardless of genre. Styx and bands like it were relegated to afterthought status.

But not before 1981’s Paradise Theater and one of its top tracks, “Too Much Time on My Hands” burst into the pop music consciousness. An FM stalwart and iconic Early MTV offering, TMTOMH’s vaguely disco-tinged beat and catchy hand claps still trigger nostalgia pangs. I remember roller skating (!!) to the song at Skate East and Traxx – two venerable Wichita roller skating venues that long ago succumbed to the wrecking ball and internal detonations.

In the song, Tommy Shaw, the diminutive lead guitarist and Alabaman (I think), laments the perils of idle time and fair-weather compadres (“I got! dozens of friends and the fun never ends, that is as long as I’m buying…”) and even sprinkles in an incongruous Commander-in-Chief aspiration. (“Is it any wonder I’m not the President?“) So memorable is TMTOMH’s video that even Jimmy Fallon, erstwhile SNL castmember and current Tonight Show host, gushed over it and did a verbatim sendup of the song with actor Paul “I Love You Man” Rudd.

I mention all this because today’s featured case – Forouzesh v. Starbucks Corp., (unfairly or not) reminds me of someone who clearly had…..tick tick tick (you guessed it)…. too much time on his hands.

The plaintiff, on his own and on behalf of all California residents who purchased a Starbucks cold drink in the past decade, sued the Seattle coffee titan for systemic fraud. He claimed Starbucks misrepresented the amount of fluid ounces in its cold drink offerings. Specifically, he claimed the coffee giant lied on its on-line menu about the amount of liquid in its drinks by underfilling its cups and adding ice to make the cups appear full. The plaintiff brought various common law and statutory fraud and breach of warranty claims in his lawsuit.

The California District Court dismissed the suit on Starbucks’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The Court noted that under Rule 8(a), a complaint must give a defendant fair notice of what a claim is and its basis. The complaint must meet a “plausibility standard” in which a complaint’s factual allegations are enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. A plaintiff must do more than simply allege labels, conclusions and a “formulaic recitation” of the elements of a given cause of action.

An action for fraud is subject to a more exacting pleading standard. Rule 9(b) requires a fraud plaintiff to allege underlying fraud facts with sharper specificity, including the time, place, persons involved, and content of the false statement.

Rejecting the plaintiff’s statutory consumer fraud and unfair competition claims, the Court found that a “reasonable consumer” would not likely be deceived by Starbucks’ website description of its cold drink measurements. Indeed, the Court held “but as young children learn, they can increase the amount of beverage they receive if they order “no ice.” Ouch?

And since young children could figure out that more ice means less liquid, the Court concluded that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived by Starbucks’ stated fluid ounce stats. Added support for the Court’s holding lay in the fact that Starbucks’ cold drink containers are clear. A consumer can clearly see that a given drink consists of both ice and liquid. If a consumer wants more liquid, he can simply order with “no ice.”

The Court’s finding of no deception also doomed the plaintiff’s common law fraud claims. It held that since a reasonable consumer would comprehend that Starbucks’ cold drinks contain both ice and liquid, the plaintiff could not establish either a misrepresentation by Starbucks or plaintiff’s justifiable reliance on it – two required fraud elements.

Lastly, the Court rejected the plaintiff’s state law breach of warranty claims. The Court found that Starbucks did not specifically state that its cold drinks contained a specific amount of liquid. All the coffee maker said – via its web page – was that it offered cold drinks for sale in various cup sizes (12 oz – Tall; 16 oz. – Grande, 24 oz. – Venti). Absent any specific allegations that Starbucks expressly or impliedly warranted that its cold drinks contained a specific amount of liquid, the plaintiff couldn’t make out a valid breach of warranty claim.

Afterwords: The plaintiffs’ failed fraud suit against Starbucks illustrates that while Federal pleading standards normally more relaxed than their State court counterparts, this isn’t so with fraud claims.

The plaintiff’s failure to pin a specific misstatement concerning Starbucks’ cold drink contents doomed his claims. The court also gives teeth to the reasonable consumer standard that applies to state law consumer protection statutes. Since the plaintiff was unable to show a reasonable consumer would have been deceived by Starbucks’ published cold drink measurements, the plaintiff’s unfair competition and consumer fraud actions failed.

Oh, and to bring things full-circle, I suppose I should report that neither Renegade norBlue Collar Man nor Too Much Time on My Hands is my favorite Styx tune. That honor goes to “Castle Walls” – the second or third song on Side 2 of 1977’s Grand Illusion album. Give it a listen. It’ll definitely cure what ails ya.

Tacking Unsigned Change Orders On To Contractors’ Lien Not Enough For Constructive Fraud – IL Court

Constructive mechanics lien fraud and slander of title are two central topics the appeals court grapples with in Roy Zenere Trucking & Excavating, Inc. v. Build Tech, Inc., 2016 IL App (3d) 140946.  There, a commercial properly developer appealed bench trial judgments for two subcontractor plaintiffs – a paving contractor and an excavating firm – on the basis that the plaintiffs’ mechanics liens were inflated and fraudulent.

The developer argued that since the subcontractors tried to augment the lien by adding unsigned change order work to it – and the contracts required all change orders to be in writing – this equaled that voided the liens.  The trial court disagreed and entered judgment for the plaintiff subcontractors.

Affirming the trial court’s judgment, the appeals court provides a useful summary of the type of proof needed to sustain constructive fraud and slander of title claims in the construction lien setting and when attorneys’ fees can be awarded to prevailing parties under Illinois’ mechanics lien statute, 770 ILCS 60/1 (the Act).

Section 7(a) of the Act provides that no lien shall be defeated to the proper amount due to an error of overcharging unless it is shown that the error or overcharge was made with an “intent to defraud.”  Constructive fraud (i.e., fraud that can’t be proven to be purposeful) can also invalidate a lien but there must be more than a simple overcharge in the lien claim.  The overage must be coupled with other evidence of fraud.

Slander of title applies where (1) a defendant makes a false and malicious publication, (2) the publication disparages the plaintiff’s title to property, and (3) damages.  “Malicious” in the slander of title context means knowingly false or that statements were made with a reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.  If a party has reasonable grounds to believe it has a legal or equitable claim to property, even if it’s later proven to be false, this won’t amount to a slander of title.

Here, the appeals court agreed with the trial court that there was no evidence to support a constructive fraud or slander of title claim.  The defendant property owner admitted that the subcontractor plaintiffs performed the contract as well as the extra change order work.

While the Court excluded the unsigned change order work from the lien amount, there was still insufficient constructive fraud or slander of title evidence to sustain the owner’s counterclaims.  Though unsuccessful in adding the change orders to the lien, the Court found the plaintiffs had a reasonable basis to recover the extra work in their lien foreclosure actions based on the parties’ contracting conduct where the owner routinely paid extras without signed change orders.

The Court then examined whether the subcontractors could add their attorneys’ fees to the judgment.  Section 17(b) of the Act allows a court to assess attorneys’ fees against a property owner who fails to pay “without just cause or right.”  This equates to an owner raising a defense not “well grounded in fact and warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.”  770 ILCS 60/17(b), (d).

The evidence at trial that the subcontractors substantially performed the paving and excavation work cut in favor of awarding fees to the plaintiffs.  There was no evidence to support the owner defendant’s failure to pay the subcontract amounts.  The Court held that this lack of a colorable basis not to pay the subcontractors was “without just cause or right” under the Act.


1/ Constructive fraud requires more than a computational error in the lien amount.  There must be other “plus-factor” evidence that combines with the overcharge;

2/ Where a contractor has reasonable basis for lien claim, it will be impossible for plaintiff to meet the malicious publication requirement of a slander of title claim;

3/ This case is pro-contractor as it gives teeth to the Mechanics’ Lien Statute’s fee-shifting section.



Indy Skyline Photo Spat At Heart Of 7th Circuit’s Gloss on Affirmative Defenses, Res Judicata and Fed. Pleading Amendments – Bell v. Taylor (Part I)

Litigation over pictures of the Indianapolis skyline form the backdrop for the Seventh Circuit’s recent examination of the elements of a proper affirmative defense under Federal pleading rules and the concept of ‘finality’ for res judicata purposes in Bell v. Taylor.

There, several small businesses infringed plaintiff’s copyrights in two photographs of downtown Indianapolis: one taken at night, the other in daytime.  The defendants – an insurance company, a realtor, and a computer repair firm – all used at least one the plaintiff’s photos on company websites.  When the plaintiff couldn’t prove damages, the District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants and later dismissed a second lawsuit filed by the plaintiff against one of the defendants based on the same facts.  The plaintiff appealed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment of the first lawsuit and dismissal of the second action on both procedural and substantive grounds.

Turning to the claims against the computer company defendant, the court noted that the defendant denied using the plaintiff’s daytime photo.  The defendant used only the nighttime photo.  The plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to comply with Rule 8(b) by not asserting facts to support its denial that it used plaintiff’s daytime photo.

Rejecting this argument, the court noted that a proper affirmative defense limits or excuses a defendant’s liability even where the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case.  If the facts that underlie an affirmative defense are proven true, they will defeat the plaintiff’s claim even if all of the complaint allegations are true.  A defendant’s contesting a plaintiff’s factual allegation is not an affirmative defense.  It is instead a simple denial.  Since the computer defendant denied it used the daytime photo, there was no affirmative matter involved and the defendant didn’t have to comply with Rule 8’s pleading requirements.

The Seventh Circuit also affirmed the denial of the plaintiff’s attempt to amend his complaint several months after pleadings closed.  In Federal court, the right to amend pleadings is broad but not absolute.  Where allowing an amendment would result in undue delay or prejudice to the opposing party, a court has discretion to refuse a request to amend a complaint.  FRCP 15(a)(2).  Here, the Court agreed with the lower court that the plaintiff showed a lack of diligence by waiting until well after the amending pleadings deadline passed.  The plaintiff’s failure to timely seek leave to amend its complaint supported the court’s denial of its motion.

The Court also affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s second lawsuit on res judicata grounds.  When the District Court entered summary judgment for defendants on plaintiff’s copyright and state law claims (conversion, unfair competition), plaintiff’s equitable relief claims (declaratory judgment and injunctive relief) were pending.  Because of this, the summary judgment order wasn’t final for purposes of appeal.  (Plaintiff could only appeal final orders – and until the court disposed of the equitable claims, the summary judgment order wasn’t final and appealable.)

Still, finality for res judicata purposes is different from appellate finality.  An order can be final and have preclusive effect under res judicata or collateral estoppel even where other claims remain.  This was the case here as plaintiff’s sole claim against the computer company defendant was for copyright infringement.  The pending equitable claims were directed to other defendants.  So the District Court’s summary judgment order on plaintiff’s copyright infringement claims was final as to the computer defendant.  This finality triggered res judicata and barred the plaintiff’s second lawsuit on the same facts.


The case’s academic value lies in its thorough summary of the pleading requirements for affirmative defenses and the factors guiding a court when determining whether to permit amendments to pleadings.  The case also stresses that finality for appeal purposes is not the same as for res judicata or collateral estoppel.  If an order disposes of a plaintiff’s claims against one but not all defendants, the order is still final as to that defendant and the plaintiff will be precluded from later filing a second lawsuit against that earlier victorious defendant.

Photographer’s Subjective Belief Of Photos’ Value Not Enough to Show Copyright Damages – Seventh Cir. (Deconstructing Bell v. Taylor – Part II)

In Bell v. Taylor, the Seventh Circuit homes in on the photographer plaintiff’s dearth of damages evidence in his copyright suit about two photographs he took of the Indianapolis skyline.

A copyright owner can recover actual damages suffered as a result of infringement and any profits accruing to the infringer.  To establish an infringer’s profits, the plaintiff must show only the infringer’s gross revenue.  The infringer is then required to prove his “deductible expenses and elements of profit attributable to factors other than the copyrighted work.”  17 U.S.C. § 504(b).

Actual damages in the copyright context usually mean loss in fair market value of the infringed work (here, the two photos), measured by profits lost by the copyright holder due to the infringement.  Evidence of prior sales of the infringed work(s) can satisfy the plaintiff’s actual damages burden but his subjective belief as to the fair market value of a photo isn’t enough to prove damages.

The plaintiff failed to prove actual damages since all he offered was his unsupported subjective belief of what the photos were worth.  He was unable to attribute any lost profits to himself or any profits gained by the infringing defendants.  The plaintiff also couldn’t show that any of the infringing defendants attracted more clients by using the plaintiff’s skyscraper photos.


While the plaintiff was able to establish ownership in the copyrighted photos as well as infringement (he unquestionably took the photos and copyrighted them and all defendants admitted using one or both of them), the lack of damages evidence doomed his claims.  The plaintiff’s unadorned opinion of the photos’ monetary value was insufficient to meet his copyright infringement damages burden.

To survive summary judgment, the plaintiff likely would have had to proven that the defendants gained increased web traffic as a direct result of using the photos and that the increased traffic translated into measurable profits for the defendants.  Since the plaintiff couldn’t do this, he couldn’t establish copyright infringement damages to the extent his claims would beat a summary judgment motion.

Three-Year Limitations Period Governs Bank Customer’s Suit for Misapplied Deposits – IL First Dist.

Now we can add PSI Resources, LLC v. MB Financial Bank (2016 IL App (1st) 152204) to the case canon of decisions that harmonize conflicting statutes of limitations and show how hard it is for a corporate account holder to successfully sue its bank.

The plaintiff, an assignee of three related companies**, sued the companies’ bank for misapplying nearly $400K in client payments over a several-year period.  The bank moved to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff’s suit was time-barred by the three-year limitations period that governs actions based on negotiable instruments.***  The court dismissed the complaint and the plaintiff appealed.

Held: Affirmed


The key question was whether the Uniform Commercial Code’s three-year limitations period for negotiable instrument claims or the general ten-year period for breach of written contract actions applied to the plaintiff’s negligence suit against the bank.  The issue was outcome-determinative since the plaintiff didn’t file suit until more than three years passed from the most recent misapplied check.

Illinois applies a ten-year limitations period for actions based on breach of written contract.  735 ILCS 5/13-206.  By contrast, an action based on a negotiable instrument is subject to the shorter three-year period.  810 ILCS 5/4-111.

If the subject of a lawsuit is a negotiable instrument, the UCC’s three-year time period applies since UCC Article 4 actions based on conversion and Article 3 suits for improper payment both involve negotiable instruments.  810 ILCS 5/3-118(g)(conversion); 810 ILCS 5/4-111 (improper payment).

Rejecting plaintiff’s argument that this was a garden-variety breach of contract action to which the ten-year period attached, the court held that since plaintiff’s claims were essentially based on banking transactions, the three-year limitations period for negotiable instruments governed. (¶¶ 36-38)

Where two statutes of limitations arguably apply to the same cause of action, the statute that more specifically relates to the claim applies over the more general statute.  While the ten-year statute for breach of written contracts is a general, “catch-all” limitations period, section 4-111’s three-year rule more specifically relates to a bank’s duties and obligations to its customers.

And since the three-year rule was more specific as it pertained to the plaintiff’s improper deposit and payment claims, the shorter limitations period controlled and plaintiff’s suit was untimely.

The court also sided with the bank on policy grounds.  It stressed that the UCC aims to foster fluidity and efficiency in commercial transactions.  If the ten-year period applied to every breach of contract action against a bank (as plaintiff argued), the UCC’s goal of promoting commercial finality and certainty would be frustrated and possibly bog down financial deals.

The other plaintiff’s argument rejected by the court was that the discovery rule saved the plaintiff’s lawsuit.  The discovery rule protects plaintiffs who don’t know they are injured.  It suspends (tolls) the limitations period until a plaintiff knows or should know he’s been hurt.  The discovery rule standard is not subjective certainty (“I now realize I have been harmed,” e.g.).  Instead, the rule is triggered where “the injured person becomes possessed of sufficient information concerning his injury and its cause to put a reasonable person on inquiry to determine whether actionable conduct is involved.” (¶ 47)

Here, the evidence was clear that plaintiff’s assigning companies received deposit statements on a monthly basis for a several-year period.  And the monthly statements contained enough information to put the companies on notice that the bank may have misapplied deposits.  According to the court, these red flags should have motivated the plaintiff to dig deeper into the statements’ discrepancies.


This case suggests that an abbreviated three-year limitations period applies to claims based on banking transactions; even if a written contract – like an account agreement – is the foundation for a plaintiff’s action against a bank.  A plaintiff with a possible breach of contract suit against his bank should take great care to sue within the three-year period when negotiable instruments are involved.

Another case lesson is that the discovery rule has limits.  If facts exist to put a reasonable person on notice that he may have suffered financial harm, he will be held to a shortened limitations period; regardless of whether he has actual knowledge of harm.


**  The court took judicial notice of the Illinois Secretary of State’s corporate registration database which established that the three assigned companies shared the same registered agent and business address.

*** 810 ILCS 5/3-104 (“negotiable instrument” means an unconditional promise or order to pay a fixed amount of money, with or without interest or other charges described in the promise or order, if it: (1) is payable to bearer or to order at the time it is issued or first comes into possession of a holder (2) is payable on demand or at a definite time; and (3) does not state any other undertaking or instruction by the person promising or ordering payment to do any act in addition to the payment of money, but the promise or order may contain (i) an undertaking or power to give, maintain, or protect collateral to secure payment, (ii) an authorization or power to the holder to confess judgment or realize on or dispose of collateral, or (iii) a waiver of the benefit of any law intended for the advantage or protection of an obligor.)


Six-year Delay in Asking For Earnest Money Back Too Long – IL Court Applies Laches Defense

Earlier this year, an Illinois appeal court examined the equitable defense of laches in an earnest money dispute between two contracting parties and former friends.  Derived from an archaic French word – laschesse – meaning “dilatory,” laches applies where a plaintiff sits on his legal rights to the point where it’s unfair to make a defendant mount a defense to the delayed claim.

The 2005 real estate contract at issue in Gardner v. Dolak, 2016 IL App (3d) 140848-U fell through and at different points in 2009 and 2011, the plaintiff buyer asked for her $55,000 deposit back.  The seller’s exclusive remedy for a buyer breach was retention of the buyer’s earnest money.

The contract also set specific deadlines for the plaintiff to complete a flood plain study and topographical survey.  When the plaintiff failed to meet the deadlines, the sale fell through.  Plaintiff sued when the Defendant refused to refund the earnest money deposit.

After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment for the seller defendant on the basis that the plaintiff waited too long to sue and the delay in suing prejudiced the defendant.

The appeals court affirmed and sketched the contours of the laches doctrine:

  • Laches is an equitable doctrine that prevents a party from asserting a claim where he unreasonably delayed pursuing the claim and the delay misled or prejudiced his opponent;
  • Laches is based on the principle that courts will not aid a party who has knowingly sat on his rights that could have been asserted earlier;
  • To win a laches defense, the defendant must show (1) plaintiff lacked diligence in presenting his claim, and (2) the plaintiff’s delay resulted in prejudice;
  • The mere passage of time is not enough though; the defendant must show prejudice or hardship on top of the chronological delay;
  • In the context of real estate, wide property value fluctuations that harm the party claiming laches is evidence of prejudice that will support a finding of laches;
  • A party can successfully assert laches where the plaintiff remains passive and the defendant incurs risk, enters into obligations, or makes monetary expenditures.

Agreeing that the evidence supported the laches finding, the appeals court pointed out that plaintiff didn’t notify the defendant she wasn’t going through with the purchase until 6 years after the contract was signed.  During this six years, the value of the property declined markedly and the seller defendant spent considerable funds to maintain the property.

Taken together, the passage of time between contract execution (2005) and plaintiff’s lawsuit (2011) and measurable prejudice (based on the property’s drop in value) to the seller defendant was enough to support the trial court’s laches judgment.


This case presents a straightforward summary of laches in the real estate context.  The party claiming laches must show more than mere passage of time between the claimed injury and the lawsuit filing date.  He must also demonstrate changed financial position as a result of the lapse of time.

Here, the property’s precipitous drop in value in the six years between contract’s execution and termination was a key factor cementing the court’s laches finding.  The question I had after reading this was what if the value of the property doubled or tripled in the interim 5 years?  Would the defendant still be able to prove laches?  Maybe so but that would be a harder sell.  The defendant would need to show the amount he spent maintaining the property over the six years exceeded the increase in property value.


Zero Dollars Settlement Still in ‘Good Faith’ In Corporate Embezzlement Case – IL 1st Dist.

Upon learning that its former CEO stole nearly a million dollars from it, the plaintiff marketing firm in Adgooroo, LLC v. Hechtman, 2016 IL App (1st) 142531-U, sued its accounting firm for failing to discover the multi-year embezzlement scheme.

The accounting firm in turn brought a third-party action against the plaintiff’s bank for not properly monitoring the corporate account and alerting the plaintiff to the ex-CEO’s dubious conduct.

When the bank and plaintiff agreed to settle for zero dollars, the court granted the bank’s motion for a good-faith finding and dismissed the accounting firm’s third-party complaint.  The accounting firm appealed.  It argued that the bank’s settlement with the plaintiff deprived it (the accounting firm) of its contribution rights against the bank and that the settlement was void on the basis of fraud and collusion.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court and discussed the factors a court considers in deciding whether a settlement is made in good faith and releases a settling defendant from further liability in a lawsuit.

The Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/1 et seq.) tries to promote two policies: (1) encouraging settlements, and (2) ensuring that damages are assigned equitably among joint wrongdoers.  The right of contribution exists where 2 or more persons are liable arising from the same injury to person or property.  A tortfeasor who settles in good faith with the injured plaintiff is discharged from contribution liability to a non-settling defendant.  740 ILCS 100/2(c).

Here, the underlying torts alleged by the plaintiff were negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and civil conspiracy.

A settlement is deemed not in good faith if there is wrongful conduct, collusion or fraud between the settling parties.  However, the mere disparity between a settlement amount and the damages sought in a lawsuit is not an accurate measure of a settlement’s good faith.

Illinois courts note that a small settlement amount won’t necessarily equal bad faith since trial results are inherently speculative and unpredictable.  The law is also clear that settlements are designed to benefit non-settling parties.  If a non-settling party’s position is worsened by another party’s settlement, then so be it: this is viewed as “the consequence of a refusal to settle.”  (¶¶ 22-24).

A settling party bears the initial burden of making a preliminary showing of good faith.  Once this showing is made, the burden shifts to the objecting party to show by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. more likely than not), the absence of good faith.  The court applies a fact-based totality of circumstances approach in deciding whether a settlement meets the good faith standard.

For a settlement to meet the good faith test, money doesn’t have to change hands.  This is because a promise to compromise a disputed claim or not to sue is sufficient consideration for a settlement agreement.

Here, the fact that plaintiff’s corporate resolutions required it to indemnify the bank against any third-party claims, subjected the plaintiff to liability for the third-party bank’s defense costs.  The bank’s possible exposure was a judgment against it for the accounting firm.  As a result, the marketing company and bank both benefited from the settlement and there was sufficient consideration supporting their mutual walk-away.


This case sharply illustrates the harsh results that can flow from piecemeal settlement.  On its face, the settlement seems unfair to the accounting firm defendant: the plaintiff settled with the third-party defendant who then gets dismissed from the lawsuit for no money.  However, under the law, a promise for a promise not to sue is valid consideration in light of the inherent uncertainty connected with litigation.

The case also spotlights broad disclaimer language in account agreements between banks and corporate customers as well as indemnification language in corporate resolutions.  It’s clear here that the liability limiting language in the deposit agreement and resolutions doubly protected the bank, giving plaintiff extra impetus to settle.


Condo Buyer’s Illness Not Enough to Make Closing ‘Impossible’ – IL First District

An Illinois appeals court recently followed case precedent and narrowly construed the impossibility of performance and commercial frustration defenses in a failed real estate deal.

The parties in Ury v. DiBari, 2016 IL App (1st) 150277-U contracted for the sale and purchase of a (Chicago) Gold Coast condominium.  The contract called for a $55K earnest money payment and provided that the seller’s sole remedy in the event of buyer breach was retention of the buyer’s earnest money.

The seller sued when the buyer failed to close.  The buyer filed defenses saying it was impossible and commercially impractical for him to consummate the purchase due to a sudden serious illness he suffered right before the scheduled closing.  The Court rejected the defenses and entered summary judgment for the seller.  In doing so, the Court provides guidance on the nature and scope of the impossibility of performance and commercial frustration doctrines.

In the context of contract enforcement, parties generally must adhere to the negotiated contract terms.  Subsequent events – especially ones that are foreseeable – not provided for do not invalidate a contract.  The legal impossibility doctrine operates as an exception to the rule that holds parties to their contract obligations.

Legal impossibility applies where the continued existence of a particular person or thing is so necessary to the performance of the contract, it is viewed as an implied condition of the contract.  Death (of the person) or destruction (of the thing) excuses the other party’s performance.

The impossibility defense is applied sparingly and requires that a party’s performance be objectively impossible; not a subjective inconvenience or hardship.  Objective impossibility equates to “this can’t be done” while subjective impossibility is personal (“I cannot do this”) to the promisor.  A successful impossibility defense also requires the party to show it ” tried all practical alternatives available to permit performance.” (¶¶ 21-24, 29)

The defendant’s illness failed the law’s stringent test for objective impossibility.  His sickness was unique to him and therefore made closing only subjectively impossible.  The court pointed out that the condominium property was not destroyed and was still capable of being sold.

Another factor the court considered in rejecting the impossibility defense was that the defendant never tried to extend the closing date or sought accommodation for his illness.

The Court also discarded the defendant’s commercial frustration defense.  A party asserting commercial frustration must show that its performance under a contract is rendered meaningless due to an unforeseen change in circumstances.  Specifically, the commercially frustrated party has to demonstrate (1) the frustrating event was not reasonably foreseeable, and (2) the value of the party’s performance is totally destroyed by the frustrating cause.

Like with the failed impossibility defense, the claimed frustrating event – the buyer’s sickness – was foreseeable and did not destroy the subject matter of the contract.  Since the defendant’s weakened condition did not make the property worthless, there was no unforeseen frustrating event to give color to the buyer’s defense.


1/ Impossibility of performance and commercial frustration are valid defenses but only in limited circumstances;

2/ Objective impossibility (“this can’t be done”) can relieve a party from contractual performance while subjective impossibility (“I can’t do this”) will not;

3/ Commercial frustration generally requires the contract’s subject matter be destroyed or rendered financially valueless to excuse a party from performance.


Judgment Creditor Can Recover Attorneys’ Fees Spent Pursuing Successful Veil Piercing Suit Versus Corporate Officers

Q:           Can a judgment creditor recover attorneys’ fees incurred in both its post-judgment discovery efforts after a default judgment against a defunct corporation and a subsequent piercing the corporate veil action to enforce the prior judgment where the contract with the defunct entity contains an attorneys’ fees provision?

A:            Yes.

That’s the salient and nuanced holding from Steiner Electric Company v. Maniscalco, 2016 IL App (1st) 132023, a case that’s a boon to creditor’s rights attorneys and corporate litigators.

There, the First District held in a matter of first impression that a plaintiff could recover fees in a later piercing the corporate veil suit where the underlying contract litigated to judgment in an earlier case against a corporation has an attorneys’ fees provision.

The plaintiff supplied electrical and generator components on credit over several years to a company owned by the defendant.  The governing document between the parties was a credit agreement that had a broad attorneys’ fees provision.

When the company defaulted by failing to pay for ordered and delivered equipment, the plaintiff sued and won a default judgment against the company for about $230K. After its post-judgment efforts came up empty, the plaintiff filed a new action to pierce the corporate veil hold the company president responsible for the earlier money judgment.

The trial court pierced the corporate veil and found the company president responsible for the money judgment against his company but declined to award plaintiff its attorneys’ fees generated in litigating the piercing action.

The First District affirmed the piercing judgment and reversed the trial court’s refusal to assess attorneys’ fees against the company President.

The Court first affirmed the piercing judgment on the basis that the company was inadequately capitalized (the company had a consistent negative balance), commingled funds with a related entity and the individual defendant and failed to follow basic corporate formalities (it failed to appoint any officers or document significant financial transactions).

In finding the plaintiff could recover its attorneys’ fees – both in the underlying suit and in the second piercing suit to enforce the prior judgment – the court stressed that piercing is an equitable remedy and not a standalone cause of action.  The court further refined its description of the piercing remedy by casting it as a means of enforcing liability on an underlying claim – such as the prior breach of contract action against the defendant’s judgment-proof company.

While a prevailing party in Illinois must normally pay its own attorneys’ fees, the fees can be shifted to the losing party where a statute or contract says so.  And there must be clear language in a contract for a court to award attorneys’ fees to a prevailing litigant.

Looking to Illinois (Fontana v. TLD Builders, Inc.), Seventh Circuit (Centerpoint v. Halim) (see write-up here and Colorado (Swinerton Builders v. Nassi) case precedent for guidance, the Court found that since the underlying contract – the Credit Agreement – contained expansive fee-shifting language, the plaintiff could recoup from the defendant the fees expended in both the first breach of contract suit against the company and the second, piercing case against the company president.  The Court echoed the Colorado appeals court’s (in Swinerton) depiction of piercing the corporate veil as a “procedural mechanism” to enforce an underlying judgment.

The combination of broad contractual fees language in the credit application and case law from different jurisdictions that fastened fee awards to company officers on similar facts led the First District to reverse the trial court and tax fees against the company president. (¶¶ 74-90)


An important case and one that fee-seeking commercial litigators should look to for support of their recovery efforts.  A key lesson of Steiner is that broad, unequivocal attorneys’ fees language in a contract not only applies to an initial breach of contract suit against a dissolved company but also to a second, piercing lawsuit to enforce the earlier judgment against a company officer or controlling shareholder.

For the dominant shareholders of dissolved corporations, the case spells possible trouble since it upends the firmly entrenched principle that fee-shifting language in a contract only binds parties to the contract (not third parties).

Commercial Tenant’s Promise to Refund Broker Commissions Barred by Statute of Frauds – IL First Dist.

The plaintiff property owner in Peppercorn 1248 LLC v. Artemis DCLP, LLP, 2016 IL App (1st) 143791-U, sued a corporate tenant and its real estate brokers for return of commission payments where the tenant never took possession under a ten-year lease for a Chicago daycare facility.  Shortly after the lease was signed, the tenant invoked a licensing contingency and terminated the lease.

The lease conditioned tenant’s occupancy on the tenant securing the required City zoning and parking permits.  If the tenant was unable to obtain the licenses, it could declare the lease cancelled.  When the tenant refused to take possession, the plaintiff sued to recoup the commission payment.

Affirming summary judgment for the broker defendants, the Court addressed some recurring contract formation and enforcement issues prevalent in commercial litigation along with the “interference” prong of the tortious interference with contract claim.

In Illinois, where a contracting party is given discretion to perform a certain act, he must do so in good faith: the discretion must be exercised “reasonably,” with a “proper motive” and not “arbitrarily, capriciously or in a manner inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of the parties.” (73-74)

Here, there was no evidence the tenant terminated the lease in bad faith.  It could not get the necessary permits and so was incapable of operating a daycare business on the site. 

Next, the court found the plaintiff’s claim for breach of oral contract (based on the brokers’ verbal promise to refund the commission payments) unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds’ (“SOF”) suretyship rule. A suretyship exists where one party, the surety, agrees to assume an obligation of another person, the principal, to a creditor of the principal.

The SOF bars a plaintiff’s claim that seeks to hold a third party responsible for another’s debt where the third party did not promise to pay the debt in writing.

An exception to this rule is the “main purpose” defense. This applies where the “main purpose” of an oral promise is to materially benefit or advance the promisor’s business interests.  In such a case, an oral promise to pay another’s debt can be enforced.

The court declined to apply the main purpose exception here.  It noted that the brokers’ commission payments totaled less than $70K on a 10-year lease worth $1.4M. The large disparity between the commission and total lease payments through the ten-year term cut against the plaintiff’s main- purpose argument.

The plaintiff sued the corporate tenant for failing to return the commission payments to the brokers. Since the tenant and the broker defendants were separate parties, any promise by the tenant to answer for the brokers’ debt had to be in writing (by the tenant) to be enforceable.

The court also upheld summary judgment for the defendant on the plaintiff’s tortious interference count. (See here for tortious interference elements.)  A tortious interference with contract plaintiff must show, among other things, the defendant actively induced a breach of contract between plaintiff and another party.  However, the mere failure to act – without more – usually will not rise to the level of purposeful activity aimed at causing a breach.

The Court found one of the broker defendant’s alleged failure to help secure business permits for the tenant didn’t rise to the level of  intentional conduct that induced tenant’s breach of lease.  As a result, the plaintiff failed to offer evidence in support of the interference prong of its tortious interference claim sufficient to survive summary judgment.


1/ A promise to pay another’s debt – a suretyship relationship – must be in writing to be enforceable under the SOF;

2/ A contractual relationship won’t give rise to a duty to disclose in a fraudulent concealment case unless there is demonstrated disparity in bargaining power between the parties;

3/ Tortious interference with contract requires active conduct that causes a breach of contract; a mere failure to act won’t normally qualify as sufficient contractual interference to be actionable.


















How to Buy Environmental Consulting Like a Pro: The Phase 1 ESA (A Guest Post)

Today’s Q & A guest post is courtesy of Winfield, Illinois’ A3 Environmental, LLC , a full-service environmental consulting and testing firm representing lenders, developers, private and governmental buyers and sellers of commercial and industrial properties across the country.  

A3’s contact information: (888) 405-1742 (phone); [email protected] (e-mail); contact: Alisa Allen and Tim Allen (www.a3environmental.com)(company web page). 

How to buy Environmental Consulting like a Pro: The Phase 1 ESA (Environmental Site Assessment)

Q: Who Pays For The Phase 1 ESA?

A: Like most real estate deals, it is negotiable. Typically, the party borrowing money is required by the bank to purchase the Phase 1 ESA as part of their due diligence.  A seller can commission their own Phase 1 ESA and provide it as part of their marketing materials to help speed a sale, but it is up to the buyer to make sure they have done their due diligence in order to qualify for liability protection under the innocent landowner defense.

Q:How Long Is A Phase 1 ESA Good For?

A: The Phase 1 ESA has a shelf life of six months (180 days). After six months, the Phase 1 ESA should be updated or a new one commissioned. The original consultant should complete the updated report and it should be less expensive than purchasing a new one. A buyer can rely upon a seller’s Phase 1 ESA, but they will not qualify for liability protection unless issued a reliance letter from the consultant who performed it. Costs for a reliance letter vary and are dependent upon the consultant.

Q: How Much Should A Phase 1 ESA Cost?

A: Different types of properties have different levels of complexity, which will be reflected in the price. An industrial property in an urban setting will be more difficult than a hotel built on a former cornfield. A simple Phase 1 ESA should start at less than $2,000.

Q: How Long Will A Phase 1 ESA Take To Complete?

A: The goal at A3 Environmental is to complete the Phase I ESA in two weeks. Other consultants typically take three to four weeks to complete a Phase 1 ESA. Properly done, a Phase 1 ESA will include an environmental database search, a historical records review, interviews, FOIA requests to appropriate entities, a site inspection, and a report that needs to be written by an environmental professional. Scheduling the site visit to coordinate with the on-site contact’s schedule and getting responses from FOIA requests are two things that can significantly prolong the process.

Q: Does The Bank Pick The Environmental Consultant?

A: Banks often pick the environmental consultant but pass the costs on to you.  They do this for two reasons: convenience and familiarity.  The problem with this arrangement is that the consultant isn’t accountable to the buyer; their client is the bank. Borrowers who shop for prices can often save themselves hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.  Most banks have their own ‘approved’ consultants and are commissioned before the buyer even knows it.   It’s important that your consultant be accountable to you, the buyer, because the risk you are taking and their associated costs are primarily yours. A3 Environmental is owned by Alisa Allen; a Licensed Professional Geologist, certified by the State of Illinois Office of Professional Regulation. A sample of our work can be provided upon request to any bank.

Q: What’s The Most Important Thing To Be On The Lookout For? Where Are You The Most Vulnerable?

To buy environmental consulting like a pro, there are two places to be on the lookout to guard against vulnerability. The first is to protect yourself against shoddy science. Make sure your consultant is familiar with the local area, is insured for errors and omissions, and has a track record of providing quality work product. The second, and possibly most important thing to guard against is the recommendation of further investigation, also known as a Phase 2 ESA. When getting ready to spend large sums of money the lender and buyer are both in vulnerable positions. Some consultants take advantage of this vulnerability and recommend a Phase 2 ESA when it may not be completely necessary. It’s difficult for banks and buyers to say no.

If a Phase 2 ESA is recommended, you can protect yourself by going back to the seller and renegotiating for them to pay some, or all, of the bill. Another way to protect yourself is to bid out any Phase 2 ESA work to your current consultant and other consultants in order to keep your consultant honest.  You can also get a second opinion from a different consultant, for a few hours of consulting time. The time and money you save can be well worth it. A3 Environmental would be happy to review a Phase 1 ESA report from consultants recommending a Phase 2 ESA. We offer a half hour of consulting time for free per project.

Q: What’s The Best Way To Save Money When Buying Environmental Consulting?

A: There are three ways to save money when buying environmental consulting services: (1) negotiate for the seller to pay for any possible investigation before you have a contract on the property; (2) don’t accept the bank’s environmental consultant; shop for pricing; (3) if further investigation is necessary, obtain several consulting proposals.

Q: What’s Your Best Advice?

A: Build a good relationship with one environmental consultant after you have done your initial research and a project or two. True, it’s important to hire a competitively priced consultant; however, having a solid relationship with a consultant you can call and have meaningful conversations, often at no charge, can be very valuable. If a consultant knows you are a reliable repeat buyer of environmental services they will work extra hard to be a trusted resource to help you save money, frustration and time.

Parting Thought:

This document is a complete listing of our best advice for purchasing environmental consulting. It’s a sample of the level of honesty, integrity and value we here at A3 Environmental live every day. We hope that you recognize this and consider us when choosing a trusted resource to achieve your goals.

Joint Mortgage Debt Means No Tenancy By Entirety Protection for Homeowners

The Illinois First District recently affirmed a mortgage foreclosure summary judgment for a plaintiff mortgage lender in a case involving the protection given to tenancy by the entirety (TBE) property.

In Marquette Bank v. Heartland Bank and Trust, 2015 IL App (1st) 142627, the main issue was whether a marital home was protected from foreclosure where it was owned by a land trust, the beneficiaries of which were a husband and wife; each owning beneficial interests TBE.

The defendants argued that since their home was owned by a land trust and they were the TBE beneficial owners of that land trust, the plaintiff could not foreclose its mortgage.

Affirming summary judgment, the appeals court examined the interplay between land trust law and how TBE property impacts judgment creditors’ rights.

The Illinois Joint Tenancy Act (765 ILCS 1005/1c) allows land trust beneficiaries to own their interests TBE and Code Section 12-112 (735 ILCS 5/12-112) provides that a TBE land trust beneficial interest “shall not be liable to be sold upon judgment entered….against only one of the tenants, except if the property was transferred into [TBE] with the sole intent to avoid the payment of debts existing at the time of the transfer beyond the transferor’s ability to pay those debts as they become due.”

TBE ownership protects marital residence property from a foreclosing creditor of only one spouse.  In TBE ownership, a husband and wife are considered a single unit – they each own 100% of the home – and the judgment creditors of one spouse normally can’t enforce a money judgment against the other spouse by forcing the home’s sale.

An exception to this rule is where property is conveyed into TBE solely to evade one spouse’s debt.  Another limitation on TBE protection is where both spouses are jointly liable on a debt.  In the joint debt setting, a judgment against one spouse will attach to the marital home and can be foreclosed on by the judgment creditor.

Code Section 12-112 provides that where property is held in a land trust and the trust’s beneficial owners are husband and wife, a creditor of only one of them can’t sell the other spouse’s beneficial land trust interest. 735 ILCS 5/12-112.

The Court rejected the defendants argument that as TBE land trust beneficiaries of the marital home, the spouse defendants were immune from foreclosure.  It noted that both spouses signed letters of direction authorizing the land trustee (owner) to mortgage the property, the mortgage documents allowed the plaintiff to foreclose in the event of default and empowered the lender to sell all or any part of the property. (¶¶ 16-18)

Summary Quick-Hits:

  • TBE property ownership protects an innocent spouse by saving the marital home from a judgment creditor’s foreclosure suit where only one spouse is liable on a debt;
  • A land trust beneficial interest is considered personal property and can be jointly owned in tenancy by the entirety;
  • Where spouses are jointly (both) liable on an underlying debt, TBE property can be sold to satisfy the joint debt.


Broken Promises In Medical Services Agreement Don’t Equal Fraud – IL Court

An Illinois appeals court recently examined the promissory fraud rule in a medical services contract dispute.

The key principle distilled from the court’s unpublished analysis in Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp. v. Cardwell, 2016 IL App (4th) 150312-U is that where fraud claims are based on false promises of future conduct, the claims will fail.

The plaintiff hospital there sued a former staff doctor for breaching a multi-year written services contract. When the doctor prematurely resigned to join a hospital in another state, the plaintiff sued him to recover about $250,000 advanced to the doctor at the contract’s outset.

The doctor counterclaimed, alleging the hospital fraudulently induced him to sign the contract. He claimed the hospital broke promises to elevate him to a Director position and allow him to develop a new perinatology practice group at the hospital.  Since the promises were false, the doctor claimed, the underlying services contract was void.

Siding with the hospital (it granted the hospital’s summary judgment motion), the Court discussed when a defendant’s fraudulent inducement can nullify a written contract.

In Illinois, to establish fraud in the inducement, a plaintiff must show (1) a false statement of material fact, (2) defendant’s knowledge the statement was false, (3) defendant’s intent to induce the plaintiff’s reliance on the statement, (4) plaintiff’s reasonable reliance on the truth of the statement, and (5) damages resulting from reliance on the statement.

A critical qualification is that the fraud must be based on a misstatement of existing fact; not a future one.  Fraud in the inducement goes beyond a simple breaking of a promise or a prediction that doesn’t come to pass.

Here, the Court found that the hospital’s pre-contract statements all involved future events. The promise of a Directorship for the doctor was merely aspirational. It wasn’t a false statement of present fact.   The Court also determined that the hospital’s representations to the doctor about the development of a perinatology program spoke to a hoped-for future event.

Since the entirety of the doctor’s fraud counterclaim rested on the hospital’s promises of future conduct/events, the Court entered summary judgment against the doctor on his fraud in the inducement counter-claim.


This is another case that sharply illustrates how difficult it is to prove fraud in the inducement; especially where the alleged misstatements refer to contingent events that may or may not happen.  While a broken promise may be a breach of contract, it isn’t fraud.

For a misstatement to be actionable fraud, it has to involve an actual, present state of affairs. Anything prospective/future in nature will likely be swallowed up by the promissory fraud rule.

Ill. Wage Payment and Collection Act Doesn’t Apply to NY and Cal. Corps. With Only Random Ill. Contacts

As worker mobility increases and employees working in one state and living in another almost an afterthought, questions of court jurisdiction over intrastate workplace relationships come to the fore.  Another issue triggered by a geographically nimble workforce is whether a non-resident can invoke the protections of another state’s laws.

Illinois provides a powerful remedial scheme for employees who are stiffed by their employers in the form of the Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 ILCS 115/1 (“Wage Act”).  See (here).  The Wage Act allows an employee to sue an employer for unpaid wages, bonuses or commissions where an employer breaches a written or oral employment contract.

The focal point of Cohan v. Medline Industries, Inc., 2016 WL 1086514 (N.D.Ill. 2016) is whether non-residents of Illinois can invoke the Wage Act against an Illinois-based employer for unpaid sales commissions.  The plaintiffs there, New York and California residents, sued their Illinois employer, for breach of various employment contract commission schedules involving the sale of medical devices.

The Northern District of Illinois held that the salespeople plaintiffs could not sue under Illinois’ Wage Act where their in-person contacts with Illinois were scarce.  The plaintiffs only entered Illinois for a few days a year as part of their employer’s mandatory sales training protocol.  All of the plaintiffs’ sales work was performed in their respective home states.

Highlights from the Court’s opinion include:

  •  The Wage Act doesn’t have “extraterritorial reach;” It’s purpose is to protect Illinois employees from being shorted compensation by their employers;
  • The Wage Act does protect non-Illinois residents who perform work in Illinois for an Illinois employer;
  • A plaintiff must perform “sufficient” work in Illinois to merit Wage Act protection;
  • There is no mechanical test to decide what is considered “sufficient” Illinois work to trigger the Wage Act protections;
  • The Wage Act only applies where there is an agreement – however informal – between an employer and employee;
  • The agreement required to trigger the Wage Act’s application doesn’t have to be formal or in writing. So long as there is a meeting of the minds, the Court will enforce the agreement;
  • The Wage Act does not cover employee claims to compensation outside of a written or oral agreement

Based on the plaintiffs’ episodic (at best) contacts with Illinois, the Court found that the Wage Act didn’t cover the plaintiffs’ unpaid commission claims.
Substantively, the Court found the Wage Act inapplicable as there was nothing in the various written employment agreements that supported the plaintiff’s damage calculations.  The plaintiffs’ relationship with the Illinois employer was set forth in multiple contracts that contained elaborate commission schedules.  Since the plaintiff’s claims sought damages beyond the scope of the written schedules, the Wage Act didn’t govern.

1/ The Illinois Wage Act will apply to a non-resident of Illinois if he/she performs a sufficient quantum of work in Illinois;

2/ Scattered contacts with Illinois that are unrelated to a plaintiff’s job are not sufficient enough to qualify for a viable Wage Act lawsuit;

3/ While an agreement supporting a Wage Act claim doesn’t have to be in writing, there must be some agreement – no matter how unstructured or loose – for a plaintiff to have standing to sue for a Wage Act violation.

Corporate Five-Year Winding Up or “Survival” Period Has Harsh Results for Asbestos Injury Plaintiffs – Illinois Court

An Illinois appeals court recently considered the interplay between the corporate survival statute, 805 ILCS 5/12.80 (the “Survival Act”), which governs lawsuits against dissolved corporations) and when someone can bring a direct action against another person’s liability insurer.

The personal injury plaintiffs in Adams v. Employers Insurance Company of Wasau, 2016 IL App (3d) 150418 sued their former employer’s successor for asbestos-related injuries. Plaintiffs also sued the former company’s liability insurers for a declaratory ruling that their claims were covered by the policies.

The former employer dissolved in 2003 and plaintiffs filed suit in 2011. The plaintiffs alleged the dissolved company’s insurance policies transferred to the shareholders and the corporate successor. The insurers moved to dismiss on the basis that the plaintiff’s suit was untimely under the Survival Act’s five-year winding up (“survival”) period to sue dissolved companies and because Illinois law prohibits direct actions against insurers by non-policy holders.

Affirming dismissal of the suit against the insurers, the court considered the scope of the Survival Act and whether its five-year repose period (the time limit to sue a defunct company) can ever be relaxed.

The Survival Act allows a corporation to sue or be sued up to five years from the date of dissolution. The suit must be based on a pre-dissolution debt and the five-year limit applies equally to individual corporate shareholders.  The statute tries to strike a balance between allowing lawsuits to be brought by or against a dissolved corporation and still setting a definite end date for a corporation’s liability. The five-year time limit for a corporation to sue or be sued represents the legislature’s determination that a corporation’s liability must come to and end at some point.

Exceptions to the Survival Act’s five-year repose period apply where a shareholder is a direct beneficiary of a contract and where the amount claimed is a “fixed, ascertainable sum.”

The Court held that since the plaintiffs didn’t file suit until long after the five-year repose period expired, and no shareholder direct actions were involved, the plaintiffs’ claims against the dissolved company (the plaintiffs’ former employer) were too late.

Illinois law also bans direct actions against insurance companies. The policy reason for this is to prevent a jury in a personal injury suit from learning that a defendant is insured and eliminate a jury’s temptation to award a larger verdict under the “deep pockets” theory (to paraphrase: “since defendant is protected by insurance, we may as well hit him with a hefty verdict.”)

The only time a direct action is allowed is where the question of coverage is entirely separate from the issue of the insured’s liability and damages. Where a plaintiff’s claim combines liability, damages and coverage, the direct action bar applies (the plaintiff cannot sue someone else’s insurer).

Here, the plaintiffs’ coverage claim was intertwined with the former employer’s (the dissolved entity) liability to the plaintiffs.  As a result, the plaintiffs action was an impermissible direct action against the dissolved company’s insurers.


The Case starkly illustrates how unforgiving a statutory repose period is.  While the plaintiff’s injuries here were substantial, the Court made it clear it had to follow the law and that where the legislature has spoken – as it had by enacting the Survival Act – the Court must defer to it. Otherwise, the court encroaches on the law-making function of the legislature.

Another case lesson is that plaintiffs who have claims against dissolved companies should do all they can to ensure their claims are filed within the five-year post-dissolution period.  Otherwise, they risk having their claims time-barred.


Debtor’s Refusal to Return Electronic Data = Embezzlement – No Bankruptcy Discharge – IL ND

FNA Group, Inc. v. Arvanitis, 2015 WL 5202990 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 2015) examines the tension between the bankruptcy code’s aim of giving a financial fresh start to a debtor and the Law’s attempt to protect creditors from underhanded debtor conduct to avoid his debts.

After a 15-year employment relationship went sour, the plaintiff power washing company sued a former management-level employee when he failed to turn over confidential company property (the “Data”) he had access to during his employment.

After refusing a state court judge’s order to turn over the Data and an ensuing civil contempt finding, the defendant filed bankruptcy.

The plaintiff filed an adversary complaint in the bankruptcy case alleging the defendant’s (now the debtor) embezzlement and wilfull injury to company Data.

The plaintiff asked the bankruptcy court to find that the debtor’s obligations to the plaintiff were not dischargeable (i.e. could not be wiped out).

Siding with the plaintiff, the Court provides a useful discussion of the embezzlement and the wilfull and malicious injury bankruptcy discharge exceptions.

The bankruptcy code’s discharge mechanism aims to give a debtor a fresh start by relieving him of pre-petition debts. Exceptions to the general discharge rule are construed strictly against the creditor and liberally in favor of the debtor.

Embezzlement under the bankruptcy code means the “fraudulent appropriation of property” by a person to whom the property was entrusted or to whom the property was lawfully transferred at some point.

A creditor who seeks to invoke the embezzlement discharge exception must show: (1) the debtor appropriated property or funds for his/her benefit, and (2) the debtor did so with fraudulent intent.

Fraudulent intent in the embezzlement context means “without authorization.” 11 U.S.C. s. 523(a)(4).

The Court found the creditor established all embezzlement elements. First, the debtor was clearly entrusted with the Data during his lengthy employment tenure. The debtor also appropriated the Data for his own use – as was evident by his emails where he threatened to destroy the Data or divulge its contents to plaintiff’s competitors.

Finally, the debtor lacked authorization to hold the Data after his resignation based on a non-disclosure agreement he signed where he acknowledged all things provided to him remained company property and had to be returned when he left the company.

By holding the Data hostage to extract a better severance package, the debtor exhibited a fraudulent intent.

The court also refused to allow a debtor discharge based on the bankruptcy code’s exception for willful and malicious injury. 11 U.S.C. s. 523(a)(6).

An “injury” under this section equates to the violation of another’s personal or property rights. “Wilfull” means an intent to injure the person’s property while “malicious” signals a conscious disregard for another’s rights without cause.

Here, the debtor injured the plaintiff by refusing to release the Data despite a (state) court order requiring him to do so. Plaintiff spent nearly $200,000 reconstructing the stolen property and retaining forensic experts and lawyers to negotiate the Data’s return.

Lastly, the debtor’s threatening e-mails to plaintiff in efforts to coerce the plaintiff to up its severance payment was malicious under Section 523 since the e-mails exhibited a disregard for the importance of the Data and its integrity.


The bankruptcy law goal of giving a debtor fiscal breathing room has limits. If the debtor engages in intentional conduct aimed at evading creditors or furthers a scheme of lying to the bankruptcy court, his pre-petition debts won’t be discharged.

This case is post-worthy as it gives content to the embezzlement and wilfull and malicious property damage discharge exceptions.

Bank Escapes Liability Where It Accepts Two-Party Check With Only One Indorsement – IL ND

BBCN Bank v. Sterling Fire Restoration, Ltd., 2016 WL 691784 zeroes in on some signature commercial litigation issues – namely, (i) the required showings to win a motion for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment in Federal court, (ii) the scope of a general release, and (iii) the parameters of the UCC section governing joint payee or “two-party” checks.

The plaintiff – who was assigned a cause of action by a fire restoration company (the “Assignor”) that did repair work on a commercial structure – sued two bank defendants under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) for accepting a two party check (the “Check”) where only one payee indorsed it. The Assignor was a payee on the Check but never indorsed it before the banks accepted and paid out on it.

The banks moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s UCC claims on the basis that the Assignor previously released all of its claims to the Check proceeds in a prior lawsuit.  The Assignor in turn moved for judgment on the pleadings on the banks’ third-party action which sought indemnification from the Assignor for any damages assessed against the banks in the current lawsuit.

Result: Bank defendants’ motions for summary judgment granted; Assignor’s judgment on the pleadings motion (on the banks’ third-party indemnification claims) denied.


FRCP 12(c) governs motions for judgment on the pleadings.  A party can move for judgment on the pleadings after the complaint and answer have been filed.  When deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court considers only the contents of the filed pleadings – including the complaint, answer, and complaint exhibits.  Like a summary judgment motion, a motion for judgment on the pleadings should be granted only if there are no genuine issues of material fact to be resolved at trial.

FRCP 56 governs summary judgment motions.  A party opposing a summary judgment must “pierce” (go beyond) the pleadings and point to evidence in the record (depositions, discovery responses, etc.) that creates a genuine factual dispute that must be decided after a trial on the merits.

UCC section 3-110 applies to checks with multiple payees.  It provides that if an instrument is jointly payable to 2 or more persons (not “alternatively”), it can only be negotiated, discharged or enforced by all of the payees.  810 ILCS 5/3-110(d).

Here, since both payees did not sign the Check, the banks plainly violated section 3-110 by accepting and paying it.  The Check was payable to two parties and only one signed it.

The banks still escaped liability though since the Assignor (the restoration company) previously released its claims to the Check proceeds against the bank.  In Illinois, a general release bars all claims a signing party (the releasor) has actual knowledge of or that he could have discovered upon reasonable inquiry.

Here, the Assignor’s prior release of the bank defendants bound the plaintiff since an assignee cannot acquire any greater rights to something than its assignor has.

Since the plaintiff’s claim against the banks were previously released by the Assignor, the plaintiff could not pursue its Check claims against the banks. As a consequence, summary judgment entered for the banks.

The Assignor’s motion for judgment on the pleadings against the banks third-party claims was denied due to the presence of factual disputes.  Since the court could not tell whether the Assignor misrepresented that it had assigned its claim to the Check by looking only at the banks’ third-party complaint and the Assignor’s answer, there were disputed facts that could only be decided after a trial.


  • Motions for judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment motions will be denied if there is a genuine factual dispute for trial;
  • A summary judgment opponent (respondent) must produce evidence (not simply allegations in pleadings) to show that there are disputed facts that can only be decided on a full trial on the merits;
  • The right remedy for a UCC 3-110 violation is a conversion action under UCC section 3-420;
  • In sophisticated commercial transactions, a broadly-worded release will be enforced as written.


Third Party Enforcement of A Non-Compete and Trade Secret Pre-emption – IL Law

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In Cronimet Holdings v. Keywell Metals, LLC, 2014 WL 580414 (N.D.Ill. 2014), the Northern District of Illinois considers whether a non-compete contract is enforceable by a stranger to that contract as well as trade secret pre-emption of other claims.

Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff, who previously signed a non-disclosure agreement with a defunct metal company (the “Target Company”) it was considering buying, filed a declaratory action against a competitor (“Competitor”) requesting a ruling that the non-disclosure agreement and separate non-competes signed by the Target Company’s employees were not enforceable by the competitor who bought  the Target Company’s assets. The NDA and non-competes spanned 24 months.

The plaintiff moved to dismiss eight of the ten counterclaims filed by the Competitor.  It argued the Competitor lacked standing to enforce the non-competes and that its trade secrets counterclaim (based on the Illinois Trade Secrets Act, 765 ILCS 1065/1 (“ITSA”)) pre-empted several of the tort counterclaims.

In gutting most (8 out of 10) of the counterclaims, the court applied the operative rules governing when non-competes can be enforced by third parties:

 Illinois would likely permit the assignment of a non-compete to a third party;

Enforcing a non-compete presupposes a legitimate business interest to be protected;

– A legitimate business interest is a fact-based inquiry that focuses on whether there is (i) a “near-permanence” in a customer relationship, (ii) the company’s interest in a stable work force , (iii) whether a former employee acquired confidential information and (iv) whether a given non-compete has valid time and space restrictions;

A successor corporation can enforce confidentiality agreements signed by a predecessor (acquired) corporation where the acquired corporation merges into the acquiring one;

– A successor in interest is one who follows an original owner in control of property and who retains the same rights as the original owner;

– The ITSA pre-empts (displaces) conflicting or redundant tort claims that are based on a defendant’s misappropriation of trade secrets;

– Claims for unjust enrichment, quasi-contract relief or unfair competition are displaced by the ITSA where the claims essentially allege a trade secrets violation;

– The ITSA supplants claims that involve information that doesn’t rise to the level of a trade secret (e.g. not known to others and kept under ‘lock-and-key’);


The court found that since a bankruptcy court (in the Target Company’s bankruptcy) previously ruled that the Competitor didn’t purchase the non-competes, and wasn’t the Target Company’s successor, the Competitor lacked standing to enforce the non-competes.

The Court also held that once the Target Company stopped doing business, its non-competes automatically lapsed since it no longer had any secret data or customers to protect.

The Court also agreed that the Company’s ITSA claim pre-empted its claims that asserted plaintiff was wrongfully using the Target Company’s secret data.  The court even applied ITSA pre-emption to non-trade secret information.  It held that so long as the information sought to be protected in a claim was allegedly secret, any non-ITSA claims based on that information were pre-empted.


(1) A non-compete can likely be assigned to a third party;

(2) Where the party assigning a non-compete goes out of business, the assignor no longer has a legitimate business interest to protect; making it hard for the assignee to enforce the non-compete;

(3) ITSA, the Illinois trade secrets statute, will displace (pre-empt) causes of action or equitable remedies (unjust enrichment, unfair competition, etc.) that are based on a defendant’s improper use of confidential information – even where that information  doesn’t rise to the level of a trade secret.

No Punitive Damages Allowed In Statutory Replevin Action – IL 2d District

In Sensational Four, Inc. v. Tri-Par Die and Mold Corporation, 2016 IL App (2d) 150468, the food company plaintiff filed a replevin action against a manufacturer to recover  plaintiff’s injection molding equipment used to make jars and lids.

After the court entered a replevin order and defendant failed to return the equipment, the plaintiff filed a rule to show cause motion and amended its complaint to assert various tort and contract claims.

The trial court claim found for the plaintiff after a bench trial and assessed punitive damages of $100,000 against the defendant for its “egregious” and malicious refusal to return the plaintiff’s equipment.  The defendant appealed on the basis that its due process rights were violated by the punitive damage award.

Held: Reversed.


Punitive damages aren’t favored in Illinois. Their purpose is to punish a defendant and deter others from acting with willful disregard for others’ rights.

Replevin is a statutory proceeding that requires a plaintiff to follow the replevin statute’s (see 735 ILCS 5/19-101, et seq.) provisions to the letter.

When construing a statute, a court looks first to the statutory language to divine the legislature’s intent.  And courts generally should not graft language on to a silent statute since this encroaches on the legislature’s drafting role.

Some statutes explicitly provide for punitive damages while others implicitly allow them. See Public Utilities Act (punitive damages expressly allowed); Nursing Home Care Act (implied punitives allowed where statute references “any other type of relief”). (¶ 25)

The Illinois replevin statute says nothing about punitive damages. It allows a plaintiff to recover damages sustained by the wrongful detention of the property in question along with costs and expenses related to the replevin. 735 ILCS 5/19-101, 120, 125. (¶¶ 26-28).  Nowhere does the statute mention punitive damages.

The Court reversed the punitive damage award since the replevin statute doesn’t explicitly allow punitive damages.  The Court noted that the legislature could have easily provided for a punitive damages remedy in the statute’s text if that was its intent.


This case serves as a straight-forward example of a court refusing to inject meaning into a statute whose text is clear.  Where a statute doesn’t specifically allow for punitive damages, a plaintiff will have difficulty convincing a court to award them.  By contrast, if the statutory language is open-ended, like the Nursing Home Care Act’s “any other type of relief” language, a plaintiff may have a claim for punitive damages if it can prove a defendant’s intentional and extreme conduct.

Seventh Circuit Jettisons Software Firm’s Computer Fraud Case – No Damages Evidence

Earlier this year, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a real estate analytics company sued by a software firm who claimed the company was pilfering on-line land records.

The plaintiff in Fidlar Technologies v. LPS Real Estate Data Solutions, 810 F.3d 1075 (7th Cir. 2016) developed a software program called “Laredo” that computerized real estate records and made them available to viewers for a fee.  The plaintiff sued when it found out that the defendant was using a web harvester to bypass plaintiff’s software controls and capture the electronic records.  The defendant’s harvester allowed it to disguise the amount of time it was spending on-line and so avoid paying print fees associated with the electronic data. 

The Computer Fraud And Abuse Act (CFAA) Claim

The Court found the was a lack of evidence to support plaintiff’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) claim as plaintiff could not show the defendant’s “intent to defraud” or “damage” under the CFAA. See CFAA, 18 U.S.C. s. 1030.

CFAA: Intent to Defraud (18 U.S.C. s. 1030(a)(4)

The CFAA defines an intent to defraud as acting “willfully and with specific intent to deceive or cheat, usually for the purpose of getting financial gain for one’s self or causing financial loss to another.” An intent to defraud can be shown by circumstantial evidence since direct intent evidence is typically unavailable.

The Court credited the defendant’s sworn testimony that printing real estate records was a minor part of its business and that it did pay maximum monthly access fees for computerized real estate data.  

The defendant also produced evidence that it used its harvester not only in fee-charging counties, but also in those that didn’t charge at all.  This bolstered its argument that the harvester’s fee-avoidance was an unintended consequence of the defendant’s program.

Finally, the Court noted that defendant’s agreements with the various county offices (which made the real estate data available) didn’t expressly prohibit the use of a web harvester. These factors all weighed against finding intentional conduct under the CFAA by the defendant analytics company.

CFAA: Transmission and Damage Claim (18 U.S.C. s. 1030(a)(5)(a)

The Seventh Circuit also rejected the plaintiff’s CFAA transmission claim; echoing the District Court’s cramped construction of the CFAA.  The Court described the CFAA’s aim as punishing those who access computers in order to delete, destroy, or disable information.

“Damage” is defined in the CFAA as “any impairment to the integrity or availability of data, a program, a system or information….” 1030(e)(8). The Court interpreted this as destructive behavior aimed at injuring physical computer equipment or its stored data. Examples of this type of damaging conduct includes using a virus or deleting data.  Flooding an email account with data could also qualify as CFAA damage according to at least one case cited by the court. 

Here, the defendant’s conduct didn’t impair the integrity of any computer hardware or compromise any real estate data. The defendant’s attempt to bypass on-line printing access and print fees is not the type of damage envisioned by the CFAA.  According to the Court, mere copying of computer data doesn’t fit the CFAA’s damage definition.  18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(8).


Fidlar represents a court narrowly applying the CFAA so that it doesn’t cover the type of economic loss (e.g. subscription fees, etc.) claimed here by the plaintiff.  The case also illustrates that a successful CFAA claimant must show its computer equipment was physically harmed or its data destroyed.  Otherwise, a plaintiff will have to choose a non-CFAA remedy such as a breach of contract, trespass to chattels or trade secrets violation.


Faulty Service on Defunct LLC Spells Trouble for Judgment Creditor – IL 1st Dist.

In a case whose procedural progression spans more than a decade, the First District in John Isfan Construction v. Longwood Towers, LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 143211 examines the litigation aftershocks flowing from a failure to properly serve a limited liability company (LLC).

The case also illustrates when a money judgment can be vacated under the “substantial justice” standard governing non-final judgments.

The tortured case chronology went like this:

2003 – plaintiff files a mechanics lien suit against LLC for unpaid construction work on an 80-unit condominium development;

2005 – LLC dissolves involuntarily;

2005 – lien suit voluntarily dismissed;

2006 – plaintiff breach of contract action filed against LLC;

2009 – default judgment entered against LLC for about $800K;

2011 – plaintiff issues citations to discover assets to LLC’s former members and files complaint against the members to hold them liable for the 2009 default judgment (on the theory that the LLC made unlawful distributions to the members);

2014 – LLC members move to vacate the 2009 judgment. Motion is denied by the trial court and LLC members appeal.

Holding: The appeals court reversed the trial court and found that the 2009 default judgment was void.

The reason: Plaintiff’s failure to properly serve the defunct LLC under Illinois law. As a result, a sizeable money judgment was vacated.

Q:           Why?

A:            A defendant must be served with summons for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over him.  A judgment entered against a party who is not properly served is void.  

Section 50 of the LLC Act (805 ILCS 180/1-50) provides that service of process on an LLC defendant must be made on (a) the LLC’s registered agent or (b) the Secretary of State if the LLC doesn’t appoint a registered agent or where the LLC’s registered agent cannot be found at the LLC’s registered office or principal place of business.

In the context of a dissolved LLC, the LLC Act provides that an LLC continues post-dissolution solely for the purpose of winding up.  This is in contrast to the corporate survival statute that provides that a dissolved (non-LLC) corporation continues for five years after dissolution.  This means the defunct company to be sued and served for up to five years after dissolution.  805 ILCS 5/5.05.

Here, the plaintiff sued the LLC’s former registered agent over a year after the LLC dissolved.  This was improper service under the LLC Act.  By failing to serve the Secretary of State in accordance with the LLC Act, the court lacked jurisdiction over the LLC.  (¶¶ 37-40)

The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the erstwhile LLC members waived their objection to jurisdiction over the LLC by participating in post-judgment proceedings.

Since a party who submits to a court’s jurisdiction does so only prospectively, not retroactively, the party’s appearance doesn’t activate an earlier order entered in the case before the appearance was filed. (¶¶ 40-42)

Another reason the Court voided the default judgment was the “substantial justice” standard which governs whether a court will vacate a judgment under Code Section 2-1301(e). 

The reason Section 2-1301 applied instead of the harsher 2-1401 was because the judgment wasn’t final.  It wasn’t final because at the time the judgment was entered, the plaintiff had a pending claim against another party that wasn’t disposed of.  ((¶¶ 46-47)

Under Illinois law, a default judgment is a drastic remedy and Illinois courts have a long and strong policy of deciding cases on the merits instead of on procedural grounds.  In addition, when seeking to vacate a non-final default order, the movant does not have to show a meritorious defense or diligence in presenting the defense.

Applying these default order guideposts, the Court found that substantial justice considerations dictated that the default judgment be vacated.  Even though the judgment was entered some five years before the motion to vacate was filed, it wasn’t a final order. 

This meant the LLC member movants did not have to show diligence in defending the action or a meritorious defense.  All the members had to demonstrate was that it was fair and just that they have their day in court and that they should be able to defend the plaintiff’s unlawful transfers allegations. (¶¶ 49, 51)

Afterwords: This case provides a useful summary of the key rules that govern how to serve LLC’s and particularly, dissolved LLC’s.  The case’s “cautionary tales” are to (i) serve corporate defendants in accordance with statutory direction; and (ii) always request a finding of finality for default judgments where there are multiple parties or claims involved.

Had the plaintiff received a finding of finality, the LLC members’ motion to vacate would have been untimely under Section 2-1401 – which requires a motion to attack a final judgment to be brought within two years and has a heavier proof burden than a 2-1301 motion.  Still, it wouldn’t have mattered here. The plaintiff’s failure to properly serve the LLC meant the judgment was void and could have been attacked at any time.


Paralegal Fees Can Be Tacked On to Attorney Fees Sanctions Award – IL First Dist.

Aside from its trenchant discussion of the constructive fraud rule in mechanics lien litigation, the Illinois First District in Father & Sons Home Improvement II, Inc. v. Stuart, 2016 IL App (1st) 143666 clarified that a paralegal’s time and services can be added to a claim for attorneys’ fees as a sanction against a losing party who files false pleadings.

In an earlier post, I discussed how the lien claimant in this case lost its lien foreclosure suit for misstating the completion of work date and inflating the monetary value of work and materials it affixed to the subject site.  The property owner and a lender defendant filed a fee petition and sanctions motion, respectively.

Examining the lender’s motion for Rule 137 sanctions, the Court stated some black-letter rules that govern fee petitions:

  • Under Rule 137, a party can recover attorneys’ fees incurred as a result of a sanctionable pleading or paper (one filed without an objectively reasonable legal basis);
  • Typically, “overhead” expenses aren’t compensable in a fee motion.  The theory is that overhead costs are already built into an attorneys’ hourly rate;
  •   Overhead includes telephone charges, in-house delivery charges, photocopying, check processing, and in-house paralegal and secretarial services;
  • However, when a paralegal performs a specialized legal task that would normally be performed by an attorney, the paralegal’s fees are recoverable since those services would not be considered overhead.

The Court found that the lender’s paralegals performed myriad services that would normally be done by an attorney – namely, researching the title history of the subject property and preparing a memorandum summarizing the title history.  By contrast, a paralegal’s general administrative tasks were disallowed by the court and could not be sought in the sanctions motion.


When preparing a fee petition, the prevailing party should also include paralegal time and services; especially if they involve researching real estate land records and summarizing a title history.  While the line separating legal services (which are recoverable) and administrative or overhead expenses (which aren’t) is blurry, Father & Sons stands for the proposition that a fee petition or Rule 137 sanctions motion can be augmented by paralegal fees where the paralegal performs specialized work that contains an element of legal analysis.


Substantial Performance of Asset Purchase Agreement Wins the Day in Pancake House Spat

pancakes-155793_960_720The Second District affirmed summary judgment for the plaintiff pancake house (“Restaurant”) seller in a breach of contract action against the Restaurant’s buyer and current operator.  Siding with the seller, the court discussed the contours of the substantial performance doctrine and what kind of evidence a plaintiff must supply to win summary judgment in a contract dispute.

The plaintiff in El and Be, Inc. v. Husain, 2016 IL App (2d) 150011-U, sold the Restaurant for about $500K pursuant to an Asset Purchase Agreement (APA).   The defendant failed to pay the agreed purchase price when it learned the plaintiff had several unpaid vendor bills, utility debts and a lien lawsuit was filed in Texas against Restaurant equipment by a secured creditor of the plaintiff.  The plaintiff sued for breach of contract to recover the APA purchase price and the defendant counterclaimed for fraud and breach of the APA.  The trial court entered summary judgment for the plaintiff on its claims as well as defendants’ counterclaims.

Affirming summary judgment for the plaintiff, the Second District framed the salient issue as whether the plaintiff substantially performed its APA obligations.

Perfect performance isn’t required to enforce a contract.  Instead, a plaintiff must show he substantially performed.  Substantial performance is hard to define and is a fact-based inquiry.  In deciding whether substantial performance has occurred, a court considers whether a defendant received and enjoyed the benefits of the plaintiff’s performance.  Substantial performance allows a plaintiff to win a breach of contract suit; especially where his performance is done in reliance on the parties’ contract.

The court found that the defendant Restaurant buyer clearly benefitted from the plaintiff’s performance.  The buyer gained the Restaurant assets and goodwill and operated the Restaurant continuously for over a year before plaintiff sued to enforce the APA.  The defendant’s operation of the Restaurant during this pre-suit period was a tangible benefit flowing to the defendant from the plaintiff’s APA performance.  (¶¶ 25-27).

Next, the Court rejected the defendant’s fraud counterclaim – premised on plaintiff’s failure to disclose outstanding debts prior to the Restaurant sale.  The defendant claimed this omission exposed the defendant to a future lien foreclosure action and a possible money judgment by plaintiff’s creditors.

In Illinois, a fraud plaintiff must establish (1) a false statement of material fact, (2) the statement maker’s knowledge or belief that the statement was false; (3) an intention to induce the plaintiff to act based on the statement, (4) reasonable reliance on the truth of the statement by the plaintiff, and (5) damage to the plaintiff resulting from the reliance.  A fraud claimant must also prove damages (monetary loss, e.g.) with reasonable certainty.  While mathematical precision isn’t required, fraud damages that are speculative or hypothetical won’t support a fraud suit.

Here, since the defendant made only generalized allegations of possible damages and could not point to actual damages evidence – such as having to defend a lien foreclosure suit or a money judgment – the fraud claim failed.  On summary judgment, a litigant must offer evidence to support its claims.  The defendant’s failure to produce measurable damages evidence stemming from plaintiff’s pre-sale omissions doomed the fraud claim.  (¶¶ 33-36)


El and Be, Inc. cements the proposition that perfect performance isn’t required to enforce a contract.  Instead, a breach of contract plaintiff must show substantial performance – that he performed to such a level that the defendant enjoyed tangible benefits from the performance.  Where a contract defendant clearly reaps monetary awards from a plaintiff’s contractual duties, the substantial performance standard is met.

The case also makes clear that fraud must be pled and proven with acute specificity and that vague assertions of damages without factual back-up won’t survive summary judgment.


Missing “Course Of Dealing” Evidence Dooms Wedding Dress Seller on Summary Judgment – IL ND

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order that quotes Neil Sedaka and Taylor Swift in its footnotes, the District Court in House of Brides, Inc. v. Angelo, 2016 WL 698093 (N.D.Ill. 2016), examines the quantity and quality of evidence required to win and survive summary judgment after a forty-year business relationship imploded.

The plaintiff sold wedding clothes on-line and in retail stores and the defendant was the plaintiff’s key manufacturer and supplier.  The plaintiff sued in state court for breach of contract and breach of implied warranty claiming many of the defendant’s dresses were defective or shipped later than promised.  After removing the case to Federal court, the dress- maker counterclaimed for breach of contract based on unpaid invoices. The defendant moved for summary judgment on its counterclaims as well as on plaintiff’s claims.

Partly siding with the defendant, the court discussed some common Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) claims and defenses and the required elements of a summary judgment affidavit.

The UCC governs contracts for the sale of goods and wedding dresses constitute goods under the UCC.  A seller who delivers accepted goods to a buyer can sue the buyer for the price of the goods accepted along with incidental damages where a buyer fails to pay for the goods.  810 ILCS 5/2-709.

In a goods contract, the written contract terms govern but those terms can be explained or supplemented by a “course of performance, course of dealing, or usage of trade.” But written terms cannot be contradicted by evidence of a prior agreement or a contemporaneous oral agreement between the parties.

Here, the dress seller plaintiff argued that the dress-maker defendant’s invoices (which required payment in full within 30 days) were altered by a course of dealing in which the parties mutually understood that the plaintiff didn’t have to pay for the dresses until the plaintiff’s busy season (the first quarter of the year).

The court rejected the plaintiff’s course of dealing argument.  Even if the parties implicitly agreed that plaintiff didn’t have to pay for the dresses during slow periods, this contradicted the invoices’ “net 30” language.  In addition, such a material change would have to be in writing since the Statute of Frauds governs contracts for the sale of goods exceeding $500 and the dresses involved in this suit easily eclipsed that value.

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s set-off defense against the defendant’s breach of contract counterclaim since a set-off must relate to the same contract being sued on (the court’s example: a seafood buyer can’t set off the price of frogs’ legs because the seller previously sent bad fish in a previous order)

Next, the court struck the plaintiff’s affidavit in support of its breach of implied warranty of merchantability claim on the basis of hearsay.  In Federal court, an affidavit in support of or opposing summary judgment must be based on personal knowledge, show the witness’s competence and constitute admissible evidence.  Conclusory statements or affidavit testimony based on hearsay is inadmissible on summary judgment.  Hearsay is an out-of-court statement by an unknown source that is used to prove the truth of the statement.

The dress seller’s affidavit testimony that there were dress defects that required refunds was too vague to survive the dress maker’s summary judgment motion.  This was because no employee stated that he/she personally issued any refunds or had first-hand knowledge of any dress defects that would warrant a refund.  What’s more, the seller failed to offer any authenticated business records that would reflect the nature of the defect and the amount of any refunds.  Without admissible non-hearsay evidence, the plaintiff seller failed to challenge the defendant’s breach of contract claim and the court awarded summary judgment to the defendant.


This case shows importance of furnishing admissible evidence when challenging summary judgment;

Hearsay evidence in a summary judgment affidavit will be rejected

Course of performance or course of dealing can augment or explain written contract terms but cannot contradict the terms;

A set-off defense must pertain to contract being sued on instead of a separate agreement;




Lien Inflation and “Plus Factors” – Constructive Fraud in Illinois Mechanics Lien Litigation

The contractor plaintiff in Father & Sons Home Improvement II, Inc. v. Stuart, 2016 IL App (1st) 143666 was caught in several lies in the process of recording and trying to foreclose its mechanics lien.  The misstatements resulted in the nullification of its lien and the plaintiff being on the hook for over $40K in opponent attorneys’ fees.

The plaintiff was hired to construct a deck, garage and basement on the defendant owner’s residence.  Inexplicably, the plaintiff recorded its mechanics lien 8 months before it finished its work. This was a problem because the lien contained the sworn testimony of plaintiff’s principal (via affidavit) that stated a completion date that was several months off.

Plaintiff then sued to foreclose the lien; again stating an inaccurate completion date in the complaint.  The owner and mortgage lender defendants filed separate summary judgment motions on the basis that the plaintiff committed constructive fraud by (1) falsely stating the lien completion date and (2) inflating the dollar value of its work in sworn documents (the affidavit and verified complaint).

Affirming summary judgment and separate fee awards for the defendants, the Court distilled the following mechanics lien constructive fraud principles:

  • The purpose of the mechanics lien act (Lien Act) is to require someone with an interest in real property to pay for property improvements or benefits he encouraged by his conduct.  Section 7 of the Lien Act provides that no lien will be defeated because of an error or if it states an inflated amount unless it is shown that the erroneous lien amount was made with “intent to defraud.”  770 ILCS 60/7;
  • The intent to defraud requirement aims to protect the honest lien claimant who simply makes a mistake in computing his lien amount.  But where there is evidence a lien claimant knowingly filed a false lien (either in completion date or amount), the lien claim will be defeated.  (¶¶ 30-31);
  • Where there is no direct proof of a contractor’s intent to defraud, “constructive fraud” can negate a lien where there is an overstated lien amount or false completion date combined with additional evidence;
  • The additional evidence or “plus factor” can come in the form of a false affidavit signed by the lien claimant that falsely states the underlying completion date or the amount of the improvements furnished to the property.  (¶ 35).

Based on the plaintiff’s multiple false statements – namely, a fabricated completion date and a grossly exaggerated lien amount based on the amount of work done – both in its mechanics lien and in its pleadings, the court found that at the very least, the plaintiff committed constructive fraud and invalidated the lien.

Attorneys’ Fees and Rule 137 Sanctions

The court also taxed the property owners’ attorneys’ fees to the losing contractor.  Section 17 of the Lien Act provides that an owner can recover its attorneys’ fees where a contractor files a lien action “without just cause or right.”  The Lien Act also specifies that only the owner – not any other party involved in the chain of contracts or other lienholders – can recover its attorneys’ fees.  A lien claim giving rise to a fee award is one that is “not well grounded in fact and warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law.”  770 ILCS 60/17(d).

Based on the contractor’s clear case of constructive fraud in filing a lien with a false completion date and in a grossly excessive sum, the court ordered the contractor to pay the owner defendants’ attorneys’ fees.

The lender – who is not the property owner – wasn’t entitled to fees under Section 17 of the Lien Act.  Enter Rule 137 sanctions.  In Illinois, Rule 137 sanctions are awarded to prevent abuse of the judicial process by penalizing those who file vexatious and harassing lawsuit based on unsupported statements of fact or law.  Before assessing sanctions, a court does not engage in hindsight but instead looks at what was objectively reasonable at the time an attorney signed a document or filed a motion.

Because the plaintiff contractor repeatedly submitted false documents in the course of the litigation, the court awarded the mortgage lender its attorneys’ fees incurred in defending the lien suit and in successfully moving for summary judgment.  All told,  the Court sanctioned the contractor to the tune of over $26,000; awarding this sum to the lender defendant.


This case serves as an obvious cautionary tale for mechanics lien plaintiffs.  Plainly, a lien claimant must state an accurate completion date and properly state the monetary value of improvements.  If the claimant realizes it has made a mistake, it should amend the lien.  And even though an amended lien usually won’t bind third parties (e.g. lenders, other lienholders, etc.), it’s better to correct known lien errors than to risk a hefty fee award at case’s end.





Fraud Suit Dismissed Where Prior Corporate Dissolution Claim Pending Between Parties – IL Court

Illinois courts aim to foster efficiency and finality in litigation. One way they accomplish this is by protecting people from repetitive lawsuits and requiring plaintiffs to bring all their claims in a single case.  Consolidation of claims is encouraged while piecemeal “claim splitting” is discouraged.

Code Section 2-619(a)(3) is a statutory attempt to streamline litigation. This section that allows for dismissal of a case where there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause.

Schact v. Lome, 2016 IL App(1st) 141931 provides a recent case illustration of this section in the context of an aborted medical partnership.

The defendant originally filed suit in 2010 against two of his former medical partners to void their attempt to dissolve a medical corporation operated by them. The parties litigated that case for over three years before the plaintiffs (who were the defendants in the 2010 case) filed suit in 2013 for fraud.

The 2013 fraud action alleged the defendant fraudulently induced the plaintiffs to agree to a distribution of the medical corporation’s assets knowing that he (defendant) was going to challenge the corporate dissolution.

According to the plaintiffs, the defendant received almost $50,000 in cash on top of some corporate equipment based on his promise to end the 2010 litigation. Plaintiffs claimed the defendant hoodwinked them into agreeing to the money and property disbursements based on the defendant’s assurance he would dismiss the prior lawsuit.

The trial court dismissed the fraud action based on the same parties, same cause rule.  Affirming dismissal, the appeals court provided content to the “same cause” element of a Section 2-619 motion to dismiss.

  • Illinois Code Section 2-619(a)(3) is a procedural device aimed at avoiding duplicative litigation. It applies where there is a pending case involving the same parties for the same cause.
  • Lawsuits present the same cause when the relief sought is “based on substantially the same set of facts”;
  • The salient inquiry is whether both cases arise from the same transaction or occurrence, not whether the two lawsuits have identical causes of action or legal theories;
  • If the relief requested in each lawsuit relies on substantially the same facts, the “same cause” is met and can present grounds for dismissal.

(¶¶ 35-36)

In finding the same cause test met, the Court noted the 2010 dissolution action and the 2013 fraud suit were “inextricably intertwined.” Both cases involved a challenge to the plaintiffs’ earlier attempted breakup of the medical corporation.  Both cases also centered on the defendant’s conduct in agreeing to a distribution of the corporate assets while at the same time contesting those distributions.  Another commonality between the two suits was the damages claimed by the plaintiffs in the fraud action equaled the defense costs they incurred in the 2010 dissolution action. (¶ 37).

Since both lawsuits involved the same underlying facts, had similar issues and were based on the same conduct by the parties, the 2013 fraud action was properly dismissed since the 2010 dissolution action was still pending when the fraud case was filed.


Once again, considerations of judicial economy win out over opposing claims that two lawsuits are different enough to proceed on separate tracks.

Schact gives a broad reading to a somewhat nebulous basis for dismissal.  The case stresses that the legal theories advanced in two lawsuits don’t have to be identical to trigger the same cause element of Section 2-619.

Schact’s lesson is clear: Where two lawsuits between the same parties share common issues and stem from substantially similar facts, a defendant will have a strong argument that the later-filed case should be dismissed under the same cause Code section.

Denial of Motion for Judgment in Citation Proceedings Not Final – Appeal Dismissed (IL 1st Dist.)

While there are nuances and some exceptions to it, the general rule is that only “final” orders are appealable.  If a trial court’s order is final, the losing party can appeal it.  If the order isn’t final – meaning, the case is still going on – the losing party can’t appeal it.  Whether an order is final is often overlooked during the heat of trial battle.  However, as today’s feature case illustrates, the failure to appreciate the final versus non-final order distinction can doom an appeal as premature.

National Life Real Estate Holdings, LLC v. International Bank of Chicago, 2016 IL App (1st) 151446, the plaintiff judgment creditor won a $3MM-plus judgment against an individual and two LLC defendants. In trying to enforce the money judgment, the plaintiff issued a third-party citation to IBC, the respondent and defendant.

Upon learning that after IBC disbursed $3.5MM in loan funds to two businesses associated with the individual judgment debtor after it received the third-party citation, the plaintiff moved for judgment against IBC on the basis that it violated its obligations as a third-party citation respondent (to not transfer any of the judgment debtor’s property).

The circuit court denied the plaintiff’s motion.  It found that since the loan funds disbursed by IBC were not paid to and didn’t belong to the judgment debtor, IBC did not flout the citation’s “restraining provision” (which prevents a citation respondent from disposing of property belonging to a judgment debtor).  Affirming, the appeals court discussed the pertinent rules governing when orders entered in post-judgment proceedings can be appealed.

  • An appeal can only be taken from a “final order”‘
  • An order is final where it disposes of the rights of the parties, either upon the entire lawsuit or upon a separate and definite part of it;
  • A final order entered in a post-judgment proceeding is appealable, too;
  • A post-judgment order is deemed final when the judgment creditor is in a position to collect against the judgment debtor or third-party or the judgment creditor is prevented from doing so by court order;
  • A post-judgment order that does not (a) leave a creditor in position to collect a judgment or that (b) conclusively bars the creditor from collecting, is not final for purposes of appeal. 

(¶10); See 735 ILCS 5/2-1402; Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 304(b)(4).

The trial court’s order denying the judgment creditor’s motion for judgment wasn’t final as it didn’t end the lawsuit.  The appeals court noted the case is still pending and the judgment creditor may still have valid claims against IBC.  Since the trial court’s denial of the judgment creditor’s motion didn’t foreclose it from future collection efforts, the denial of the motion wasn’t a final and appealable order.  As a consequence, the creditor’s appeal was premature and properly dismissed.


In hindsight, the plaintiff should have requested a Rule 304(a) finding that the order denying the motion for judgment was appealable.  While the court could have denied the motion, it would have at least give the creditor a shot at having an appeals court review the trial court’s order.

Going forward, the plaintiff should issue third-party citations to the loan recipients (the two business entities) and see if it can link the individual debtor to those businesses.  The plaintiff should also issue discovery to IBC to obtain specifics concerning the post-citation loan.  This information could give the plaintiff ammunition for future litigation against IBC relating to the loans.


Car Seller’s Impossibility and Commercial Frustration Defenses Fail In Missing Mercedes Case – IL ND

SFcitizen (photo credit: www.sfcitizen.com (visited 7.6.15))

Sunshine Imp & Exp Corp. v. Luxury Car Concierge, Inc., 2015 WL 2193808 (N.D.Ill. 2015) serves as a recent example of how difficult it is for a breach of contract defendant to successfully argue the impossibility or commercial frustration defense.

There, a case involving multiple layers of interconnected luxury car sellers, the plaintiff car seller sued another seller for breach of contract when the defendant’s failed to deliver a $100k Mercedes to the plaintiff.

The defendant blamed one of its vendors’ for failing to produce the car.  That vendor, in turn, cited the embezzlement of one of its sellers as the cause of the breach.

The defendant argued that since it couldn’t control the various parties involved in acquiring the car, it was immunized from liability under the impossibility and commercial frustration defenses.

The court rejected the defenses and entered judgment for the plaintiff for the full amount paid for the no-show Mercedes.

The defendant first made a procedural challenge to plaintiff’s suit.  It argued that since the plaintiff never formally responded to defendant’s affirmative defenses, the plaintiff waived its challenge to them.  The court quickly disposed of this argument.  While under Illinois law, the failure to object to an affirmative defense can result in the admission of the defense and a waiver of a right to contest it, this isn’t the case in Federal cases.

This is because Federal procedural rules govern Federal cases and under FRCP 8(b), if a responsive pleading isn’t required, an allegation in a defense is considered denied or avoided.  Moreover, FRCP 7(a) specifies the types of pleadings that are allowed and a reply to an affirmative defense isn’t one of them.  As a result, affirmative defenses raised in an answer are automatically deemed denied in the Federal scheme since no reply to affirmative defenses are permitted (unless ordered by the court).

The defendant’s impossibility of performance and commercial frustration defenses also failed substantively.

The impossibility doctrine applies where there is  an unanticipated circumstance that makes performance “vitally different” from what was or should have been within the reasonable contemplation of the parties.  Impossibility applies in very limited situations – parties to a contract normally must adhere to the agreement terms and subsequent contingencies that aren’t spelled out in a contract won’t invalidate the contract.

What’s more, the fact that a promisor can’t control the acts of a third party won’t trigger the impossibility defense unless the contract explicitly says so.  What’s more, a contracting promisor isn’t absolved of his obligations due to a third party’s failure to perform.

The court found the defendant’s impossibility defense lacking since it was (or should have been) foreseeable that the defendant’s supplier would have failed to deliver the car for any number of reasons.


The defendant’s related defense of “commercial frustration” also fell short.  This defense applies in two circumstances: (1) where a frustrating event isn’t foreseeable and (2) that event totally or almost totally destroys the value of the party’s performance.  An example of this is where the destruction of a building terminates the lease.

Like impossibility, commercial frustration applies sparingly; it is only where a party’s performance is rendered “meaningless” due to the unforeseen circumstance that the contract terminates.  The defense becomes operative where a contract assumes the continued existence of a certain state of things and that state of things ceases to exist.

A successful commercial frustration defense voids the contract and requires any monies paid to be returned to the paying party.

The court discarded the defendant’s commercial frustration defense on the basis that the defendant could have foreseen that its supplier would have failed to tender the Mercedes.  Since the defendant failed to negotiate this possibility into the contract, the defense failed.  (**5-6).


The procedural lesson is that a formal response to an affirmative defense isn’t required in Federal court unless required by the court.

The case’s chief legal point is that in contracts where a party’s performance is dependent on that of a third party/parties, the party should spell this out in the contract.  Failing that, the contract will likely be enforced as written even though the breach is caused by someone’s else’s failure to perform.

Getting E-Mails Into Evidence: (Ind.) Federal Court Weighs In


Since e-mail is the dominant form of business communication across the globe, it’s no surprise that it comprises a large chunk of the documents used as evidence at a business dispute trial.

Email’s prevalence in lawsuits makes it crucial for litigators to understand the key evidence authenticity and foundational rules that govern whether an email gets into evidence.  This is especially true where an email goes to the heart of a plaintiff’s claims (or defendant’s defenses) and the e-mail author or recipient denies the e-mail’s validity.

Finnegan v. Myers, 2015 WL 5252433 (N.D. Ind. 2015), serves as a recent example of a Federal court applying fundamental evidence rules to the e-mail communications context.

In the case, the plaintiffs, whose teenaged daughter died under suspicious circumstances, sued various Indiana child welfare agencies for lodging criminal child neglect charges against them that were eventually dropped.  The plaintiffs then filed Federal civil rights and various due process claims against the defendants.

The defendants moved for summary judgment and then sought to strike some of plaintiffs’ evidence opposing summary judgment.  A key piece of evidence relied on by the plaintiff in opposing summary judgment that the defendants sought to exclude as improper hearsay was an e-mail from a forensic pathologist to child welfare personnel that called into questions the results of a prior autopsy of the deceased.

Denying defendants’ two motions (the summary judgment motion and motion to strike), the Court provides a useful gloss on the operative evidence rules that control e-mail documents in litigation.

  • The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) require a proponent to produce evidence sufficient to support a finding the item is authentic – that it is what the proponent claims it to be;
  • FRE 901 recognizes several methods of authentication including witness testimony, expert or non-expert comparisons, distinctive characteristics, and public records, among others;
  • FRE 902 recognizes certain evidence as inherently trustworthy and “self-authenticating” (requiring no additional proof of authenticity).  Evidence in this camp includes public records, official publications, newspapers and periodicals, commercial paper, and certified domestic records of a regularly conducted activity;
  • Authentication only relates to the source of the documents – it does not mean that the documents’ contents are taken as true;
  • E-mails may be authenticated by circumstantial evidence such as (a) viewing the e-mail’s contents in light of the factual background of the case, (b) identifying the sender and receiver via affidavit, (c) identifying the sender by the e-mail address from which the e-mail was sent, (d) comparing the email’s substance to other evidence in the case, and (e) comparing the e-mail to other statements by the claimed author of a given email.

(** 5-6)

Applying these guideposts, the court found that the plaintiff sufficiently established that the subject email was genuine (i.e., it was what it purported to be) and that it was up to the jury to determine what probative value the email evidence had at trial.

The court also agreed with the plaintiff that the pathologist’s email wasn’t hearsay: it was not used for the truth of the email.  Instead, it was simply used to show that the State  agency was put on notice of a second autopsy and changes in the pathologist’s cause of death opinions.


This case resonates with me since I’ve litigated cases in the past where a witness flatly denies sending an email even though it’s from an e-mail address associated with the witness.  In those situations. I’ve had to compile other evidence – like the recipient’s affidavit – and had to show the denied email is congruent with other evidence in the case to negate the denial.

Finnegan neatly melds FRE 901 and 902 and provides a succinct summary of what steps a litigator must take to establish the authenticity of e-mail evidence.

Landlord Subject to Potential Bailment and Intentional Infliction Claims for Leaving Tenant’s Property On Sidewalk – IL ND

The Internet is awash in state-by-state summaries of what a landlord can and can’t do with property left behind by a residential tenant. The various abandoned property rules range from making the landlord do nothing, to requiring it to hold the tenant’s property for a fixed number of days, to sending formal notice to the tenant before disposing of the property. For a good summary of various state’s abandoned property laws, see here.  Chicago’s (where I practice) Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RLTO), widely viewed as pro-tenant in every way, requires a landlord to store the property for seven days before disposing of it. See RLTO 5-12-130(f)

Zissu v. IH2 Property Illinois, LP, 2016 WL 212937, examines what causes of action apply where a landlord puts an evicted tenant’s property on a city street and the property is destroyed or stolen as a result.

The plaintiffs, who were evicted in an earlier state court forcible detainer action, sued their ex-landlord in Federal court (the landlord was a Delaware business entity) alleging negligence, conversion, bailment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress after the former landlord placed the plaintiff’s home furnishings, jewelry and personal documents on the sidewalk and the plaintiff’s property was stolen or damaged.

Granting in part and denying in part the landlord’s motion to dismiss, the court examined the pleading elements of the bailment, trespass to chattels and intentional infliction of emotional distress torts.

The court upheld the plaintiff’s bailment count. A bailment occurs where one party delivers goods or personal property to another who has agreed to accept the property and deal with it in a particular way.

To recover under a bailment theory, a plaintiff must allege: (1) an express or implied agreement to create a bailment, (2) delivery of the property to the bailee by the bailor, (3) the bailee’s acceptance of the property, and (4) the bailee’s failure to return the property or delivery of the property to the bailor in a damaged condition.

An implied, or “constructive,” bailment occurs where a defendant voluntarily receives a plaintiff’s property for some purpose other than that of obtaining ownership of the property. The implied bailment can be found with reference to the surrounding circumstances including (i) the benefits received by the parties, (ii) the parties’ intentions, (iii) the kind of property involved, and (iv) the opportunities for each party to exert control over the property.

The court held that the complaint’s allegations that the defendant actively took possession of the plaintiff’s property and removed it from the leased premises was sufficient to state a bailment claim under Federal notice pleading standards.

The court also sustained the plaintiff’s conversion and trespass to chattels claim. The crux of both of these claims is that a defendant either seized control of a plaintiff’s property (conversion) or interfered with a plaintiff’s property (trespass to chattels). A colorable conversion claim contains the added requirement that a plaintiff make a demand for possession – unless the defendant has already disposed of a plaintiff’s property; in which case a demand would be futile.

The court here found that the plaintiffs’ allegations that their former landlord dispossessed plaintiffs of their property stated a trespass to chattels and conversion claim for purposes of a motion to dismiss. The court also agreed with the plaintiff that a formal demand for the property would have been pointless since the defendant had already placed the plaintiffs’ property on the street and sidewalk next to the plaintiffs’ home.

Lastly, the court denied the defendant’s attempt to dismiss the plaintiff’s intentional infliction claim. An intentional infliction of emotional distress plaintiff must plead (1) extreme and outrageous conduct, (2) a defendant’s intent to inflict severe emotional distress on a plaintiff, and (3) the defendant’s conduct did in fact cause the plaintiff emotional distress.

Here, the court found that the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendant put expensive jewelry, medication and sensitive financial documents on the street in view of the whole neighborhood sufficiently stated an intentional infliction claim.


This case presents an interesting illustration of some lesser-used and venerable torts (bailment, trespass to chattels) adapted to a modern-day fact pattern.

The continued vitality of the bailment and trespass to chattel theories shows that personal property rights still enjoy a privileged status in this society.

The case also serves as a reminder for landlords to check applicable abandoned property laws before disposing of a decamped tenant’s belongings.  As this case amply shows, a landlord who removes tenant property without notice to the tenant, does so at its peril and opens itself up to a future damages action.




Multi-Year Request for Facebook Activity Too Broad – Illinois Federal Court

Ye v. Veissman (1:14-cv-01531)(Memorandum Opinion and Order) examines the scope of Facebook page discovery requests in the context of a wrongful death suit.

There, the plaintiff, whose daughter was killed in a freak traffic accident as she walked on a downtown Chicago street, sued the responsible trucking company and driver for wrongful death and tried to recover for mental anguish resulting from the accident. 

To probe the depths of the plaintiff’s claimed mental malaise, the defendants sought discovery of the decedent’s Facebook communications going back seven years before the accident.  The plaintiff refused on the grounds of relevance and overbreadth (“it’s a fishing expedition”) and the defendants moved to compel the material.

Denying the defendants’ motion, the Court answered important questions on when social media evidence is relevant to a mental distress claim and the case starkly illustrates the importance of narrowly tailoring discovery requests in this computer-drenched society.

The Federal Discovery Rules and Facebook Data

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) allows discovery into any nonprivileged matter relevant to a party’s claim or defense that is proportional to the needs of the case.

Facebook discovery requests can present thorny logistical challenges since  the amount of discoverable information is voluminous, data is retained for a long time and the number of people with whom a given Facebook subscriber communicates is potentially limitless.

In spite of these difficulties, social media evidence is still discoverable so long as the requested information meets the test of relevance.  The Illinois and Federal rules of evidence define relevant evidence as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”  See Illinois Evidence Rule 401.

The Ye court noted that while “everything posted on social media can reflect a person’s emotional state of mind” at any given snapshot of time, a plaintiff’s injection of his state of mind does not give a requesting party with a “generalized right to rummage at will through [social media] information.”

Seven Years of Facebook Data = Too Broad

Finding the defendants’ discovery requests too broad, the Court noted that the amended discovery rules, effective since December 2015, limit the scope of relevant evidence and required that discovery be proportional to the needs of a given case.

The court allowed that since plaintiff’s damage claims were nebulous by nature – they included mental suffering, grief, sorrow, loss of society, companionship, and consortium – some social media discovery was clearly permitted (and relevant).  This was because the discovery requests sought to shed light on the plaintiff’s mental state and his damages claims.

The court found that “[c]ertainly some social media content during the time period prior to death will be relevant”, this didn’t give the defendants a green light to request unlimited Facebook information.  The court found the seven-year request overbroad as it wasn’t confined to a narrower pre-accident time span.

The extensive request for Facebook data also exceeded relevance restrictions since defendants sought communications between the decedent and third parties who had nothing to do with the accident or the lawsuit.  According to the court, if the discovery requests were pruned to only include communications between the decedent and her immediate family, the requests would likely be focused enough to meet the discovery rules’ relevance and proportionality tests.

However, as the requests currently stood, the minimal relevance of the decedent’s Facebook communications was outweighed by the burden to the plaintiff in producing the data.

To support its findings, the Court cited liberally from recent Federal cases in Indiana and California that found Facebook discovery requests spanning five years (the Indiana case) and seven years (Cal.) too broad under Rule 26.


This opinion is a good example of a court grappling with the discoverability of social media evidence in a case where a plaintiff’s mental state is clearly at issue.  Like so often, the discovery decision distills to a balancing test: the Court weighs the possible relevance of the requested information against the time, money and energy burden to the plaintiff in producing the information.

While some latitude is allowed in discovery requests, it’s clear from this case and others like it, that discovery requests have limits.  Where the burden of responding to Facebook discovery outweighs the possible relevance of the requests, a court will order the requesting party to constrict its requests.




Bank’s Business Records and Supporting Affidavit Satisfy Evidence Rules – IL 2nd Dist.

Because they’re so integral to commercial litigation, business records and the myriad evidentiary concerns intertwined with them, are a perennial favorite topic of this blog.

In earlier posts (here and here, I’ve featured US Bank, NA v. Avdic, 2014 IL App (1st) 121759 and Bank of America v. Land, 2013 IL App (5th) 120283, two cases that examine the foundation and authenticity requirements for admitting business records in evidence and probe the interplay between Illinois Supreme Court Rule 236 and Illinois Evidence Rule 803(6).

We now can add Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC v. Szpara, 2015 IL App (2d) 140331 to the Illinois business records cannon.  Harmonized, Avdic, Land and Bayview form a trilogy of key business records cases that are useful (if not required) reading for any commercial litigator.

Bayview’s facts parallel those of so many other business records cases: a mortgage foreclosing plaintiff tries to offer business records into evidence at trial or as support for a summary judgment motion and the defendant opposes the records’ admission.

Bayview’s bank plaintiff tried to get damages in evidence via a prove-up affidavit signed by a bank Vice President who didn’t actually create the records in the first place.  The defendant moved to strike the affidavit as lacking foundation.

Affirming summary judgment for the bank, the First District provides a cogent summary of the governing standards for summary judgment affidavits that are employed to get business records into evidence.

First, the court affirmed dismissal of the defendant’s fraud in the inducement affirmative defense – premised on the claim that a mortgage broker allied with the plaintiff made false statements concerning the defendant’s creditworthiness and value of the underlying property.

Fraud in the inducement is a species of common law fraud.  A fraud plaintiff in Illinois must show (1) a false statement of material fact, (2) knowledge or belief that the statement is false, (3) intent to induce the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting on the statement, (4) the plaintiff reasonably relied on the false statement, and (5) damage to the plaintiff resulting from the reliance.  A colorable fraud claim must be specific with the plaintiff establishing the who, what, and when of the challenged statement.

The Court agreed with the trial court that the defendant’s fraud in the inducement defense was too vague and lacked the heightened specificity required under the law.  The defendant failed to sufficiently plead the misrepresentation and didn’t allege facts showing when the misstatement was made.  As a result, the defense was properly stricken on the bank’s motion. (¶¶ 34-35)

The court then found that the plaintiff’s business records – appended to a bank employee’s affidavit in support of the bank’s summary judgment motion –  were properly admitted into evidence and affirmed summary judgment for the bank.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 236 and Illinois Evidence Rule 803(6)(“Records of Regularly Conducted Activity”) provide that a business record can be admitted into evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule if (1) the record was made in the regular course of business and (2) was made at or near the time of the events documented in the records.

In  the context of a prove-up affidavit based on business records, the affiant doesn’t have to be the one who personally prepared the record; it’s enough that the affiant has basic familiarity with the records and the business processes used by the party relying on them.

Under Evidence Rule 803(6), the lack of personal knowledge of someone signing an affidavit does not affect the admissibility of a given document, although it could affect the (evidentiary) weight given to that document.   (¶42).

The bank’s Vice President in Bayview testified in her prove-up affidavit that she had access to the business records relating to defendant’s loan, that she reviewed the records, had personal knowledge of how the plaintiff kept and prepared them and that the plaintiff’s regular practice was to keep loan records like the ones attached to the affidavit.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the affidavit was deficient since the bank agent wasn’t who created the attached loan records.  Citing to Avdic and Land, the Court found that, in the aggregate, the bank agent affidavit testimony sufficiently met the foundation and authenticity requirements to get the business records in evidence. (¶¶ 41-46)


This case contains salutary discussion and rulings for plaintiff creditors as it streamlines the process of getting business records into evidence at the summary judgment stage and later, at trial.

Bayview reaffirms the key holdings from Avdic, Land and business records cases like them that an agent who had nothing to do with preparing underlying business records can still attest to the records’ validity and authenticity provided she can vouch for their validity and is familiar with the mode of the records’ creation.

Voluntary Payment of Wages Sinks Transit Agency’s Conversion Counterclaim Against Ex-Employees – IL ND

In Laba v. CTA, 2016 WL 147656 (N.D.Ill. 2016), the Court considers the contours of the conversion tort in a dispute involving former Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) employees who lied about their hours worked.

The CTA claimed the employees converted or “stole” paycheck monies by falsifying employee time records in order to get paid by the agency.

The Court dismissed the CTA’s conversion claim based on the involuntary payment doctrine.  Conversion applies where a plaintiff shows (1) a defendant exercised unauthorized control over the plaintiff’s personal property; (2) plaintiff’s right to immediate possession of the property; and (3) a demand for possession of the property.  

A colorable conversion claim must involve specifically identifiable property.  Money can be the subject of  a conversion claim but it must be a specific source of funds.  A general obligation (“John owes me money and so he basically stole from me,” e.g.) isn’t enough for actionable conversion.

A well-established conversion defense is the voluntary payment rule.  This rule posits that where one party voluntarily transfers property to another, even if the transfer is mistaken, there is no conversion.  In such a case, there is a debtor-creditor relationship: the debtor would be the person to whom the funds were paid and the creditor the paying party. 

Here, since the CTA voluntarily paid money to the employees, in the form of regular paychecks, those monies could not be subject to a later conversion suit.  The CTA did not pay the ex-workers under duress.  The fact that the workers may not have earned their pay doesn’t change the analysis.  At most, according to the court, the time sheet embellishments created a “general debt arising from fraudulent conduct.”  The CTA has a remedy to recoup the funds; it’s just not one for conversion. 


This case presents a creative use of the conversion tort in an unorthodox fact setting.  The case lesson is clear: where an employer pays an employee of the employer’s own volition, the payment will be considered “voluntary” even where it turns out the employee didn’t deserve the payment (i.e. by not working).  In such a case, the employer’s appropriate remedy is one for breach of contract or unjust enrichment.  A civil conversion claim will not apply to voluntarily employer-employee payments.

“Mirror-Image” Contract Acceptance: 7th Circuit Finds Attorneys’ Fees Provision in Invoice Not Binding on Food Buyer

imageVLM Food Trading International, Inc. v. Illinois Trading Co., (http://cases.justia.com/federal/appellate-courts/ca7/14-2776/14-2776-2016-01-21.pdf?ts=1453404644) examines whether a contract seller can recover attorneys’ fees where the contract is silent on the recovery of attorneys’ fees but invoices sent by the seller after the goods are shipped do contain fee-shifting language. 

In January 2016, the Seventh Circuit held that the invoice fee-shifting clause did not bind the buyer defendant where the transaction was governed by an international treaty – the U.N. Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (the “Convention”) – that didn’t specify whether a non-breaching party could recover its attorneys’ fees from the breaching party.

The Contract Chronology: The plaintiff foods seller would submit a purchase order to defendant that stated the product, price, quantity and delivery locus.  The defendant, in turn, would send a confirming e-mail to the plaintiff.  After that, the plaintiff shipped the goods to the defendant and later sent a “trailing” invoice to the defendant.

Neither the purchase order nor the responsive e-mails provided for the recovery of attorneys’ fees.   The first appearance of the fee-shifting language was in the trailing invoices sent after the seller’s items were shipped to the defendant.

The main dispute centered on when the contract was formed and whether the trailing invoices’ fees provisions were part of the contract. 

The Convention employs the “mirror image” rule of contract interpretation: An acceptance must “mirror” the offer or else it’s construed as a counter-offer.  Any additional terms, limitations or other changes proposed after a contract is accepted are considered proposed modifications.  Under the Convention’s mirror-image rule, a party doesn’t have to object to a proposed modification to exclude (reject) it.  Any term not contained in the offer and acceptance simply do not bind the parties.

The Convention also makes clear that a party’s silence or inactivity doesn’t equate to an acceptance of proposed changes to a contract.  Instead, a party can only accept such terms through statement or conduct.

The Seventh Circuit held that the plaintiff’s purchase orders were the offer, and the acceptance was the buyer’s confirmation e-mails.  Under the mirror-image rule, any other terms proposed by either side would be deemed proposed changes and not considered part of the parties’ contract. 

Based on this chronology, the Seventh Circuit held that the contract was formed when plaintiff received the confirmation e-mails.  The trailing invoices (and their fee-shifting and interest language) were sent after the acceptance and as a result did not become part of the contracts.

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that defendant assented to the trailing invoice fee language by an established practice or trade usage – two exceptions provided for in the Convention.  The Court found there was no practice of the defendant showing that it agreed to the fee-shifting language.  Because the mirror image rule applies, the defendant’s silence did not amount to a tacit acknowledgement that it was responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees.

The Court also found there was no evidence of “usage” that weighed in favor of enforcing the trailing invoices’ fee-shifting term.  Usage evidence only comes into play under the Convention where a contract is ambiguous (susceptible to two or more equally plausible meanings).  Since the attorneys’ fees language was clear on its face, there was no ambiguity that justified the consideration of any usage evidence.

Lastly, the Court found there was no manifested intent by the defendant to be bound to the attorneys’ fees language in the invoices.  The key evidence on this point was that the plaintiff’s invoices were not sent to defendant’s decision-makers.  Instead, the invoices were sent to the defendant’s generic billing department address. 


VLM is post-worthy for its chronicling a typical multi-step goods contract involving commercial entities.  Sellers often send invoices containing attorneys’ fees provisions after product has been ordered and shipped by/to a buyer.  In the usual setting (where an international treaty doesn’t apply), the fee language can be considered part of the contract under the Uniform Commercial Code if fee provisions are standard practice in the industry or if there is a course of conduct by the parties showing a mutual intent to be bound to the invoices. 

While the case is anomalous since an international treaty governs its facts, the opinion still offers a useful analysis of the factors a court considers when determining whether after-the-fact contractual terms can bind the parties.




Material Changes to Office Lease Insulates Guarantor From Liability For Corporate Tenant Defaults – Illinois Court

The Illinois First District recently examined the reach of a corporate officer’s commercial lease guaranty in a case involving a multi-year and multi-suite office lease.  The office landlord plaintiff in Stonegate Properties, Inc. v. Piccolo, 2016 IL App (1st) 150182, sued to hold a corporate tenant’s CEO and lease guarantor liable for rental damages after the corporate tenant defaulted and declared bankruptcy.

The five-year lease was amended several times through the years – each time by the corporate tenant through its CEO and lease guarantor – culminating in an amended lease for three additional office spaces (compared to the original lease’s two spaces) in nearly triple the monthly rent amount from the original lease.

After the corporate tenant defaulted and filed for bankruptcy protection, the plaintiff landlord sued the guarantor defendant to recover nearly $1.4M in unpaid lease rental payments. The guarantor defendant successfully moved to dismiss on the basis that she was released from the guaranty since the lease parties made material changes to the lease and increased the guarantor’s risk with no additional consideration to the guarantor.

Affirming, the First District examined the scope of guarantor liability when the lease guarantor is also the corporate tenant’s principal officer.

The Court cited and applied these operative contract law principles in siding for the guarantor:

– A lease is a contract between a landlord and tenant, and the general rules of contract construction apply to the construction of leases;

A guaranty is a promise by one or more parties to answer for the debts of another.  A clearly-worded guaranty should be given effect as written;

– A guaranty is considered a separate, independent obligations from the underlying contract.  Where a guaranty is undated, a court will still consider it as drafted contemporaneously with the underlying lease if the guaranty refers to that lease;

– A guaranty signed at the same time as the underlying contract is supported by adequate consideration.  A contractual modification – something that injects new elements into a contract – must be supported by consideration to be valid and binding.  Pre-existing obligations are not sufficient consideration under the law;

– In the context of commercial lease guaranties, a guaranty’s term is only extended if the underlying lease term is also extended in accordance with the lease terms;

– Common guaranty defenses involve changes to the underlying contract that materially increase the guarantor’s financial risk;

– Where the risk originally assumed by a guarantor is augmented by acts of the principal (the person whose debts are being guaranteed), the guarantor is released from his contractual obligations;

– Where a corporate principal signs a lease in her corporate capacity, she is not personally responsible for her corporate employer’s lease obligations.  This is because a corporation is a separate legal entity from its component shareholders.

(¶¶ 40-45, 46-55, 60-62, 65-66)

Applying these principles, the Court sided in favor of the guarantor.  The court noted that the lease addendum materially modified the underlying lease obligations and increased the guarantor’s fiscal risk. In addition, the guaranty was silent on whether it applied to material lease modifications.  Because of this, the court found that the guarantor’s consent to the lease changes was required in order to bind the guarantor to the changes.

Since the guarantor never gave her express consent to the lease changes (broadening the leased premises from two office suites to 5; tripling the monthly rent), she was immunized from further guaranty obligations once the corporate tenant and office landlord signed the lease addendum.

The Court also rejected the office lessor’s attempt to fasten liability to the guarantor under a piercing the corporate veil/alter-ego theory.  Since the plaintiff didn’t sue to pierce the corporate veil (such as under an alter-ego theory), the Court found that the guarantor’s execution of the lease addendum as an agent of the corporate tenant didn’t bind the defendant personally to the corporation’s lease obligations. (¶¶ 72-77).


Stonegate provides a thorough analysis of the contours of a commercial lease guarantor’s liability.  While a guaranty is construed as written under black-letter contract law principles, if the guarantor’s principal (here, the corporate tenant) changes the underlying lease obligation so that the guarantor’s original risk is increased, the change in lease term will not be binding on the guarantor.  This is so even where the corporate agent who agreed to the material lease amendment is the lease guarantor.

False Info in Employee Time Records Can Support Common Law Fraud Claim – IL Fed Court (Part I of II)

Some key questions the Court grapples with in Laba v. CTA, 2016 WL 147656 (N.D.Ill. 2016) are whether an employee who sleeps on the job or runs personal errands on company time opens himself up to a breach of fiduciary or fraud claim by his employer.  The Court answered “no” (fiduciary duty claim) and “maybe” (fraud claim) in an employment dispute involving the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

Some former CTA employees sued the embattled transit agency for invasion of privacy and illegal search and seizure after learning the CTA implanted Global Positioning System (“GPS”) technology on the plaintiffs’ work-issued cell phones. An audit of those phones revealed the plaintiffs’ regularly engaged in personal frolics during work hours.

The CTA removed the case to Federal court and filed various state law counterclaims to recoup money it paid to the ex-employees including claims for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and conversion. The Northern District granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the CTA’s counterclaims.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Sustaining the CTA’s breach of fiduciary duty claim against the ex-employees’ motion to dismiss, the Court looked to black-letter Illinois law for guidance.  To state a breach of fiduciary duty claim in Illinois, a plaintiff must allege (1) the existence of a fiduciary duty, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) breach of the duty proximately caused damages.  The employer-employee relationship is one the law recognizes as a fiduciary one.

While the extent of an employee’s duty to his employer varies depending on whether the employee is a corporate officer, the law is clear that employees owe duties of loyalty to their employers.  Where an employee engages in self-dealing or misappropriates employer property or funds for the employee’s personal use, it can give rise to a fiduciary suit by the employer.

Here, the Court found that the employees’ conduct, while irresponsible and possibly negligent, didn’t rise to the level of disloyalty under the law.  The Court made it clear that under-par job performance doesn’t equate to conduct that can support a breach of fiduciary duty claim. (**6-7).

Fraudulent Misrepresentation

The Court upheld the CTA’s fraudulent misrepresentation claim – premised on the allegation that the plaintiffs lied to the CTA about the hours they were working in order to induce the CTA to pay them.  Under Illinois law, a fraud plaintiff must show (1) a false statement of material fact, (2) known or believed to be false by the party making the statement, (3) with the intent to induce the statement’s recipient to act, (4) action by the recipient in reliance on the truth of the statement, and (5) damage resulting from that reliance.

Under the Federal pleading rules, a fraud claimant must plead the “who, what, where when and how” of the fraud but the allegation of a defendant’s intent or knowledge can be alleged generally.

Here, the Court found that the CTA sufficiently alleged a fraudulent scheme by the employees to misrepresent the hours they worked in exchange for their paychecks.  This was enough, under Illinois fraud law, to survive the employees’ motion to dismiss.  See FRCP 9(b); (*7).


1/ While an employee owes an employer fiduciary duties of loyalty, his sub-par job performance doesn’t equate to a breach of fiduciary duty.  There must be self-dealing or intentional conduct by the employee for him to be vulnerable to an employer’s fiduciary duty suit;

2/ An employee misrepresenting hours work can underlie a common law fraud claim if the employer can show it paid in reliance on the truth of the employee’s hour reporting;




Facebook Not Subject to Illinois Long-Arm Jurisdiction For Its Photo “Tagging” Feature – IL ND

Surely something as culturally pervasive as Facebook, arguably the Alpha and Omega of social media, is subject to personal jurisdiction in Illinois (or anywhere else for that matter). Wouldn’t it? After all, with over a billion monthly users1 and some 350 million photos uploaded to it daily 2, Facebook’s electronic reach is virtually limitless (pardon the pun).

Wrong – says an Illinois Federal court.  In what will be welcome news to on-line merchants the world over, the Northern District of Illinois recently dismissed a privacy lawsuit filed against the social media titan by an Illinois resident for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The plaintiff in Gullen v. Facebook, Inc., 15 C 7681 3 , http://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/illinois/ilndce/1:2015cv07681/314962/37/0.pdf?ts=1453468909 sued under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”), 740 ILCS 14/1 et seq.   The plaintiff claimed Facebook’s “tag suggestion” feature which culls uploaded photos for facial identifiers, invaded plaintiff’s BIPA privacy rights.

Granting Facebook’s motion to dismiss, the Court gives a useful primer on what a plaintiff must allege to establish an arguable basis for personal jurisdiction over a nonresident corporate defendant.

Federal courts sitting in diversity may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only if the forum-state court could do so.  Illinois courts can exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant on any basis sanctioned by the Illinois Constitution or the U.S. Constitution;

– For a court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant, the court looks to whether the defendant has minimum contacts with the forum State and if those contacts create a substantial connection with the forum State;

– In addition, the contacts with the forum must be initiated by the defendant itself and the mere fact that a defendant’s conduct affected a plaintiff who has a connection to the forum isn’t enough for jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant;

– In an intentional tort case, the court looks at whether the defendant (1) engaged in intentional conduct, (2) expressly aimed at the forum state, and (3) had knowledge that the effects of his conduct would be felt in the forum state;

– With intentional torts, the fact that a plaintiff is injured in Illinois can be relevant on the jurisdiction  question but only if the defendant has “reached out and touched” Illinois: if the defendant’s conduct does not connect him with Illinois in a meaningful way, jurisdiction over a non-resident won’t lie in Illinois.

– A website’s interactivity however, is a “poor proxy” for adequate in-state contacts.  So just because a website happens to be accessible to anyone with an Internet connection (basically, every person on the planet) doesn’t open the website operator to personal jurisdiction in every point of the globe where its site can be accessed.4

In arguing that Facebook’s electronic ubiquity subjected it to Illinois jurisdiction (A Federal court sitting in diversity looks at whether the forum state (Illinois) would have jurisdiction over the non-resident defendant)), the plaintiff catalogued the social media Goliath’s contacts with Illinois: (1) Facebook was registered to do business here, (2) it had an Illinois sales and advertising office, and (3) Facebook applied its facial recognition technology to millions of photo users who are Illinois residents.

The court rejected each of these three contacts as sufficient to confer Illinois jurisdiction over Facebook for the plaintiff’s privacy-based claims.  For contacts (1) and (2), the lawsuit didn’t involve either Facebook’s status as an Illinois-registered entity or its Illinois sales and advertising office.  With respect to contact (3) – that Facebook collected biometric information from Illinois residents – the Court found this allegation false.

The Court noted that since Plaintiff alleged that Facebook used the recognition technology in all photos – not just in those uploaded by Illinois users – Facebook’s global use of the technology was not enough to subject Facebook to Illinois court jurisdiction.


Gullen’s fact-pattern is one most of the world can relate to.  It intersects with and implicates popular culture and national (if not global) privacy concerns in the context of an ever-present and seemingly innocuous photo tagging feature.  The case presents a thorough application of “law school” territorial jurisdiction principles to a definitely post-modern factual context.  This case and others like it to come, cement the proposition that wide-spread access to a Website isn’t enough to subject the site operator to personal jurisdiction where it doesn’t specifically focus its on-line activity in a particular state.


1 http://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

2 http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-350-million-photos-each-day-2013-9

3 http://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/illinois/ilndce/1:2015cv07681/314962/37/0.pdf?ts=1453468909

4. See Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693 (7th Cir. 2010), Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115 (2014).

Cab Passenger Fares Aren’t “Wages” Under IL Wage Payment and Collection Act – 7th Circuit

The salient question considered by the Seventh Circuit in Enger v. Chicago Carriage Cab Corp., 2016 WL 106878 (7th Cir. 2016) was whether “wages” under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 ILCS 115/1 et seq. (the “Act”) encompasses “indirect wages” – monies paid an employee by third parties (i.e. as opposed to money paid directly from an employer).

The answer: No, it does not.

The plaintiffs, current and former Chicago cab drivers over a ten-year time frame sued various cab companies alleging Wage Act violations and unjust enrichment.

The plaintiffs alleged the companies violated the Act by misclassifying them as independent contractors instead of employees. The plaintiffs argued that the cab companies requirement that the driver plaintiffs pay daily or weekly shift fees (basically, a lease payment giving the drivers the right to operate the cabs) and other operating expenses, the companies violated the Act.

Affirming the district court’s motion to dismiss, the Seventh Circuit gave a cramped construction to the term wages under the Act examined the content and reach of the Act as applied to claims that

The Act gives employees a cause of action for payment of earned wages. “Wages” is defined by the Act as compensation owed an employee by an employer pursuant to an employment contract.

While the Seventh Circuit agreed with the drivers that there was at least an implied contract between them and the cab companies, those companies did not pay wages to the drivers as the term is defined by the Act.

This was because there was no obligation for the cab company to pay anything to the driver. The cab driver-cab company relationship was a reciprocal one: the driver paid a license fee to the company and then collected fares and tips from passengers.  No money was paid directly from the company to the driver.

The Court found that for the Act to apply to the drivers claims, it would have to expand the statutory definition of wages to include “indirect compensation:” compensation from someone other than the employer. Since there was no published case law on this issue, the Seventh Circuit refused to expand the Act’s definition of wages to include non-employer payments.

For support, the Court noted that Illinois’ Minimum Wage Law specifically defines wages to include gratuities in addition to compensation owed a plaintiff by reason of his employment. Since the legislature could have broadened the Act’s wages definition to include indirect compensation (like tips, etc.) but chose not to, the Court limited wages under the Act to payments directly from an employer to employee.

The Court also rejected the drivers’ argument that they received wages under the Act since drivers are often paid by the cab company when a passenger pays a fare via credit card. In this credit card scenario, the court found that the cab company simply acted as an intermediary that facilitated the credit card transaction. The company did not assume role of wage paying employer just because its credit card processor was used to handle some passenger credit card payments.

The driver’s unjust enrichment claim – that the cab companies were unjustly enriched by the drivers’ shift fees – also fell short.  Since there was an implied contract between the drivers and cab companies, unjust enrichment didn’t apply since an express or implied contract negates an unjust enrichment claim.


This case clarifies that recoverable wages under Illinois’ Wage Act must flow directly from an employer to an employee.  Payments from third-party sources (like cab passengers) aren’t covered by the Wage Act.

Enger also serves as latest in a long line of cases that emphasize that an unjust enrichment can’t co-exist with an express or implied (as was the case here) contract governs the parties’ relationship.


Feelin’ Minnesota? Most Likely (Court Pierces Corporate Veil of Copyright Trolling Firm To Reach Lawyer’s Personal Assets)

After being widely lambasted for its heavy-handed and ethically ambiguous (challenged?) BitTorrent litigation tactics over the past few years, an incarnation of the infamous Prenda law firm was recently hit with a piercing the corporate veil judgment by a Minnesota state court.

In Guava, LLC v. Merkel, 2015 WL 4877851 (Minn. 2015), the plaintiff pornographic film producer, represented by the Alpha, LLC law firm (“Alpha”), filed a civil conspiracy suit and state wiretapping claim against various defendants whom plaintiff claimed illegally downloaded adult films owned by the plaintiff.

Alpha’s lone member is Minnesota attorney and Prenda alum Paul Hansmeier, who has garnered some negative press of his own both for his copyright trolling efforts and his more recent ADA violation suits against small businesses.  In October 2015, the Supreme Court of Minnesota instituted formal disciplinary proceedings against Hansmeier for various lawyer misconduct charges.

The Alpha firm’s litigation strategy in the Guava case followed the familiar script of issuing a subpoena blitz against some 300 internet service providers (ISPs) to learn the identity of the movie downloaders.  Many of the ISP customers fought back with motions to quash the subpoenas.

After assessing monetary sanctions against Alpha for bad faith conduct – trying to extract settlements from the ISP customers with no real intent to litigate – the trial court entered a money judgment against Alpha for the subpoena respondents and John Doe defendants.

Through post-judgment discovery, the subpoena defendants learned that Hansmeier had transferred over $150,000 from Alpha, defunding it in the process.

The judgment creditor defendants then moved to amend the judgment to add Hansmeier individually under a piercing the corporate veil theory. After the trial court granted the motion, Alpha and Hansmeier appealed.

Held: Affirmed


In Minnesota, a district court has jurisdiction to take actions to enforce a judgment when the judgment is uncollectable and where refusing to amend a judgment would be inequitable.

A classic example of an equitable remedy that a court can apply to amend an unsatisfied money judgment is piercing the corporate veil. A Minnesota court will pierce the corporate veil where (1) a judgment debtor is the alter ego of another person or entity and (2) where there is fraud.

The alter ego analysis looks at a medley of factors including, among others, whether the judgment debtor was sufficiently capitalized, whether corporate formalities were followed, payment or nonpayment of dividends, and whether the dominant shareholder siphoned funds from an entity to avoid paying the entity’s debts.

The fraud piercing factor considers whether an individual has used the corporate form to gain an undeserved advantage. The party trying to pierce the corporate veil doesn’t have to show actual (read: intentional) fraud but must instead show the corporate entity operated as a constructive fraud on the judgment creditor.

Here, the defendants established both piercing prongs. The evidence clearly showed Alpha was used to further Hansmeier’s personal purposes, there was a disregard for basic corporate formalities and the firm was insufficiently and deliberately undercapitalized.

The court also found that it would be fundamentally unfair for Hansmeier to escape judgment here; noting that Hansmeier emptied Alpha’s bank accounts after it became clear that defendants were trying to enforce the money judgment against the Alpha firm.


While a Minnesota state court ruling won’t bind other jurisdictions, the case is post-worthy The case lesson is clear: if a court (at least in Minnesota) sees suspicious emptying of corporate assets when it’s about to enter a money judgment, it has equitable authority to modify a judgment so that it binds any individual who is siphoning the corporate assets.

The case is also significant because it breaks from states like Illinois that specify that piercing the corporate veil is not available in post-judgment proceedings. In Illinois and other states, a judgment creditor like the Guava defendants would have to file a separate lawsuit to pierce the corporate veil.  This obviously would entail spending time and money trying to attach assets that likely would be dissipated by case’s end.  The court here avoided what it viewed as an unfair result simply by amending the money judgment to add Hansmeier as a judgment debtor even though he was never a party to the lawsuit.

Implied-in-Law Contracts Versus Express Contracts: “Black Letter” Basics

Taxi Medallion(Taxi Medallion – Hood of Car, 2.6.16 – Grand and Halsted, Chicago, IL)

Tsitiridis v. Mahmoud, 2015 IL App (1st) 141599-U pits a taxi medallion owner against a medallion manager in a breach of contract dispute.  Plaintiff pled both express and implied contract theories against the medallion manager based on an oral, year-to-year contract where the plaintiff licensed the medallions to the defendant (who used them in his fleet of cabs) for a monthly fee.  Under the agreement, the defendant also assumed responsibility for all its drivers’ traffic and parking violations and related fines.

When the defendant failed to pay its drivers’ traffic fines, plaintiff covered them by paying the city of Chicago about $60K.  Plaintiff then sued the defendant for reimbursement.

After the trial court dismissed the complaint on the defendant’s motion, the medallion owner plaintiff appealed.

The First District partially agreed and disagreed with the trial court. In doing so, it highlighted the chief differences between express and implied-in-law contracts and the importance of a plaintiff differentiating between the two theories in its Complaint.

A valid contract in Illinois requires an offer, acceptance and consideration (a reciprocal promise or some exchange of value between the parties).

While the medallion contract involved in this case seemed factually unorthodox since it was a verbal, year-to-year contract, the plaintiff alleged that in the cab business, it was an “industry standard” agreement.  Plaintiff alleged that the agreement was a classic quid pro quo: plaintiff licensed the medallions to the defendant who then used the medallions in its fleet of cabs in exchange for a monthly fee to the plaintiff.

Despite the lack of a written agreement, the court noted that in some cases, “industry standards” can explain facially incomplete contracts and save an agreement that would normally be dismissed by a court as indefinite.

The plaintiff’s complaint allegations that the oral medallion contract was standard in the taxicab industry was enough to allege a colorable breach of express contract claim. As a result, the trial court’s dismissal of the breach of oral contract Complaint count was reversed.

The court did affirm dismissal of the implied contract claims, though.   It voiced the differences between implied-in-law and implied-in-fact contracts.

An implied-in-law contract or quasi-contract arises by implication and does not depend on an actual agreement.   It is based on equitable concerns that no one should be able to unjustly enrich himself at another’s expense.

Implied-in-fact contracts, by contrast, are express contracts.  The court looks to the parties’ conduct (instead of the contract’s language) and whether the conduct is congruent with a mutual meeting of the minds concerning the pled contract terms.  If there is a match between alleged contract terms and the acts of the parties, the court will find an implied-in-fact contract exists.

Illinois law is also clear that an implied-in-law contract cannot co-exist with an express contract claim.  They are mutually exclusive.  While Illinois does allow a plaintiff to plead conflicting claims in the alternative, a plaintiff cannot allege a breach of express contract claim and an implied-in-law contract one in the same complaint.

Since the plaintiff here incorporated the same breach of express contract allegations into his implied-in-law contract count, the two counts were facially conflicting and the implied-in-law count had to be dismissed.


Like quantum meruit and unjust enrichment, Implied-in-law contract can serve as a viable fallback theory if there is some factual defect in a breach of express contract action.

However, while Illinois law allows alternative pleading, plaintiffs should take pains to make sure they don’t incorporate their implied contract facts into their express contract ones. If they do, they risk dismissal.

This case also has value for its clarifying the rule that industry standards can sometimes inform a contract’s meaning and supply the necessary “gap fillers” to sustain an otherwise too indefinite breach of contract complaint count.

“I Just Work Here”: Service on Corporate “Employee” Not The Same As Service On Corporate “Agent” – IL Court

Route 31, LLC, v. Collision Centers of America, 2015 IL App (2d) 150344-U examines the law and facts that determine whether service of process on a corporation complies with Illinois law.

The plaintiff served its lawsuit on the defendant’s office manager and eventually won a default judgment.  About nine months later, the corporation moved to quash service and vacate the default judgment on the basis that service was defective.  The trial court denied the motion and the defendant appealed.

The corporate defendant argued that the court had no personal jurisdiction over it since the plaintiff improperly served the lawsuit. A judgment entered without personal jurisdiction can be challenged at any time.

  • Personal jurisdiction may be established either by service of process in accordance with statutory requirements or by a party’s voluntary submission to the court’s jurisdiction.
  • Strict compliance with the statutes governing the service of process is required before a court will acquire personal jurisdiction over the person served.
  • Where service of process is not obtained in accordance with the requirements of the statute authorizing service of process, it is invalid, no personal jurisdiction is acquired, and any default judgment rendered against a defendant is void.
  • Section 2–204 of the Code provides that a private corporation may be served by leaving a copy of the process with its registered agent or any officer or “agent” of the corporation found anywhere in the state or in any other manner permitted by law. 735 ILCS 5/2–204 (West 2012).
  • Substitute service of a corporation may be made by serving the Secretary of State. 805 ILCS 5/5.25(b)
  • A sheriff’s return of service is prima facie evidence of service, which can be set aside only by clear and satisfactory evidence.
  • However, when a corporation is sued, the sheriff’s return as to the fact of agency is not conclusive. Id.

(¶¶ 13-14)

Employee vs. Agent: “What’s the Difference?”

Employee status and agency are often used interchangeably in common parlance but the terms differ in the service of process context.  An employee is not always an “agent.”   Illinois cases have invalidated service of process on corporations where a plaintiff, in different cases, served a cashier and receptionist with process and neither understood what it was.

But at least one court (Megan v. L.B. Foster Co., 1 Ill.App.3d 1036, 1038 (1971), did find that “service upon an intelligent clerk of a company who acts as a receptionist and who understood the purport of the service of summons” was sufficient service on a corporate employee.

In Collision Centers, the plaintiff and defendant submitted warring affidavits.  The plaintiff’s process server testified that the summons recipient held herself out as the “office manager,” and acknowledged that she was authorized to accept service.  The office manager’s affidavit said just the opposite: she claimed to have no corporate responsibilities or authority to receive legal papers for her employer.

The court noted that under the process server’s affidavit, the office manager was akin to an agent – an “intelligent” company representative who appreciates the importance of the served summons.

Yet the defendant’s office manager swore she was only a garden-variety “employee” who lacked any corporate authority to accept service and lacked a basic understanding of the papers’ meaning.  In fact, the office manager stated in the affidavit that she was badgered into accepting the papers by the plaintiff’s process server.

The widely divergent affidavit testimony meant the court could only decide the service issue after an evidentiary hearing with live testimony.  Since plaintiff has the burden of proving proper corporate service and never requested an evidentiary hearing in the trial court, the trial court erred in denying defendant’s petition to quash service without first conducting a hearing.  As a result, the judgment against the corporation was reversed.


This case highlights the importance of a civil suit plaintiff’s vigilance when serving a corporation.  If service on a registered agent of a corporation (something that is typically public record via a Secretary of State website) isn’t possible, the plaintiff should take pains to serve an officer of the corporation or at least a knowledgeable agent.  Unfortunately, in Illinois at least, this isn’t always possible on the first try since service must usually go through the County Sheriff in the first instance.

No Course of Dealing In Trucking Dispute – Attorneys’ Fees Language in Invoice Not Binding On Transport Co. (IL ND)

C&K Trucking, LLC v. AGL, LLC, 2015 WL 6756282, features a narcotic fact pattern and this legal issue: Can boilerplate “legalese” in an invoice create binding contract rights against the invoice recipient?

Whether the mere mention of this topic is sleep inducing will depend on the person.  But what I can say is that the question is a pertinent one from a commercial litigation standpoint since it continues to crop up pretty regularly in practice.

I’ve represented parties trying to enforce favorable invoice language while at other times, defended against one-sided invoice terms.  The main issue there, like in today’s featured case, is whether there was a meeting of the minds on the disputed invoice language.

The plaintiff transportation broker in C&K Trucking sued to recover damages for unpaid cargo brokerage services. The broker’s damages action was based on invoices that provided it could recover unpaid amounts in addition to interest and attorneys’ fees.

The problem was that the broker didn’t send its invoices until after it performed under a series of oral contracts with the trucking firm defendants.

The contracting chronology went like this: plaintiff broker verbally hired the defendant to transport cargo for the plaintiff’s clients.  Once the defendants delivered the cargo and was paid by the broker’s clients, the broker sent the defendants invoices that contained the disputed fee-shifting terms.

Defendants moved for summary judgment that the invoice attorneys’ fees provision weren’t enforceable since they (defendants) never agreed to fee-shifting at the outset.  The Northern District agreed and granted defendants’ summary judgment motion.  In doing so, the court relied on some fundamental contract formation principles and reiterated the quantum of evidence needed to survive a summary judgment motion.

In Federal court, the summary judgment movant must show the court that a trial is pointless – that there’s no disputed issue of fact. Once the movant meets this burden, the non-moving party must then show that the affidavits, depositions and admissions on file do in fact show there are “material” disputed facts that should be resolved at trial.

A disputed fact is material where it might affect the outcome of the suit. But a metaphysical doubt isn’t enough. If the evidence doesn’t show a true factual dispute, a summary judgment will be granted.

To establish the formation of a valid contract in Illinois, the plaintiff must prove there was an offer, an acceptance and valuable consideration.  The plaintiff must also establish that the contract’s main terms were definite and certain.

Any one-sided attempt to change terms of a contract by sending an invoice with additional terms that were never discussed by the parties will normally fail to create an enforceable contract. 

An exception to this applies where there is a course of dealing between the parties.  A course of dealing is defined as a continuous relationship between parties over time that, based on the parties’ conduct, reflects a mutual understanding of each party’s rights and duties concerning a particular transaction.  A course of dealing under contract law can inform or qualify written contract language.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendants’ years-long pattern of accepting and paying plaintiff’s invoices established a course of dealing and evinced defendant’s implied acceptance of the invoice contents.  The court rejected this argument since there was no evidence that defendants ever paid the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees through the life of the verbal contracts.  The court also pointed to the fact that defendants disputed many of plaintiff’s invoices as additional proof that there was no tacit acknowledgement by defendants that it was responsible for plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees.


The key lesson from the factually unsexy C&K Trucking case is that boilerplate fee-shifting invoice terms sent after the contract is performed generally aren’t enforceable. There must be a meeting of the minds at the contract formation stage to allow fee-shifting.

A course of dealing based on the parties’ past conduct can sometimes serve as a proxy for explicit contract terms or a party’s acceptance of those terms.  However, where the parties’ prior transactions do not clearly show mutual assent to disputed language, the breach of contract plaintiff cannot rely on the course of dealing rule to prove a defendant’s implied acceptance.




Hotel Titan Escapes Multi-Million Dollar Fla. Judgment Where No Joint Venture in Breach of Contract Case

In today’s featured case, the plaintiff construction firm contracted with a vacation resort operator in the Bahamas partly owned by a Marriott hotel subsidiary. When the resort  breached the contract, the plaintiff sued and won a $7.5M default judgment in a Bahamas court. When that judgment proved uncollectable, the plaintiff sued to enforce the judgment in Florida state court against Marriott – arguing it was responsible for the judgment since it was part of a joint venture that owned the resort company.  The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and against Marriott who then appealed.

Reversing the judgment, the Florida appeals court first noted that under Florida law, a joint venture is an association of persons or legal entities to carry out a single enterprise for profit.

In addition to proving the single enterprise for profit, the joint venture plaintiff must demonstrate (i) a community of interest in the performance of the common purpose, (ii) joint control or right to control the venture; (iii) a joint proprietary interest in the subject matter of the venture; (4) the right to share in the profits; and (5) a duty to share in any losses that may be sustained.

All elements must be established. If only one is absent, there’s no joint venture – even if the parties intended to form a joint venture from the outset.

The formation of a corporation almost always signals there is no joint venture. This is because joint ventures generally follow partnership law which follows a different set of rules than do corporations. So, by definition, corporate shareholders cannot be joint venturers by definition.

Otherwise, a plaintiff could “have it both ways” and claim that a given business entity was both a corporation and a joint venture. This would defeat the liability-limiting function of the corporate form.

A hallmark of joint control in a joint venture context is mutual agency: the ability of one joint venturer to bind another concerning the venture’s subject matter.  The reverse is also true: where one party cannot bind the other, there is no joint venture.

Here, none of the alleged joint venturers had legal authority to bind the others within the scope of the joint venture. The plaintiff failed to offer any evidence of joint control over either the subject of the venture or the other venturers’ conduct.

There was also no proof that one joint venture participant could bind the others. Since Marriott was only a minority shareholder in the resort enterprise, the court found it didn’t exercise enough control over the defaulted resort to subject it (Marriott) to liability for the resort’s breach of contract.

The court also ruled in Marriott’s favor on the plaintiff’s fraudulent inducement claim premised on Marriott’s failure to disclose the resort’s precarious economic status in order to  entice the plaintiff to contract with the resort.

Under Florida law, a fraud in the inducement claim predicated on a failure to disclose material information requires a plaintiff to prove a defendant had a duty to disclose information. A duty to disclose can be found (1) where there is a fiduciary duty among parties; or (2) where a party partially discloses certain facts such that he should have to divulge the rest of the related facts known to it.

Here, neither situation applied. Marriott owed no fiduciary duty to the plaintiff and didn’t transmit incomplete information to the plaintiff that could saddle the hotel chain with a duty to disclose.


A big economic victory for Marriott. Clearly the plaintiff was trying to fasten liability to a deep-pocketed defendant several layers removed from the breaching party. The case shows how strictly some courts will scrutinize a joint venture claim. If there is no joint control or mutual agency, there is no joint venture. Period.

The case also solidifies business tort axiom that a fraudulent inducement by silence claim will only prevail if there is a duty to disclose – which almost always requires the finding of a fiduciary relationship. In situations like here, where there is a high-dollar contract between sophisticated commercial entities, it will usually be impossible to prove a fiduciary relationship.

Source: Marriott International, Inc. v. American Bridge Bahamas, Ltd., 2015 WL 8936529


No Formal Motion Required Before Landlord Can Serve Tenant By Posting – IL Court

In residential landlord-tenant practice, serving a summons on an evasive tenant can be a Herculean task.  If a landlord can’t serve the tenant through the Sheriff or a special process server, the landlord’s recourse is to serve by posting.  Section 9-107 (735 ILCS 5/9-107) of the Illinois forcible entry and detainer act – the eviction statute – permits service by posting where a sheriff or process server is unable to serve a tenant and the landlord files an affidavit stating that the tenant cannot  be served through normal channels and the reasons why (i.e. tenant moved, is hiding, etc.).

Once the landlord files the posting affidavit, the Sheriff of the county where the property is located “posts” notice of the eviction suit in three (3) separate locations in the “neighborhood” of the courthouse hearing the case.  The landlord can then get an order of possession of the premises but not a money judgment.

Bayview v. Olshansky, 2015 IL App (1st) 150940-U, serves as a recent example of a landlord serving an eviction case by posting and the interplay between different code of civil procedure sections that address a plaintiff trying to serve an elusive defendant.

The Bayview plaintiff filed an eviction suit and obtained a possession order against the defendant property owner after obtaining a mortgage foreclosure judgment.  The plaintiff ultimately served the defendant by posting under Code Section 9-107 and was granted an order of possession of the premises.  The property owner appealed, arguing the plaintiff’s service by posting was defective.

Affirming the trial court’s order of possession, the appeals court harmonized three separate code sections that, at first glance, all speak to the landlord who can’t personally serve a tenant with process.

The above-mentioned Code Section 9-107 allows for service by posting upon a landlord filing an affidavit that establishes that despite the landlord’s diligence, the tenant cannot be located and served.  There is no requirement that a landlord first file a motion to serve by posting prior to issuing a summons for service by posting.

Code Section 2-203.1 allows for service on a defendant by a “comparable” service method if personal or abode service (serving summons on family member or co-resident who is at least 13 y/o/a) is impractical.

To serve under Section 2-203.1, the plaintiff must file a motion supported by affidavit that catalogs the specific efforts made by the plaintiff to locate the defendant.

Code Sections 2-206 and 2-207 governs service by publication. Publication service, usually employed in mortgage foreclosure cases, differs from posting.  To serve by publication, a plaintiff publishes notice of an action in a newspaper covering the county where the property is located on a weekly basis on three (3) separate occasions.

(¶¶ 32-37); 735 ILCS 5/2-203.1, 2-206, 2-207.

Reconciling these statutes, the court relied on firmly entrenched statutory construction principles.

Where a specific statute and a more general one each relate to the same subject, the specific statute wins.  Code Section 9-107 directly governs eviction suits while Code Sections 2-203.1 and 2-206-207 are more general and broad in scope: the latter sections applying to more than just evictions.

The court also rejected the tenant’s claim that posting was improper since the landlord never got leave of court to do so.  Since Section 9-107 is silent on whether a landlord must first file a motion for leave to serve a tenant by posting, the court found the landlord didn’t need leave of court to serve by posting.

The defendant’s claim that the plaintiff failed to follow Code Section 2-206’s service by publication requirements (publish notice on three occasions in successive weeks in county newspaper) also failed.  Again, service by publication differs from service by posting. While a landlord in the plaintiff’s position can choose between service by publication and service by posting, the plaintiff here clearly opted to serve by posting and so no motion was required.


A good, practical illustration of a court discussion three distinct yet often conflated code sections.  When proceeding under the forcible statute, a landlord plaintiff can opt to serve by posting OR publication.

The only drawback with these service options is that the plaintiff will be limited to an order of possession and cannot recover a money damage judgment unless and until he is able to serve a defendant by personal or abode service.


Stipulation In Earlier Case Subjects LLC Member to Unjust Enrichment and Constructive Trust Judgment in Check Cashing Dispute – IL 1st Dist.

In a densely fact-packed case that contains an exhausting procedural history, the First District recently provided guidance on the chief elements of the equitable unjust enrichment and constructive trust remedies.

National Union v. DiMucci’s (2015 IL App (1st) 122725) back story centers around an anchor commercial tenant’s (Montgomery Ward) bankruptcy filing and its corporate landlord’s allowed claim for about $640K in defaulted lease payments.  In the bankruptcy case, the landlord assigned its approved claim by written stipulation to its lender whom it owed approximately $16M under a defaulted development loan.

The bankruptcy court paid $640K to the landlord who, instead of assigning it to the lender, pocketed the check.  The lender’s insurer then filed a state court action against the landlord’s officer (who deposited the funds in his personal account) to recover the $640K paid to the landlord in the Montgomery Ward bankruptcy.  After the trial court granted summary judgment for the plaintiff on its unjust enrichment and constructive trust counts, the defendant appealed.

Affirming the trial court’s judgment for the plaintiff, the First District first focused on the importance of the stipulation signed by the landlord in the prior bankruptcy case. The court rejected the landlord’s argument that his attorney in the bankruptcy case lacked authority to stipulate that the landlord would assign its $640K claim to the plaintiff’s insured (the lender). 

A stipulation is considered a judicial admission that cannot be contradicted by a party.  But it is only considered a judicial admission in the case in which it’s filed.  In a later case, the earlier stipulation is an evidentiary admission that can be explained away.

The law is also clear that a party is normally bound by his attorney’s entry into a stipulation on the party’s behalf. This holds true even where the attorney makes a mistake or is negligent.  Where an attorney lacks a client’s express authority, a client is still bound by his attorney’s conduct where the client fails to promptly seek relief from the stipulation. To undo a stipulation entered into by its attorney, a party must make a clear showing that the stipulated matter was untrue. Since the landlord failed to meet this elevated burden of invalidating the stipulation, the court held the landlord to the terms of the stipulation and ruled that it should have turned over the $640K to the plaintiff.

Unjust Enrichment and LLC Act

Next, the court examined the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment count. Unjust enrichment requires a plaintiff to show a defendant retained a benefit to plaintiff’s detriment and that the retention of the benefit violates basic principles of fairness. Where an unjust enrichment claim is based on a benefit being conferred on a defendant by an intermediary (here, the bankruptcy agent responsible for paying claims), the plaintiff must show (1) the benefit should have been given to the plaintiff but was mistakenly given to the defendant, (2) the defendant obtained the benefit from the third party via wrongful conduct, or (3) where plaintiff has a better claim to the benefit than does the defendant. (¶ 67)

Scenario (1) – benefit mistakenly given to defendant – clearly applied here. The bankruptcy court agent paid the landlord’s agent by mistake when the payment should have gone to the plaintiff pursuant to the stipulation.

The court also rejected defendant’s claim that he wasn’t liable under the Illinois LLC Act which immunizes LLC members from company obligations.  805 ILCS 180/10-10.  However, since plaintiff sued the defendant in his individual capacity for his own wrongful conduct (depositing a check in his personal account), the LLC Act didn’t protect the defendant from unjust enrichment liability.

Constructive Trust

The First District then affirmed the trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust on the $640K check.  A constructive trust is an equitable remedy applied to correct unjust enrichment. A constructive trust is generally created where there is fraudulent conduct by a defendant, a breach of fiduciary duty or when duress, coercion or mistake is present. While a defendant’s wrongful conduct is usually required for a court to impose a constructive trust, this isn’t always so. The key inquiry is whether it is unfair to allow a party to retain possession of property – regardless of whether the party has possession based on wrongful conduct or by mistake.

Here, the defendant failed to offer any evidence other than his own affidavit to dispute the fact that he wrongfully deposited funds that should have gone to the plaintiff; the court noting that under Supreme Court Rule 191, self-serving and conclusory affidavits aren’t enough to defeat summary judgment. (¶¶ 75-77)


This case offers a useful synopsis of two fairly common equitable remedies – unjust enrichment and the constructive trust device – in a complex fact pattern involving multiple parties and diffuse legal proceedings.

The case makes clear that a party will be bound by his attorney’s conduct in signing a stipulation on the party’s behalf and that if a litigant wishes to nullify unauthorized attorney conduct, he carries a heavy burden of proof.





Joint Ventures, Close Corporations and Summary Judgment Motion Practice – IL Northern District Case Snapshot

The featured case is Apex Medical Research v. Arif (http://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/illinois/ilndce/1:2015cv02458/308072/52/0.pdf?ts=1447939471)

A medical clinical trials firm sued a doctor and his company for breach of contract and some tort claims when the firm learned the doctor was soliciting firm clients in violation of a noncompete signed by him.

In partially granting and denying a flurry of summary judgment motions, the Illinois Northern District highlights the importance of Local Rule 56 statements and responses in summary judgment practice. Substantively, the court provides detailed discussion of the key factors governing whether a business arrangement is a joint venture and what obligations flow from such a finding.

The clinical trials agreement contemplated that plaintiff would locate medical trial opportunities and then provide them to the doctor defendant.  The doctor would then conduct the trials in exchange for a percentage of the revenue generated by them.  The plaintiff sued when the parties’ relationship soured.

Procedurally, the court emphasized the key rules governing Local Rule 56 (“LR 56”) statements and responses in summary judgment practice:

LR 56 is designed to aid the trial court in determining whether a trial is necessary; Its purpose is to identify relevant admissible evidence supporting the material facts.  LR 56 is not a vehicle for factual or legal arguments;

– LR 56 requires the moving party to provide a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue;

– The non-moving party must then file a response to each numbered paragraph of the movant’s statement of facts and if it disagrees with any statement of fact, the non-movant must make specific reference to the affidavits and case record that supports the denial;

– A failure to cite to the record in support of a factual denial may be disregarded by the court;

– The non-movant may also submit its own statement of additional facts that require denial of the summary judgment motion;

– Where a non-movant makes evasive denials or claims insufficient knowledge to answer a moving party’s factual statement, the court will deem the fact admitted.


The court focused its substantive legal analysis on whether the individual defendant owed fiduciary duties to the plaintiff.  Under Illinois law, a joint venturer owes fiduciary duties of loyalty and good faith to his other joint venturer.  So too does a shareholder in a close corporation (a corporation where stock is held in the hands of only a few people or family members) – but only if that shareholder is able to influence corporate policy and management.

The hallmarks of an Illinois joint venture are: (1) an express or implied association of two or more persons to carry out a single enterprise for profit; (2) a manifested intent by the parties to be joint venturers; (3) a community of interest (i.e. joint contribution of property, money, effort, skill or knowledge); and (4) a measure of joint control and management of the enterprise.  (*16).

The most important joint venture element is the joint control (item (4)) aspect.  Here, there were provisions of the parties’ written contract that reflected equal control and management of the clinical trials arrangement but other contract terms reflected the opposite – that the plaintiff could supervise the doctor defendant.  These conflicts in the evidence showed there was a genuine factual dispute on whether the parties jointly controlled and managed the trial venture.

The evidence was also murky as to whether the doctor defendant had enough control over the corporate plaintiff to subject the doctor to fiduciary obligations as a close corporation shareholder.  The conflicting evidence led the court to deny summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claim. (**16-17).


Procedurally, the case presents a thorough summary of the key rules governing summary judgment practice in Illinois Federal courts.  The party opposing summary judgment must explicitly cite to the case record for its denial of a given stated fact to be recognized by the court.

The case also provides useful substantive law discussion of the key factors governing the existence of a joint venture and whether a close corporation’s shareholder owes fiduciary duties to the other stockholders of that corporation.


Rights of First Refusal: Bankruptcy “Infotapes” Titan Wins Michigan Avenue Penthouse Dispute – IL 1st Dist.


In today’s installment of High Class Problems, I feature Peter Francis Geraci, the Chicago bankruptcy lawyer whose pervasive television presence is doubtlessly familiar to weekday afternoon viewers.  Geraci and his wife recently won their real estate dispute with a company controlled by a foreign investor over rights to a 40th floor penthouse (“Penthouse”) in Chicago’s tony Michigan Avenue (“Magnificent Mile”) shopping district.

Reversing the trial court – who sided with the investor plaintiff- the First District appeals court in First 38, LLC v. NM Project Company, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 142680-U, expands on some recurring contract interpretation principles as applied to a high-dollar real estate dispute.

The plaintiff, a company associated with Mexican mining impresario and billionaire German Larrea, held a right of first refusal (“ROFR”) that required the Penthouse seller defendant to notify the plaintiff of any bona fide offer to buy the Penthouse that was accepted by the owner.  The owner was required to provide a copy of the signed offer (with certain identifying information blacked out) to the plaintiff who then had one (1) business day to match the offer.

When the owner sent the offer with the Geracis’ information redacted and failed to provide a copy of the earnest money check (a cool $860K, approx.), the plaintiff sued to block the sale of the Penthouse to the Geracis claiming the owner failed to adhere to the terms of the ROFR.  The Geracis eventually counter-sued for injunctive relief and specific performance and asked the court to require the owner to sell the Penthouse to them.

After a bench trial, the court ruled in plaintiff’s favor and the Geracis appealed.

Reversing, the First District discussed the operative contract law principles that framed the parties’ dispute.

A right of first refusal is a restraint on alienation and is strictly construed against the holder;

– An Illinois court’s primary goal in interpreting a contract is to give effect to the parties’ intent by imputing the plain and ordinary meaning to the contract terms;

– A contract will not be deemed ambiguous just because the parties disagree on its meaning; instead, ambiguity requires words that are reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning;

– When a contract contains an ambiguity, a court may consider evidence of the parties intent (“your honor, this is what we meant….”);

– An “offer” in the context of contract law is a “manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain made in such a way that another person’s assent to that bargain is invited and will conclude it’;

– An offer must be definite as to its material terms such that the parties are reasonably certain as to what the offer entails;

– A court cannot alter, change or modify terms of a contract or add new ones that the parties didn’t agree to and there is a presumption against provisions that could have easily been included in a contract;

A bona fide offer is one where the purchaser can command the funds necessary to accept an offer.
(¶¶ 47-48, 51-52, 63)

Here, the court found the ROFR’s plain text unambiguous.  It provided that upon defendant notifying the plaintiff of an accepted and bona fide offer, the plaintiff’s ROFR obligations were triggered. (Plaintiff had one day to match the accepted offer.)  By its clear terms, the ROFR did not require the owner defendant to divulge the third-party buyer’s identity nor did it require proof of the third-party’s earnest money deposit.

According to the court, had the parties wished to require more offer specifics, they could have easily done so.  (¶ 54).  As a result, the First District reversed the trial court and held that the owner defendant complied with its ROFR notice requirements.  Since plaintiff failed to match the Geracis’ offer for the Penthouse within one business day of notice, it relinquished its rights to match the offer.


For such expensive and unique subject matter, the main legal rules relied on by the court are simple.  The court applies basic contract formation and interpretation rules to decipher the ROFR and determine whether the parties adhered to their respective obligations under it.

From a drafting standpoint, the case cautions sophisticated commercial entities to take pains to spell out key contract terms as specifically as possible to avoid future disputes over what the contract says and means.

Illinois Real Estate Broker Gets Commission Money Judgment Where She Offers Ready, Willing and Able Home Buyer to Owner – IL 2d Dist.

A home seller’s self-styled ‘sarcastic’ emails and change of heart about whether to sell her home wasn’t enough to escape her obligation to pay her real estate broker’s commission, the Illinois Second District recently ruled.

In Clann Dilis, Ltd. v. Kilroy, 2015 IL App (2d) 15-0421-U, an unpublished case, the plaintiff broker and homeowner defendant signed an exclusive listing agreement to sell the defendant’s home that she co-owned with her ex-husband.  The defendant’s divorce case with her ex was pending at the time the parties’ signed the listing agreement.

After some back and forth concerning the sales price, the broker ultimately found a buyer for the home willing to pay what was in the defendant’s price range.  When the defendant rejected the offer, deciding instead to keep the home, the broker sued to recover her contractual commission – 6% of the sale price to the buyer.

After a bench trial, the circuit court entered a money judgment for the plaintiff of about $13K.  The homeowner defendant appealed on the basis that the prospective buyer lacked financial ability to consummate the home purchase.

Held: affirmed

Q: Why?

A: The proposed buyer located by the plaintiff offered $209,000 for the defendant’s home.  This price was within the range previously authorized by the defendant in emails to the broker.  E-mail evidence at trial showed the plaintiff willing to go as low as $199,000 in marketing the property.  The defendant’s husband moved in the divorce case to compel the defendant to accept the offer and the divorce court granted the motion.  Still, the defendant refused to sell; opting instead to buy out her ex-husband’s interest in the property.

Plaintiff then sued the defendant for breach of contract claiming she procured a suitable buyer for the property at a price assented to by the defendant.

Affirming the trial court’s judgment for plaintiff’s 6% commission, the Second District pronounced some key contract law principles that govern a real estate broker’s claim for a commission.

A breach of contract plaintiff must establish (1) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract, (2) performance by the plaintiff, (3) breach of contract by the defendant, and (4) damages resulting from the breach.  Whether a breach has occurred is a question of fact that is left to the trial court’s decision.  A court’s determination that a defendant breached a contract can’t be overturned unless the breach finding is unreasonable, arbitrary or not based on the evidence presented. (¶ 38.)

In the broker commission context, a broker earns her commission where she produces a ready, willing and able buyer.  A buyer is deemed ready, willing and able if he (1) has agreed to buy the property, and (2) has sufficient funds on hand or is able to secure the necessary funds within the time set by the contract.  A buyer lacks sufficient funds if he is depending on third parties to supply the funds and that third party isn’t legally bound to provide the funds to the buyer.

In addition, the sale to the would-be buyer doesn’t have to be consummated for the broker to be entitled to her commission.  As long as the broker introduces a buyer that is able to buy the property on terms specified in a listing agreement, the broker has a right to her commission.  (¶¶ 39, 49-50.)

Here, the trial court found that the buyer located by the plaintiff was a ready, willing and able one.  The court pointed out that the buyer signed a contract to buy the property for $209,000, the buyer had obtained a preapproval letter from a mortgage lender committing to the purchase funds, and the defendant authorized the plaintiff to sell the property for less than $209,000.  Taken together, these factors supported the trial court’s ruling that the broker furnished an acceptable buyer and was entitled to her commission.


This case’s simple fact pattern provides a clear illustration of the procuring cause doctrine: so long as a real estate broker provides a ready, willing and able buyer, she can recover her commission; even if the sale falls through.

The case also showcases the factors a court looks at when determining whether a given real estate buyer is financially capable of consummating a purchase.

Finally, from the evidence lens, the Kilroy case highlights the importance of e-mail admissions from a party and how they can often make or break a litigant’s case at trial.


Trademark Infringement – The Irreparable Harm and Inadequate Remedy at Law Injunction Elements

The Northern District of Illinois recently pronounced the governing standards for injunctive relief in a franchise dispute between rival auto repair shops.

SBA-TLC, LLC v. Merlin Corp., 2015 WL 6955493 (N.D.Ill. 2015) sued its former franchisee for trademark infringement after the franchisee continued using the plaintiff’s signage, logo and design plans after the franchisor declared a default and terminated the franchise.

The court granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction based on the following black-letter basics:

To obtain injunctive relief, the moving party must show (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) the movant is likely to suffer irreparable harm if an injunction isn’t issued, (3) the balance of harms tips in the movant’s favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.

To win a trademark infringement suit, the plaintiff must show (1) a protectable trademark, and (2) a likelihood of confusion as to the origin of the defendant’s product. In the injunction context, the trademark plaintiff merely has to show a “better than negligible chance of winning on the merits.

The plaintiff here introduced evidence that it properly registered its trademarks and that the defendant continued to use them after plaintiff declared a franchise agreement default. This satisfied the likelihood of success prong.

The court next found the plaintiff satisfied the irreparable harm and inadequate remedy at law injunction elements. Irreparable harm means harm that is not fully compensable (or avoidable) by a final judgment in the plaintiff’s favor.  To show an inadequate remedy at law, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that a remedy is entirely worthless.  Instead, the plaintiff needs to show that a money damage award is “seriously deficient.”

Trademark cases especially lend themselves to court findings of irreparable harm and an inadequate remedy at law since it is difficult to monetize the impact trademark infringement has on a given brand. Lost profits and loss of goodwill are factors that signal irreparable harm in trademark disputes. The court further found that since it’s difficult to accurately measure economic damages in trademark cases, an inadequate remedy at law could be presumed.

Finally, the court found that the balance of harms weighed in favor of an injunction. It found the potential harm to plaintiff if an injunction did not issue would be great since the defendant franchisee could continue to use plaintiff’s marks and financially harm the plaintiff. By contrast, harm to the franchisee defendant was relatively minimal since the franchisee could easily be compensated for any lost profits sustained during the period of the injunction.


SBA=TLC provides a succinct summary of governing injunction standards under FRCP 65. The case stands for proposition that the irreparable harm and inadequate remedy at law prongs of injunctive relief are presumed in the trademark infringement context given the intrinsic difficulties in quantifying infringement damages.



Homeowners’ Operation of Home-Based Daycare Business Doesn’t Violate Restrictive Covenant Requiring Residence Use – IL Third Dist.

The plaintiff homeowner’s association in Neufairfield Homeonwers Ass’n v. Wagner, 2015 IL App (3d) 140775, filed suit against two sets of homeowners claiming they violated restrictive covenants in the development’s declaration by operating daycare businesses from their homes.

The association based their suit on a declaration covenant that required all lots to be used for “Single Family Dwellings.”

The declaration allowed an exception for home-based businesses but only if they were operated in conformance with City ordinances and if there were no vehicles with business markings parked overnight in the development.  A further qualification to the home-based business rule prohibited activities that encouraged customers or members of the public to “frequent” the development.

The association sued when several homeowners complained that the daycare businesses resulted in increased vehicular traffic in the development and was a nuisance to the residents.

The association supported their case with an affidavit from the property manager and a homeowner – both of whom testified that the two daycares resulted in multiple non-residents entering and exiting the subdivision on a daily basis and that several residents had similar complaints.

Affirming summary judgment for the homeowner defendants, the appeals court provides a primer on the enforceability of restrictive covenants and the governing contract interpretation principles affecting them. It wrote:

-Restrictive covenants affecting land rights will be enforced according to their (the covenants) plain and unambiguous language;

–  In interpreting a restrictive covenant, the court’s objective is to give effect to the parties’ actual intent when the covenant was made;

– A condominium declaration is strong evidence of a developer’s intent and it will be construed against the developer where the declaration’s text is unclear;

– Undefined words in a declaration are given their “ordinary and commonly understood meanings” and a court will freely use a dictionary as a resource to decipher a word’s ordinary and popular meaning.

(¶¶ 16-20).

Here, the key declaration word was “frequent” – that is, did the defendants’ daycare businesses result in customers or members of the public “frequenting” the subdivision?

The declaration didn’t define the verb “frequent” but the dictionary did as to do something “habitually” or “persistently.”  Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 909 (1981); (¶ 20).

The plaintiff’s supporting affidavit established that, at most, 7 or 8 cars entered and exited the subdivision on a daily basis – supposedly to patronize the daycare businesses.  The court viewed this amount of traffic wasn’t persistent or habitual enough to meet the dictionary definition of “frequent” under the declaration.

As a result, the association’s declaratory judgment suit failed and the court affirmed summary judgment for the property owners.


1/ Courts will construe declarations and restrictive covenants as written and will do so under standard contract interpretation rules (e.g. unambiguous language will be construed under plain language test and without resort to outside evidence).

2/ Where a term isn’t defined, a court can look to dictionary to inform a word’s ordinary and popular meaning.

3/ A court will construe a restrictive covenant in favor of free use of residential property and where a declaration specifically allows home-based businesses, a court will scrutinize association attempts to curtail a property owner’s use of his property.



Real Estate Not Subject To Conversion Claim – IL 2nd Dist.

The Illinois Second District recently reversed a trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust and assessment of punitive damages in a conversion case involving the transfer of real property.

In In re Estate of Yanni, 2015 IL App (2d) 150108, the Public Guardian filed suit on behalf of a disabled property owner (the “Ward”) for conversion and undue influence seeking to recover real estate – the Ward’s home – from the Ward’s son who deeded the home to himself without the Ward’s permission.

The trial court imposed a constructive trust on the property, awarded damages of $150K (the amount the Ward had contributed to the home through the years) and assessed punitive damages against the defendant for wrongful conduct. Defendant appealed.

Reversing, the appeals court held that the trial court should have granted the defendant’s Section 2-615 motion to dismiss since a claim for conversion, by definition, only applies to personal property (i.e. something moveable); not to real estate.

The court first addressed the procedural impact of the defendant answering the complaint after his prior motion to dismiss was denied. Normally, where a party answers a complaint after a court denies his motion to dismiss, he waives any defects in the complaint.

An exception to this rule is where the complaint altogether fails to state a recognized cause of action. If this is the case, the complaint can be attacked at any time and by any means. This is so because “a complaint that fails to state a [recognized] cause of action cannot support a judgment.”

However, this exception allowing complaint attacks at any time doesn’t apply to an incomplete or deficiently pled complaint – such as where a complaint alleges only bare conclusions instead of specific facts in a fraud claim. For a defendant to challenge a complaint after he answers it, the complaint must fail to state a recognized theory of recovery.

Here, the trial court erred because it allowed a judgment for the guardian on a conversion claim where the subject of the action was real property.  In Illinois, there is no recognized cause of action for conversion of real property. A conversion claim only applies to personal property.

Conversion is the wrongful and unauthorized deprivation of personal property from the person entitled to its immediate possession. The conversion plaintiff’s right to possess the property must be “absolute” and “unconditional” and he must make a demand for possession as a precondition to suing for conversion. (¶¶ 20-21)

The court rejected the guardian’s argument that the complaint alleged the defendant’s conversion of funds instead of physical realty.  The court noted that in the complaint, the guardian requested that the home be returned to the Ward’s estate and the Ward be given immediate possession of it.

The court also pointed to the fact that the defendant didn’t receive any funds or sales proceeds from the transfer that could be attached by a conversion claim. All that was alleged was that the defendant deeded the house to himself and his wife without the Ward’s permission. Since there were no liquid funds traceable to the defendant’s conduct, a conversion claim wasn’t a cognizable theory of recovery.


This case provides some useful reminders about the nature of conversion and the proper timing to attack a complaint.

Conversion only applies to personal property. In an action involving real estate – unless there are specific funds that can be tied to a transfer of the property – conversion is not the right theory of recovery.

In hindsight, if in the plaintiff guardian’s shoes, I think I’d pursue a constructive trust based on equitable claims like a declaratory judgment (that the defendant’s deeding the home to himself is invalid), unjust enrichment and a partition action.


LLC Stopped From Selling Member’s Residence In Violation of Prior Charging Order – Utah Federal Court

Q: Can A Court Stop An LLC That Pays the Monthly Mortgage of One of Its Members From Selling that Member’s Home Where A Charging Order Has Issued Against the LLC to Enforce a Money Judgment Against the LLC Member?

A: Yes.

Q2: How So?

A2: By selling the member’s property and paying off the member’s mortgage with the sale proceeds, the LLC is effectively “paying the member” to the exclusion of the plaintiff judgment creditor.

Source: Earthgrains Baking Companies, Inc. v. Sycamore Family Bakery, Inc., et al, USDC Utah 2015 (https://casetext.com/case/earthgrains-baking-cos-v-sycamore-family-bakery-inc-3)

In this case, the plaintiff won a multi-million dollar money judgment against a corporate and individual defendant in a trademark dispute.  The plaintiff then secured a charging order against a LLC of which the individual defendant was a 48% member.  When the LLC failed to respond to the charging order, the plaintiff moved for an order of contempt against the LLC and sought to stop the LLC from selling the defendant’s home.

The court granted the contempt motion.  First, the court found that it had jurisdiction over the LLC.  The LLC argued that Utah lacked jurisdiction over it since the LLC was formed in Nevada.  The LLC claimed that under the “internal affairs” doctrine, the state of the LLC’s formation – Nevada – governs legal matters concerning the LLC.

Disagreeing, the court noted that a LLC’s internal affairs are limited only to “matters peculiar to the relationships among or between the corporation and its current officers, directors, and shareholders.”  The internal affairs doctrine does not apply to claims of third party creditors.  Here, since the plaintiff was a creditor of the LLC’s member, this was not a dispute between LLC and member.  As a result, the internal affairs rule didn’t apply and the Utah court had jurisdiction over the LLC since a LLC member lived in Utah.  (See Cosgrove v. Bartolotta, 150 F.3d 729, 731 (7th Cir. 1998)).

The Charging Order required the LLC to pay any distribution that would normally go to the member directly to the plaintiff until the money judgment was satisfied.  The Charging Order specifically mentions transfers characterized or designated as payment for defendant’s “loans,” among other things.

The LLC was making monthly mortgage payments on the member’s home and listed the home for sale in the amount of $4M.  Plaintiff wanted to prevent the sale since there was a prior $2M mortgage on the home.

In blocking the sale, the court found that if the LLC sold the member’s home and paid off the member’s mortgage lender with the proceeds, this would violate the Charging Order since it would constitute an indirect payment to the member.  The court deemed any payoff of the member’s mortgage a “distribution” (a direct or indirect transfer of money or property from LLC to member) under the Utah’s LLC Act. (Utah Code Ann. § 48-2c-102(5)(a)).

Since the Charging Order provided that any loan payments involving the member were to be paid to the plaintiff until the judgment is satisfied, the court found that to allow the LLC to sell the property and disburse the proceeds to a third party (the lender) would harm the plaintiff in its ability to satisfy the judgment.


An interesting case that discusses the intricacies of charging orders and the thorny questions that arise when trying to figure out where to sue an LLC that has contacts in several states.  The case portrays a court willing to give an expansive interpretation of what constitutes an indirect distribution from an LLC to its member. 

Earthgrains also reflects a court endeavoring to protect a creditor’s judgment rights where an LLC and its member appear to be engaging in misdirection (if not outright deception) in order to elude the creditor.

[A special thanks to attorney and Forbes contributor Jay Adkisson for alerting me to this case (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jayadkisson/)]


LLC That Pays Itself and Insiders to Exclusion of Creditor Plaintiff Violates Fraudulent Transfer Statute – Illinois Court

Applying Delaware corporate law, an Illinois appeals court in A.G. Cullen Construction, Inc. v. Burnham Partners, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 122538, reversed the dismissal of a contractor’s claim against a LLC and its sole member to enforce an out-of-state arbitration award.  In finding for the plaintiff contractor, the court considered some important and recurring questions concerning the level of protection LLCs provide a lone member and the reach of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, 740 ILCS 160/1 et seq. (“UFTA”), as it applies to commercial disputes.

The plaintiff sued  a Delaware LLC and its principal member, an Illinois LLC, to enforce a $450K Pennsylvania arbitration award against the Delaware LLC.  The plaintiff added UFTA and breach of fiduciary duty claims against the Delaware and Illinois LLCs based on pre-arbitration transfers made by the Delaware LLC of over $3M.

After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of the LLC defendants and plaintiff appealed.

Reversing, the appeals court noted that the thrust of the UFTA claim was that the Delaware LLC enriched itself and its constituents when it wound down the company and paid itself and its member (the Illinois LLC) to the exclusion of plaintiff.

The UFTA was enacted to allow a creditor to defeat a debtor’s transfer of assets to which the creditor was entitled.  The UFTA has two separate schemes of liability: (1) actual fraud, a/k/a “fraud in fact” and (2) constructive fraud or “fraud in law” claims.  To prevail on an actual fraud claim, the plaintiff must prove a defendant’s intent to defraud, hinder or delay creditors.

By contrast, a constructive fraud UFTA claim doesn’t require proof of an intent to defraud.  Instead, the court looks to whether a transfer was made by a debtor for less than reasonably equivalent value leaving the debtor unable to pay any of its debts. (¶¶ 26-27); 740 ILCS 160/5(a)(1)(actual fraud), 160/5(a)(2)(constructive fraud).

When determining whether a debtor had an actual intent to defraud a creditor, a court considers up to eleven (11) “badges”of fraud which, in the aggregate, hone in on when a transfer was made, to whom, and what consideration flowed to the debtor in exchange for the transfer.

The court found that the Delaware LLC’s transfers of over $3M before the arbitration hearing had several attributes of actual fraud. Chief among them were that (i) the transfer was to an “insider” (i.e. a corporate officer and his relative), (ii) the Delaware LLC transferred assets without telling the plaintiff knowing that the plaintiff had a claim against it; (iii) the Delaware LLC received no consideration a $400K “management fee” paid to the Illinois LLC (the Delaware LLC’s sole member); and (iv) the Delaware LLC was insolvent after the  transfers.

Aside from reversing the UFTA judgment, the court also found the plaintiff should have won on its piercing the corporate veil and breach of fiduciary duty claims.  On the former, piercing claim, the court held that the evidence of fraudulent transfers by the Delaware LLC to the Illinois LLC presented a strong presumption of unjust circumstances that would merit piercing.  Under Delaware law (Delaware law governed since the defendant was based there), a court will pierce the corporate veil of limited liability where there is fraud or where a subsidiary is an alter ego of its corporate parent.  (¶ 41)

On the fiduciary duty count, the court held that once the Delaware LLC became insolvent, the Illinois LLC’s manager owed a fiduciary duty to creditors like the plaintiff to manage the Delaware LLC’s assets in the best interest of creditors. (¶¶ 45-46)


A pro-creditor case in that it cements proposition that a UFTA plaintiff can prevail where he shows the convergence of several suspicious circumstances or “fraud badges” (i.e., transfer to insider, for little or no consideration, hiding the transfer from the creditor, etc.).  The case illustrates a court closely scrutinizing the timing and content of transfers that resulted in a company have no assets left to pay creditors.

Another important take-away lies in the court’s pronouncement that a corporate officer owes a fiduciary duty to corporate creditors upon the company’s dissolution.

Finally, the case shows the analytical overlap between UFTA claims and piercing claims.  It’s clear here at least, that where a plaintiff can show grounds for UFTA liability based on fraudulent transfers, this will also establish a basis to pierce the corporate veil.


Property Is Subject to Turnover Order Where Buyer Is ‘Continuation’ of Twice-Removed Seller – Successor Liability in IL

The Second District appeals court recently affirmed a trial court’s turnover order based on a finding that a property transfer involving three separate parties was in reality, a single “pre-arranged transfer” involving a “straw purchaser.”

I previously profiled Advocate Financial Group, LLC v. 5434 North Winthrop, 2015 IL App (2d) 150144 (see http://paulporvaznik.com/5485/5485) where the court addressed the “mere continuation” and fraud exceptions to the general rule of no successor liability (a successor corporation isn’t responsible for debts of predecessor) in a creditor’s post- judgment action against an entity twice removed from the judgment debtor.

The plaintiff obtained a breach of contract judgment against the developer defendant (Company 1) who transferred the building twice after the judgment date. The second building transfer was to a third-party (Company 3) who ostensibly had no relation to Company 1. The sale from Company 1 went through another entity – Company 2 – that was unrelated to Company 1.

Plaintiff alleged that Company 1 and Company 3 combined to thwart plaintiff’s collection efforts and sought the turnover of the building so plaintiff could sell it and use the proceeds to pay down the judgment. The trial court granted the turnover motion on the basis that Company 3 was the “continuation” of Company 1 in light of the common personnel between the companies.  The appeals court reversed though.  It found that further evidence was needed on the continuation exception but hinted that the fraud exception might apply instead to wipe out the Company 1-to Company 2- to Company 3 property transfer.

On remand, the trial court found that the fraud exception (successor can be liable for predecessor debts where they fraudulently collude to avoid predecessor’s debts) indeed applied and found the transfer of the building to Company 3 was a sham transfer and again ordered Company 3 to turn the building over to the plaintiff. Company 3 appealed.

Held: affirmed


– A corporation that purchases the assets of another corporation is generally not liable for the debts or liabilities of the transferor corporation. The rule’s purpose is to protect good faith purchasers from unassumed liability and seeks to foster the fluidity of corporate assets;

– The “fraudulent purpose” exception to the rule of no successor liability applies where a transaction is consummated for the fraudulent purpose of escaping liability for the seller’s obligations; 

– The mere continuation exception requires a showing that the successor entity “maintains the same or similar management and ownership, but merely wears different clothes.”  The test is not whether the seller’s business operation continues in the purchaser, but whether the seller’s corporate entity continues in the purchaser. 

– The key continuation question is always identity of ownership: does the “before” company and “after” company have the same officers, directors, and stockholders? 

The factual oddity here concerned Company 2 – the intermediary.  It was unclear whether Company 2 abetted Company 1 in its efforts to shake the plaintiff creditor.  The court affirmed the trial court’s factual finding that Company 2 was a straw purchaser from Company 1. The court focused on the abbreviated time span between the two transfers – Company 2 sold to Company 3 within days of buying the building from Company 1 – in finding that Company 2 was a straw purchaser. The court also pointed to evidence at trial that Company 1 was negotiating the ultimate transfer to Company 3 before the sale to Company 2 was even complete.

Taken together, the court agreed with the trial court that the two transfers (Company 1 to Company 2; Company 2 to Company 3) constituted an integrated, “pre-arranged” attempt to wipe out Company 1’s judgment debt to plaintiff.

Afterwords:  This case illustrates that a court will scrutinize property transfers that utilize middle-men that only hold the property for a short period of times (read: for only a few days).

Where successive property transfers occur within a compressed time window and the ultimate corporate buyer has substantial overlap (in terms of management personnel) with the first corporate seller, a court can void the transaction and deem it as part of a fraudulent effort to evade one of the first seller’s creditors.


Homeowner’s Piercing Claim Against Contractor Fails – Delaware Chancery Court

Since Delaware’s storied Chancery Court is widely regarded as the alpha and omega of corporate law venues, this opinion from Halloween eve of this year captured my attention.

The issues addressed in Doberstein v. G-P Industries, Inc. (http://courts.delaware.gov/opinions/download.aspx?ID=231700) concern the scope of the Chancery Court’s jurisdiction and the quantum of pleading specificity needed to state a piercing the corporate veil claim.

Plaintiff, who lived most of the year in Switzerland, sued the defendants for failing to timely construct renovations to her Delaware home.  All told, the plaintiff paid over $500K to the defendant for only about $300K worth of work (according to the plaintiff’s construction expert).  The plaintiff brought legal (fraud, breach of contract) and equitable claims (unjust enrichment, piercing the corporate veil, negligent misrepresentation (i.e. “equitable fraud”) against the corporate and individual defendants.

The Delaware court struck the equitable claims for failure to state a claim and dismissed the ancillary law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The piercing claim failed because the plaintiff conflated (a) fraudulent conduct by the corporate defendant with (b) abuse of the corporate form by the corporation’s controlling shareholder.  The former is actionable under a fraud theory while the latter scenario gives rise to a piercing the corporate veil of limited liability claim.


A piercing plaintiff must do more than formulaically  allege that a corporation is the alter ego of another or of its main shareholder, though. He must instead plead facts that show a corporate shareholder abused the corporate form in order to defraud an innocent third party.

Here, since plaintiff’s piercing claims only alleged fraud by the defendants in connection with charging for construction work they didn’t do, there were no allegations that the corporate form was abused or that the individual defendant siphoned corporate funds.

The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation count. Also called “equitable fraud”, a negligent misrepresentation claim under Delaware law generally requires the existence of a fiduciary relationship and the abuse of that relationship by one of the parties.

A contractual relationship between two sophisticated parties does not equate to a fiduciary one.  As a result, the court found that the plaintiff’s remedy lies in a breach of contract action at law (as opposed to an action in equity).

Finally, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s unjust   enrichment count since there was an express contract between the parties. An unjust enrichment claim cannot co-exist with a breach of express contract one.

The court then found that it lacked jurisdiction over the remaining law counts for breach of contract, fraud and fraudulent concealment.

The Delaware Chancery Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. It has jurisdiction only in three settings: (1) where a party seeks to invoke an equitable right; (2) where the plaintiff lacks an adequate remedy at law; and (3) where there is a statutory delegation of subject matter jurisdiction. The prototypical equitable claims are those involving fiduciary duties that arise in the context of trusts, estates and corporations.

Where a claim contains both legal and equitable features, the Chancery court does have discretion to resolve the legal portions of the controversy. However, where the equitable claims are dismissed and there is no basis for the court to assert jurisdiction over the remaining legal claims, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the legal claims and they will be dismissed.

Here, once the plaintiff’s equitable claims (unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation) were disposed of, there was no “hook” for the court to retain jurisdiction over the legal claims.


The case solidifies proposition that a plaintiff who seeks to pierce the corporate veil must show fraud in connection with an abuse of the corporate form. If the fraud relates to conduct by the corporation and not to a misuse of the corporate form (i.e. as an alter-ego or instrumentality of the key shareholder), the plaintiff’s remedy is an action at law against the corporation; not the individual corporate agent.

The case also provides a useful summary of what types of claims the Delaware Chancery Court will entertain and when it will handle legal claims that are filed in   conjunction with equitable ones.



Letter of Intent “Drafting Nightmare” Too Illusory For Car Dealership Manager to Enforce – IL 1st Dist.

A complicated Letter of Intent (LOI) involving parties to a planned car sales venture lies at the heart of Dicosola v. Ryan, 2015 IL App(1st) 150007, a case that addresses the level of consideration required to support a written contract in Illinois and when a promise is too illusory to be enforced.

The plaintiff alleged that under the LOI, the defendant was to invest $1M with the plaintiff who would, along with her business partner, use those funds to establish and run the  dealership.  In return for her investment, the defendant would get a 10% share of the business.  The LOI also called for the defendant to establish a 401(k) account for the benefit of the parties. 

Decried as a “drafting nightmare” by the court for its chaotic structure, the LOI was silent on the timing: it didn’t say when the dealership would be up and running, how plaintiff would utilize defendant’s funds or even what the plaintiff’s and her partner’s roles were once the dealership “went live.”

When the defendant pulled out of the deal, the plaintiff sued for breach of contract and specific performance.  The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice and the plaintiff appealed.

Held: Dismissal affirmed


An LOI, like any other contract, must show offer, acceptance, consideration as well as definite and certain terms.

Consideration means a bargained-for exchange of promises or performances and can consist of a promise, an act or a forbearance. Consideration requires one party getting something of value and the other giving something of value.

An “illusory promise” fails the test for consideration.  A promise is illusory where the promisor isn’t really promising to do anything or where his promised performance is optional.

Contractual performance will deemed optional (and illusory) where there is no fixed time or duration for the contemplated services.  Where one parties’ obligations are unclear and can be terminated at his will, this too can signal an illusory promise.

Here, the plaintiff’s promise was illusory since the LOI didn’t specify when she would perform general manager services for the inchoate dealership. Since the LOI lacked a specific start and stop date, it was too indefinite to be enforced.  The lack of clarity on the timing question led the court to conclude there was no consideration to support the plaintiff’s breach of contract claims. (¶¶ 18-20)


1 – Parties should craft their business agreements with diligence and provide enough specifics for it to be enforced. By only providing aspirational language (“I will do this” or “I plan to do this”) with no specific timing requirements, a contracting party, like the plaintiff here, runs the risk of the contract being deemed illusory and one that won’t hold up in court.

2 – Where one party to a contract’s obligations are to occur in the future, the contract language should provide an end date or duration for those services.

UCC Bars Bank Customer Suit Versus Bank For Estranged Husband’s Unauthorized Account Withdrawals

Kaplan v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA (2015 WL 2358240 (N.D.Ill. 2015)), starkly illustrates the challenges a bank customer faces when trying to pin liability on a bank that pays out on a fraudulent transaction involving the customer’s account.  There, the plaintiff bank customer sued JPMorgan Chase for breach of contract and negligence after the plaintiff’s estranged husband was able to siphon about $1M from two of plaintiff’s accounts over an 18-month period starting in 2009.  Plaintiff filed suit in 2014.

The plaintiff claimed the bank breached its contractual obligations and its duty of care by allowing the husband to forge plaintiff’s name on two account signature cards which enabled him to transfer the money from the accounts behind plaintiff’s back.

The Northern District granted summary judgment for the bank and in doing so, provides a good primer on a bank customer’s duties to monitor account statements and the reach of a bank’s liability for unauthorized withdrawals from a customer’s account.

Summary judgment Standards

To defeat summary judgment, a plaintiff must show there is a genuine disputed material fact that can only be resolved after a full trial on the merits

A disputed fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case. A dispute is “genuine” where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.

The moving party has the initial burden of showing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and can make this showing by establishing that the other party has no evidence on an issue that it has the burden of proof.

Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmovant must come forward with specific facts that demonstrate there is a genuine issue for trial and may not rely on conclusions, allegations or a “scintilla” (a trace or spark http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scintilla) of evidence to show that facts exist that will defeat summary judgment.

The Bank-Customer Contractual Relationship

The signature card defines the relationship between plaintiff and the bank defendant. A contract between a bank and its depositor is created by signature cards and a deposit agreement.

The signature card here incorporated Account Rules and Regulations (“Account Rules”) by reference.  These Rules, in turn, required the Plaintiff to notify the bank of any errors or unauthorized items within 30 days of the date on which the error or unauthorized item was made available to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff failed to do so within that 30-day window, the error or item would be enforceable against her.

The unauthorized transfers occurred over an 18 month time span starting in 2009 and ending in 2011. But the plaintiff didn’t notify the bank until nearly a year later in April 2012. As a result, the plaintiff missed the Account Rules’ 30-day time limit.

The UCC – Article 4

Plaintiff’s claims were also too late under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).  Section 4-406 of the UCC provides that where a bank makes a statement available to a customer, the customer must exercise “reasonable promptness” in notifying the bank of any errors. This section also immunizes a bank from liability where it pays in good faith on an unauthorized signature or alteration and the customer doesn’t notify the bank within a reasonable time, “not exceeding 30 days.” 4-406(c)-(d)

The UCC contains a one-year repose period, too. Section 4-406(f) provides that regardless of whether a bank exhibits a lack of care in paying an item, if a customer fails to notify the bank of an unauthorized signature or alteration within one year of a statement being made available, the customer’s claim is barred.

The court held that since the bank filed affidavits stating that plaintiff had free on-line access to her accounts on a monthly basis, the bank “made available” the account information under the UCC. The court held making account information available under 4-406(c) did not require a customer’s physical receipt of the statements.

Turning to whether the bank exhibited good faith in allowing the plaintiff’s husband to withdraw nearly $1M from the accounts, the court noted that good faith is defined by the UCC as “honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing.” UCC 3-103(a)(4). Since the plaintiff came forth with no evidence that the bank knew either that the signature cards were forged by the husband or that he lacked authority to add himself as an account signer, there was no showing that the bank lacked good faith.

UCC Article 3

Another UCC section that barred the plaintiff’s claims was 3-118(g). This section provides a 3 year limitations period for claims involving conversion of an instrument, breach of warranty or to enforce any other UCC rights not covered by another section.

The discovery rule – a judge-made rule that delays the start of a statute of limitations until an injured plaintiff knows or reasonably should know she has been injured – doesn’t apply to claims that fall within 3-118(g). This is because applying a discovery rule to an unauthorized monetary transaction would undermine the UCC’s stated goals of finality, predictability, uniformity and efficiency in commercial transactions.


1/ A bank defendant has an arsenal of statutory defenses under the UCC to actions brought by customers;

2/ The UCC’s goals of fostering fluidity in commercial transactions trumps any opposing claims of individual customers;

3/  Harmed bank customers will at least have a chance to defraying her economic damages by vigilantly reviewing account statements and promptly notifying her bank within 30 days of any statement discrepancies.

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin Article 11.12.15 – Apparent Agency Nails Down Roofing Company


Fired Lawyer Can Recover Pre-Firing Fees Under Quantum Meruit – No Evidentiary Hearing is Required – IL Appeals Court


The estate of a young woman killed in a car crash hired an attorney (Lawyer 1) to file a personal injury suit against the drivers involved in the crash. The estate representatives entered into a 1/3 contingent fee arrangement with the attorney who placed an attorney’s lien on any recovery by the estate.

About 2 years later, the estate fired Lawyer 1 and hired Lawyer 2.  Lawyer 2 eventually facilitated a settlement for the estate in the amount of $75,000 and filed a motion to adjudicate the Lawyer 1’s attorney lien.

Lawyer 1 claimed he was entitled to $25,000 – 1/3 of the settlement amount.   After considering his affidavit and time records, but without an evidentiary hearing, the trial court awarded Lawyer 1 a fraction (about $14K less) of what he sought on a quantum meruit basis (number of hours times hourly rate).

On appeal, Lawyer 1 argued the trial court denied him due process by not holding a formal hearing and erred by not awarding him more fees given the settlement’s proximity in time to his firing.

That’s the procedural backdrop to Dukovac v. Brieser Construction, 2015 IL App (3d) 14038-U, a recent unpublished Third District decision that addressed whether a fee petition requires an evidentiary hearing and the governing standards that guide a court’s analysis when assessing fees of discharged counsel.

The Third District upheld the trial court’s fee award and in doing so, relied on some well-settled fee award principles.

In Illinois, a client has the right to fire an attorney at any time. Once that happens, any contingency fee agreement signed by the client and attorney is no longer enforceable.

After he is discharged, an attorney’s recovery is limited to quantum meruit recovery for any services rendered before termination.

In situations where a case settles immediately after a lawyer is discharged, the lawyer can recover the full contract price.

In determining a reasonable fee under quantum meruit principles, the court considers several factors including (i) the time and labor required, (ii) the attorney’s skill and standing, (iii) the nature of the case, (iv) t he novelty and difficulty of the subject matter, (v) the attorney’s degree of responsibility in managing the case, (vi) the usual and customary charge for the type of work in the community where the lawyer practices, and (vii) the benefits flowing to the client.

A trial court adjudicating a lawyer’s lien can use its knowledge acquired in the discharge of its professional duties along with any evidence presented at the lien adjudication hearing.

Here, the appeals court that the trial court properly considered discharged Lawyer 1’s time records and affidavit in making its quantum meruit award. Even though there was no evidentiary hearing, the time sheets and affidavit gave the trial court enough to support its fee award.


This case provides a good synopsis of the governing rules that apply where an attorney is discharged and the case soon after settles. A trial court has wide discretion in fashioning a fee award and doesn’t have to hold an evidentiary hearing with live witness testimony.

A clear case lesson is that a discharged petitioning attorney should be vigilant in submitting detailed time records so that the court has sufficient evidence to go on in making the fee award.

No Claim-Splitting or Res Judicata Issue Where Bank Refiles Breach of Note Claim After Prior DWP – From the Illinois Archives (Spot the Public Enemy Reference)

BankFinancial, FSB v. Tandon, 2013 IL App (1st) 113152 serves as fairly recent reminder of the possible pitfalls that await a plaintiff who chooses to voluntarily dismiss or non-suit certain complaint counts when other counts of the complaint are involuntarily dismissed – such as by a motion to dismiss filed by a defendant.

The strategic reasons for taking a voluntary dismissal are several (but most of them are not Federal – sorry Chuck D).  A non-suit can be a time-buying device when you get to trial and you realize you need more time to secure witnesses and strengthen your case.  Having some chronological breathing room to further develop your case can pay psychological and financial dividends for both client and lawyer.  But as BankFinancial amply illustrates, the right to voluntarily dismiss a claim and later refile it has limits.

In this breach of contract and mortgage foreclosure case, Plaintiff filed a three-count complaint for mortgage foreclosure, breach of contract (the promissory note) and breach of guaranty in 2003.

In 2006, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the foreclosure count and in 2008 the remaining claims were dismissed for want of prosecution (“DWP”).  A few month later, in January 2009, the plaintiff filed a new lawsuit, repleading its breach of note and breach of guaranty claims.

The trial court dismissed the 2009 case based on res judicata and plaintiff appealed.

Held: reversed.

Q: Why?

A: Res judicata’s central purpose is to preclude parties from contesting matters they had a full and fair opportunity to litigate.  To further this purpose, a final judgment on the merits is required to trigger res judicata’s application.  A “final judgment” is one that terminates the litigation between the parties on the merits.

A voluntary dismissal of a case or a DWP is, by definition, NOT a final judgment since when a case is DWPd, the court doesn’t reach the merits of a case. 

After a DWP, Code Section 13-217 allows party one year to refile an action within one year and the DWP order doesn’t become final until the one year refilling period expires. (¶¶ 29-30).

Illinois also disallows the related doctrine of claim splitting. Claim splitting applies where a plaintiff tries to refile a claim that he previously voluntarily dismissed in an earlier proceeding AFTER another count of the complaint in that prior action was involuntarily dismissed.

So, if in Case No. 1, a plaintiff’s negligence claim is (involuntarily) dismissed on a defendant’s motion and then plaintiff voluntarily non-suits his remaining breach of contract claim, the plaintiff cannot later file the breach of contract claim in a new action.  This will be deemed impermissible claim splitting because it subverts the law’s desire for finality and efficiency.

Applying these rules, the court held that the plaintiff could properly refile its breach of note and guaranty claims. The voluntary dismissal of the foreclosure count wasn’t a final judgment nor was the DWP of the note and guaranty counts.  The DWP order didn’t become final until a year elapsed from the DWP order date.  Since the plaintiff refiled its note and guaranty counts within a year of the DWP, the refiled action was timely.  As a result, the plaintiff’s refiled suit wasn’t barred by res judicata or the claim splitting rule.


This case crystallizes the proposition that if a plaintiff non-suits a complaint count or gets a claim(s) DWPd, he can refile the dismissed claims within one year and avoid any dismissal motion based on res judicata.

If a plaintiff non-suits one claim after a different complaint claim is involuntarily dismissed, he will likely be barred from refilling the non-suited claim in a second action under res judicata and claim-splitting rules.  In such a setting, the plaintiff should either litigate the remaining count(s) (the count(s) that isn’t (aren’t) dismissed) to judgment or ask the court for a finding that he can immediately appeal the order dismissing the involuntarily dismissed claim.

Other References:

Hudson v. City of Chicago, 228 Ill.2d 462 (2008)

Rein v. Noyes & Co., 172 Ill.2d 325 (1996)


Exclusivity Provision in Lease Permits Landlord to Rent to ‘McD’s’ In NJ Shopping Mall (Much to ‘Sbux’s’ Chagrin)

Exclusivity provisions are staples of some commercial leases, particularly in the shopping mall setting.

The purpose of these so-called “exclusives” is to protect a tenant from a competing business renting in the same shopping center and potentially undercutting the tenant’s pricing. The larger the tenant (think “anchor” tenant) in terms of resources, the more leverage it has in insisting on an exclusivity term.

Delco, LLC v. Starbucks (see https://casetext.com/case/delco-llc-v-starbucks-corp) pits a New Jersey commercial landlord suing the coffee giant for a court declaration that the landlord’s renting to McDonald’s in the same shopping center did not violate an exclusive in Starbucks’ lease that prohibited plaintiff from leasing space to any tenant (other than Starbucks) who would sell “coffee, espresso and tea drinks.”  The one qualification to the exclusive was that the landlord could rent to “any tenant [who occupies] twenty thousand contiguous square feet or more…and operating under a single trade name.”

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the landlord could lease 40,000 square feet to McDonald’s (which sells coffee) without violating the Starbucks lease exclusive.

Applying the plain language of the exclusivity term under basic New Jersey contract interpretation rules, the court found that McDonald’s easily qualified as a tenant who is “operating under a single trade name.”  And since the McDonald’s lease encompassed over 20,000 square feet, the McDonald’s lease qualified for the exclusivity exception.


It’s not clear from the short opinion why Starbucks put up such a fight on what seems like an obvious exception to the exclusivity term. So vigorous were Starbucks litigation efforts here, that the plaintiff was awarded over $113K in lawyer fees litigating whether the McDonald’s lease ran afoul of the exclusive term in the Starbucks’ lease.

The appeals court reversed the fee award though since the trial judge didn’t delineate its specific findings that support its fee award. The case will now go back to the NJ trial court for further litigation of the plaintiff-landlord’s attorneys’ fees.

Process Server’s Return of Service Qualifies As Public Records and ‘Regularly Conducted Business Activity’ Hearsay Exceptions – Florida Appeals Court

My experience with the hearsay evidence rules usually involves trying to get a business record like an invoice or spreadsheet into evidence at trial or on summary judgment.  The business records hearsay exception is found at Illinois Evidence Rule 803(6) and mirrors the Federal counterpart.  “Exception” in the context of hearsay evidence means a document is hearsay (an out-of-court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted) and would normally be excluded but still gets in evidence because the document (or other piece of evidence) has an element of reliability that satisfies the court that the document is what it appears to be.

Occasionally though, I’ve found that a working knowledge of some of the more obscure (to me at least) hearsay exceptions can in some cases lead to a victory or at least resurrect a rapidly flagging case.

Davidian v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA, 2015 WL 5827124 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) (http://www.4dca.org/opinions/Oct.%202015/10-7-15/4D14-2431.op.pdf) a recent Florida appeals court decision, examines some hearsay exceptions as they apply to a process server’s sworn return of service and the persons served are challenging service.

Chase Bank filed a foreclosure suit against defendants/appellants (a husband and wife) and filed returns of service signed by Chase’s process server who certified that he served both appellants at the same time on the same date. The appellants moved to quash service of process on the grounds they were never served. The trial court denied the motion leading to this appeal.

The appeals court affirmed.  It held the appellants failed to show by clear and convincing proof that the returns of service were deficient.

In Florida, the burden of proving proper service of process is on the suing party and the return of service is evidence of whether service was validly made.  A return of service is presumed to be valid and the party contesting service must overcome the presumption by clear and convincing evidence.  A return of service is technically hearsay since it’s an out-of-court statement used to show its truth – that service of summons was in fact made on a party.

Two hearsay rule exceptions recognized not only by Florida courts but various state and Federal courts include the public records and the “regularly conducted business activity” exceptions.  Fla. Stat. s. 90.801, 803(6), (8).

Here, the court found the service return admissible under both exceptions.  The return was a public record – presumably because it was filed as part of the case record.  The return also qualified as evidence of regularly conducted business activity since the process server stated in his affidavit that was his regular practice to prepare such an affidavit detailing the date, time and manner of service.

The appeals court also rejected appellants’ argument that the service returns were defeated by their counter-affidavits in which they denied receiving the summons and complaint.  When faced with a service return and a defendant claiming he/she wasn’t served, the court makes a credibility determination after an evidentiary hearing.   Factual determinations are typically not disturbed on appeal.  The court found that the trial court was in a better position to judge the credibility of the witnesses and upheld the motion to quash’s denial.


This case presents application of hearsay exceptions in an unorthodox factual setting.  The court expanded the scope of the public records and regularly-conducted-business-activity exceptions to encompass a process server’s return of service.  This case and others  like it validate process servers’ sworn returns and make it easier for plaintiffs to clear service of process hurdles where a defendant claims to have never been served.




Wage Payment and Collection Act Amendments Allowing for Attorneys’ Fees and 2% Interest – One Applies Retroactively, the Other Doesn’t – IL 1st Dist

Aside from its application of the apparent agency doctrine to a dispute over commissions, Thomas v. Weatherguard Construction Company, 2015 IL App (1st) 142785 also provides an interesting analysis of when attorneys’ fees and statutory interest can be tacked on to a successful Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (“Wage Act”) plaintiff’s suit for unpaid wages against an employer.

The Wage Act was amended in 2011 to allow a winning plaintiff to add to his unpaid damage award (a) attorneys’ fees and costs, plus (b) 2% monthly interest on unpaid amounts. 820 ILCS 115/14(a).

Before this change, a Wage Act plaintiff could still recover fees but he had to do so under the Attorneys Fees in Wage Actions Act, 705 ILCS 225/1.  Since the plaintiff in this case filed suit in 2007 (before the amendment), the question was whether Section 14(a) (the section with the attorneys’ fees provision) applied retroactively.  The defendant argued that the amended Wage Act could not apply retroactively since it fastened two new liabilities – an attorneys’ fees provision and a 2% interest term – on Wage Act defendants.

Generally, procedural changes in a statute do apply retroactively while substantive changes do not.

Deciding whether a statutory amendment is procedural or substantive isn’t always easy though.

‘Procedure is the machinery for carrying on the suit, including pleading, process, evidence and practice, whether in the trial court, or in the processes by which causes are carried to the appellate courts for review, or laying the foundation for such review.’ By contrast, a substantive change in the law establishes, creates or defines rights. (¶ 66)

A procedural statutory amendment will not be applied retroactively if the statute would have a “retroactive impact” – meaning the amended statute would impair rights a party possessed when he acted, increase a party’s liability for past conduct, or impose new duties with respect to transactions already completed.

Here, the amended Section 14(a) of the Wage Act was not a substantive change since it did not create a new attorneys’ fees remedy.  At the time plaintiff filed suit (2007), a Wage Act plaintiff could recover fees under the Attorneys Fees in Wage Actions Act cited above.  In addition, the amended law didn’t have retroactive effect on the defendant.  The amended statute didn’t impair any pre-existing rights of the defendant, increase the defendant’s liability for past conduct or impose new obligations on the defendant.  Again, a prevailing Wage Act plaintiff could recover attorneys’ fees under the prior version of the statute that existed when the lawsuit was filed. (¶¶ 66-74)

The court reached the opposite conclusion concerning the 2% monthly interest provision though.  Where a statutory amendment creates a new liability that didn’t exist under a prior version of a law, the new liability is a substantive change.  Since the 2% monthly interest provision didn’t exist in the earlier version of the Wage Act, its presence in the current statute was a substantive change that could not be applied retroactively.

The end result was that the court remanded the case so that the trial court could assess plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees incurred in his partially successful Wage Act claim.


This is a pro-claimant case as it gives added strength to a Wage Act remedy.  By raising the specter of prevailing plaintiff attorneys’ fees on top of the unpaid wages amount, the amended Wage Act may level the playing field between former employees who might normally lack the resources to fund litigation against deeper-pocketed ex-employers.  By allowing for fees and interest, the Wage Act provides an incentive for aggrieved employees to sue under the statute.


Apparent Agency Binds Roofing Company to Acts of Third-Party Marketing Firm; Liable Under Illinois Wage Act – IL Court

In Thomas v. Weatherguard Construction Company, 2015 IL App (1st) 142785, the First District provides a thorough analysis of Illinois agency law as it applies to breach of contract claims for unpaid commissions. The court also discusses the parameters of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (“Wage Act”) and the universe of damages available under it.

The Plaintiff sued to recover about $50K in commissions from a company that repairs weather-damaged homes for customers signed up by the plaintiff.

The arrangement involved plaintiff soliciting business for the defendant by targeting homeowners who suffered weather damage to their homes. Once the homeowner’s insurer approved the repair work, defendant would do the repairs and get paid by the homeowner’s insurer.  The defendant would then pay plaintiff a 20% commission based on the total repair contract price on all deals originated by the plaintiff.

At trial, the defendant argued that plaintiff wasn’t its employee.  It claimed the plaintiff was employed by a third-party marketing company whom defendant contracted with to solicit repair orders for the defendant.

The trial court entered a money judgment for the plaintiff for less than $10,000 and denied plaintiff’s claims for attorneys’ fees under the Wage Act.  Both sides appealed.

Affirming, the appeals court discussed agency law, the elements of an enforceable oral contract, and recoverable damages under the Wage Act.

Agency Law Analysis

Under the apparent agency rule, a principal (here, the defendant) is bound by the authority it appears to give an agent.   Once a principal creates an appearance of authority, he cannot later deny that authority to an innocent third party who relies on the appearance of authority.

The apparent agency claimant must show (1) the principal acted in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to believe the individual at fault was an employee or agent of the principal; (2) the principal had knowledge of or acquiesced in the agent’s acts; (3) the injured party (here, the plaintiff) acted in reliance on the principal’s conduct.  But, someone dealing with an agent has to exercise reasonable diligence and prudence in determining the reach of an agent’s authority.  (¶¶ 48-49, 51)

Here, there were multiple earmarks of authority flowing from the defendant to the marketing company who hired the plaintiff.  The marketing firm used the defendant’s uniforms, logo, business cards, and shared defendant’s office space and staff.  Viewing these factors holistically, the First District agreed with the trial court that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to assume the marketing firm was affiliated with defendant and was authorized to hire the plaintiff on defendant’s behalf.  (¶ 50)

Breach of Oral Contract

Rejecting the defendant’s claim that the plaintiff’s commission contract was too uncertain, the court found there was an enforceable oral contract even though certain price terms were unclear.  An oral contract’s existence and terms are questions of fact and a trial court’s determination that an oral contract does or doesn’t exist is entitled to deference by the appeals court.  In addition, damages are an essential element of a breach of contract claim the failure to prove damages spells defeat for the breach of contract plaintiff.

The Court agreed with the trial court that plaintiff sufficiently established an oral contract for defendant to pay plaintiff a 20% commission on the net proceeds (not gross) earned by the defendant on a given home repair job. (¶¶ 55-59)

The Wage Act

Part II of this post examines the court’s analysis of whether the Wage Act’s 2011 amendments that provide for attorneys’ fees and interest provisions apply retroactively (plaintiff filed suit in 2007).


Agency law issues come up all the time in my practice.  In the breach of contract setting, the key question usually is whether an individual or entity has actual or apparent authority to act on behalf of a solvent or “deeper pocketed” defendant (usually a corporation or LLC).  Cases like Thomas show how risky it is for defendants to allow unrelated third parties to use a corporate defendant’s trade dress (logo, e.g.), facilities, staff or name on marketing materials.

A clear lesson from the case is that if a company does let an intermediary use the company’s brand and brand trappings, the company should at least have indemnification and hold-harmless agreements in place so the company has some recourse against the middleman if a plaintiff sues the company for the middleman’s conduct.


Fraudulent Concealment In Illinois – Podiatry School Might Be On Hook for Omissions in School Catalog

A podiatry school alum may have a viable fraudulent concealment claim against the school for failing to warn him of evaporating job prospects in the foot doctor field.

That’s the key take-away from the Second District’s recent opinion in Abazari v. Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, 2015 IL App (2d) 140952, a case that considers what lengths an educational institution must go to in disclosing job placement rates and whether it can be held liable for failing to provide accurate data.

The plaintiff alleged he enrolled in the defendant’s podiatry program based on written representations contained in school brochures as well as oral statements made by high-ranking school officials.  Plaintiff claimed that the school failed to mention in its course catalog that there were too many students for available residency openings.  He also alleged that a school admissions officer misrepresented the school’s graduates’ loan default rates.  Plaintiff claimed both statements played a pivotal role in inducing plaintiff to enroll in the school.

Plaintiff’s fraud, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment claims were all dismissed with prejudice by the trial court.  Plaintiff appealed.

Partially reversing the dismissal of the fraudulent concealment claim, the Court stated the governing Illinois fraud rules that attach to student suits against higher education providers. These include:

To claim fraudulent concealment, a plaintiff must show (1) defendant concealed a material fact under circumstances that created a duty to speak, (2) defendant intended to induce a false belief, (3) the plaintiff could not have discovered the truth through reasonable inquiry or inspection, or was prevented from making a reasonable inquiry, (4) plaintiff was justified in relying on defendant’s silence as a representation that a fact did not exist; (5) the concealed information was such that the plaintiff would have acted differently had he been aware of it; and (6) the plaintiff’s reliance resulted in damages.

Like a fraud claim, fraudulent concealment must involve an existing or past state of affairs; projections of future events will not support a fraud claim.  In addition, a party cannot fraudulently conceal something it doesn’t know.

A statement that is partially or “technically” true (a half-truth) can be fraudulent where it omits qualifying information – like the fact that successful completion of the podiatry program was no guarantee of a post-graduate residency. 

While a person may not enter into a transaction “with eyes closed” to available information, a failure to investigate is excused where his inquiries are impeded by someone creating a false sense of security as to a statement’s validity.

A duty to speak arises where the parties are in a fiduciary relationship or where one party occupies a position of superiority or influence over the other.  (¶¶ 27-30, 33, 37)

The Illinois Administrative Code played an important part in the court’s decision.  Under the Code, postsecondary institutions liked the defendant must accurately describe degree programs, tuition, fees, refund policies and “such other material facts concerning the institution and the program or course of instruction as are likely to affect the decision of the student to enroll.”  23 Ill. Adm. Code S. 1030.60(a)(7).

The Court held that since the school voluntarily mentioned how crucial it was for graduates to secure podiatric residency positions.  A shortage of residencies could be material to a prospective student’s enrollment decision.  As a result, the court found that plaintiff could possibly state a fraudulent concealment claim based on the school’s failure to disclose the existing shortfall in available residencies.  The court held that the plaintiff should be able to amend his fraudulent concealment claim to supply additional facts.  (¶¶ 37-38).


The plaintiff’s claim is alive but it’s on life support.  The court did not decide that the plaintiff’s fraud claim had merit.  It instead found that the plaintiff could maybe make out a fraudulent concealment case if he can show the defendant college failed to disclose key jobs or residency data.

Still, this case should give pause not just to podiatric purveyors but to higher educational institutions across the board since it shows a court’s willingness to scrutinize the content of schools’ recruitment materials.  The case’s lesson is that if post-graduate job placement is a material concern (which it doubtlessly is), and if a school is able to keep student’s in the dark about future job prospects, then a student might have grounds for a fraud suit against his alma mater where it hides bleak post-graduate jobs stats from him.

Non-Shareholder Can Be Liable On Alter-Ego and Veil Piercing Theory – IL Bankruptcy Court (2015)

Buckley v. Abuzir, 8 N.E.3d 1166 (1st Dist. 2014) will probably be viewed as a watershed case in piercing the corporate veil litigation because of its exhaustive analysis of when and where a non-shareholder of a corporation can be held liable for corporate debts.  In that case, the court provides an extensive survey of how nearly every jurisdiction in the country has decided the non-shareholder/piercing question.

In re Tolomeo, 2015 WL 5444129 (N.D.Ill. 2015) is a recent Federal bankruptcy decision that considers the related question of whether a creditor can pierce the corporate veil of entities controlled by a non-shareholder debtor so that those entities’ assets become part of the debtors’ bankruptcy estate.

The answer: “yes.”  In their complaint, the creditors sought a determination that three companies owned by the debtor’s wife but controlled by the debtor were the debtors’ alter-egos.  The creditors of the debtor also sought to pierce the companies’ corporate veils so that the companies’ assets would be considered part of the debtor’s bankruptcy estate.  This would have the salutary effect of providing more funds for distribution to the various creditors.  After striking the debtor’s defenses to the complaint, the court granted the creditors motion for judgment on the pleadings.

In granting the creditors’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, the bankruptcy court applied some fundamental piercing principles to the situation where an individual debtor controls several companies even though he is not a nominal shareholder of the companies.

In Illinois, a corporation is a legal entity separate and distinct from its shareholders. However, this separateness will be disregarded where limited liability would defeat a strong equitable claim of a corporate creditor.

A party who seeks to set aside corporate liability protection on an alter-ego basis must make the two-part showing that (1) the company was so controlled and manipulated that it was a mere instrumentality of another entity or individual; and (2) misuse of the corporate form would promote fraud or injustice.

The mere instrumentality factors include (a) inadequate capitalization, (b) a failure to issue stock, (c) failure to observe corporate formalities, (d) nonpayment of dividends, (e) insolvency of the debtor corporation, (f) nonfunctioning officers or directors, (g) lack of corporate records, (h) commingling of funds, (i) diversion of assets from the corporation by or to a shareholder, (j) failure to maintain arm’s length relationships among related entities; and (k) the corporation being a mere façade for the dominant shareholders.

Promotion of injustice (factor (2) above)), in the veil piercing context, requires less than a showing of fraud but something more than the prospect of an unsatisfied judgment.

The court echoed Buckley and found that the corporate veil can be pierced to reach the assets of an individual even where he is not a shareholder, officer, director or employee.

The key question is whether a person exercises “equitable ownership and control” over a corporation to the degree that there is no separation between the corporation and the individual.  According to the court, making shareholder status a prerequisite for piercing liability elevates form over substance

Applying these standards, the court found the circumstances ripe for piercing. The debtor controlled the three entities as he handled the day-to-day operations of the companies. He also freely shifted money between the entities and regularly paid his personal bills from company bank accounts. Finally, the court noted a complete lack of corporate records and an obvious failure to follow rudimentary formalities. Taken together, the court found that the factors weighed in favor of finding that the three companies were the debtor’s alter-egos and supported piercing the three companies’ corporate veils.


1/ A defendant’s status as a corporate shareholder will not dictate whether or not his assets can be reached in an alter-ego or veil piercing setting.

2/ If non-shareholder sufficiently controls a corporate entity, he can be responsible for the corporate debts assuming other piercing factors are present.

3/ Veil piercing can occur absent actual fraud by a controlling shareholder.  The creditor plaintiff must show more than a mere unpaid debt or unsatisfied judgment, though.  Instead, there must be some element of unfairness present for a court to set aside corporate protection and fasten liability to the individual.



Breach of Lease Doesn’t Negate Earlier Exercise of Option to Purchase Property – Illinois Court

A dispute over the purchase price of a veterinary practice boiled over into multi-year litigation after the plaintiff in Ruffolo v. Jordan, 2015 IL App (1st) 140969 leased the defendant’s practice under a multi-year lease with an option to buy.

The plaintiff exercised the purchase option in August 2005 and paid rent for 18 months until finally stopping in March 2007 when it became clear the parties wouldn’t resolve the purchase price issue.

The plaintiff sued for specific performance and the trial court granted summary judgment for her, ordering defendant to sell the property for $525,000 – a figure midway between the parties’ respective appraisals. Defendant appealed.

Affirming summary judgment, the First District examined the interplay between parties rights and duties under a lease that contains an option to purchase the property.

The lease gave plaintiff an option to buy the property at a price to be determined by the parties’ handpicked appraiser. Eventually, the parties’ appraisers selected a third party to appraise the property.  When the defendant refused to sell at the third-party appraiser’s $525,000 figure, plaintiff sued to enforce the purchase option.

In Illinois, the goal of contract interpretation is the intent of the parties and a contract must be interpreted as a whole and ascribed its terms’ plain and ordinary meaning. ¶ 10

A party is entitled to specific performance of a contract for real estate where it establishes that it was ready, willing and able to perform under a contract but was prevented from doing so by the other party.

When a lease contains an option to purchase, it becomes a present contract for the sale of the property. Once the option holder exercise the option, the relationship of landlord-tenant morphs into one of vendor-vendee (seller-buyer).  A contract for the sale of land cannot be enforced until all essential terms are established, including sale price. (¶ 14).

Here, the parties’ landlord-tenant relationship didn’t end until the sale price was mutually agreed upon. As a result, the parties’ had a concurrent landlord-tenant relationship vis a vis the lease and a vendor-vendee one concerning the purchase option.

In finding for the plaintiff, the court rejected seller defendant’s argument that plaintiff breached the lease by not paying rent for several months. Defendant claimed that the plaintiffs’ failure to pay rent from March – October 2007 nullified the purchase option exercised by plaintiffs in August 2005.

The court held that since the plaintiff was in compliance with the lease when she exercised the option (August 2005), she could enforce the purchase contract.  The court explained that once the plaintiffs’ right to purchase the property vested, her corresponding right to buy the property no longer depended on her adhering to the lease terms. The lease became severable (separate) from the purchase option once plaintiff exercised the option. (¶¶ 19-20).

The one consolation for the defendant was that the court found it was entitled to a credit of seven months of unpaid rent towards the purchase price.  This figure will be calculated on remand.


1/ A lease with an option to buy creates two distinct agreements once the option is exercised;

2/ The timely exercise of an option can’t be negated by a later lease breach;

3/ A definite price term in a real estate contract is a necessary precondition for a successful specific performance suit.


Statute of Frauds Defeats Seller’s Countersuit for Damages After Property Sale Falls Through (IL 2d Dist.)


When a deal to sell two industrial buildings collapsed, the would-be buyer sued to recover his $10K earnest money deposit. The seller, thinking the buyer was to blame for the aborted contract, countersued for $300K – the difference between the sale price plaintiff was supposed to pay and for what the seller ultimately sold the buildings to another buyer

Affirming dismissal of the seller’s counterclaim, the appeals court in Pease v. McPike, 2015 IL App (2d) 140881-U examines the contours of the Statute of Frauds (“SOF”) as it applies to commercial real estate transactions.

The plaintiff buyer never signed the contract that the sellers were trying to enforce.  Instead, the buyer signed a cancellation notice that post-dated the failed contract.  The seller argued that the buyer’s signature on the cancellation notice coupled with the allegations in his complaint were enough to satisfy the writing requirement (and that the buyer “signed” the earlier contract) of the SOF.

An Illinois real estate contract cannot be enforced under the SOF unless (1) there is a written memorandum or note on one or more documents; (2) the documents (if there are more than one) collectively contain a description of the property and terms of sale, including price and manner of payment, and (3) the memorandum or note is signed by the party to be charged (here, the plaintiff buyer). 

To satisfy the SOF, the writing itself doesn’t have to be a contract; it just has to be evidence that one (a contract) exists.  The writing doesn’t have to consist of a single page, but the writing signed by the party being sued must contain the essential terms of the contract and, where several writings exist, they must refer to one another or otherwise show a connection between them.  In a case of multiple writings, not all of them have to be signed. However, the writings that are signed must have a connection to the contract.  (¶ 41). 

A written cancellation of a contract can sometimes satisfy the SOF writing requirement and demonstrate to a court that a written contract does in fact exist.  However, the cancellation notice must explicitly refer to the contract and delineate the contract’s key terms. (¶ 48).

Here, there were two contracts – the initial purchase contract (which plaintiff did not sign) and the second “replacement contract” (which plaintiff did sign).  The Court found that the cancellation notice (cancelling the first contract) signed by the plaintiff wasn’t enough to bind him to the first contract (the contract the seller wanted to enforce).  On its face, that contract didn’t mention plaintiff and it wasn’t signed by him.

The court also rejected the seller’s judicial admission argument – that plaintiff’s complaint for the return of his earnest money was a judicial admission that he was party to the first contract.  A judicial admission is binding and conclusive on the party admitting a fact and withdraws that fact from the need to prove it at trial.  (¶ 53).

The court found that while the plaintiff’s complaint wasn’t the most artfully drafted one, it still alleged enough to demonstrate the plaintiff wasn’t a party to the first contract.  At most, plaintiff alleged (“admitted”) that he submitted a contingent offer to buy the buildings and that the offer was ultimately withdrawn.


1/ Multiple writings, when read together, can satisfy SOF writing requirement;

2/ In a case (like here) where there is a patchwork of writings, the writing must explicitly refer to the underlying contract and show a connection to the contract to satisfy the SOF; and

3/ A complaint allegation can constitute a judicial admission but only if it is a definite, categorical statement.  If it’s vague or a hedging allegation, it likely won’t constitute a judicial admission.





Five-Year Limitations Period to Sue Dissolved Corporation Applies to Piercing Corporate Veil Suit – IL Court


Peetom v. Swanson, 334 Ill.App.3d 523 (2nd. Dist. 2002) provides a dated yet instructive recitation of the statute of limitations standards that govern corporate veil piercing actions in Illinois.

The case’s relevant chronology includes: (1) Plaintiff filed a negligence action in 1995 against a corporate defendant for injuries plaintiff suffered in 1993, (2) In May 1997 – the corporate defendant was defaulted; (3) In June 1998, the corporate defendant was involuntarily dissolved by the Illinois Secretary of State for failure to file a report and pay its taxes, (4) In November 1998, a $1M money judgment entered against corporate defendant; and (5) in 2000, plaintiff filed suit against corporate shareholders under a veil piercing theory to enforce the 1998 default judgment.

The trial court dismissed the suit as untimely under the two-year limitations period for personal injury actions and the plaintiff appealed.

Held: Reversed.

Q: Why?

A: The case involves the interplay between three limitations periods in the Code of Civil Procedure.  Section 13-202 sets forth a two-year limitations period for personal injury claims, Section 12.80 of the Business Corporation Act requires a claim against a dissolved corporation (or its shareholders and directors) to be brought within five years after dissolution, and Code Section 12-108 provides for a seven-year period to enforce a judgment.  735 ILCS 5/13-202, 815 ILCS 5/12.80, 735 ILCS 5/12-108.

Since piercing the corporate veil is an equitable remedy and not a cause of action, the limitations period applicable to a piercing claim is governed by the nature of the underlying cause of action.  The question is “which underlying action?”  The 1995 negligence suit or the 2000 action to enforce the money judgment against the corporate shareholders?

The court rejected the shareholder defendants’ argument that the 1995 case was the underlying claim and that the two-year period for personal injury suits applied.  The court found that plaintiff’s 2000 piercing action, which sought to affix liability to the shareholder defendants for the $1M money judgment against the corporation, was the underlying claim for purposes of applying the statute of limitations.  The court found that in the 2000 case, Plaintiff was not alleging negligence against the shareholders but was instead trying to enforce the 1998 judgment assessed against the dissolved corporation.  As a result, Plaintiff would normally have seven years – through November 2005 – to sue on the money judgment.

However, since the corporate defendant was dissolved, the five-year period for suing a dissolved corporation and its shareholders based on pre-dissolution debts applied.  Plaintiff’s piercing suit was still timely though.  The judgment entered in 1998 and plaintiff filed suit in 2000 – well within the five-year period.

The other argument the First District rejected was defendant’s claim that the five-year period to sue a defunct corporation didn’t apply since at the time the corporation was dissolved, the plaintiff’s claim hadn’t yet been reduced to judgment and so plaintiff didn’t have an existing claim prior to the dissolution.

The court disagreed and found that since the corporation had been defaulted in 1997 – prior to the 1998 dissolution – the plaintiff’s claim against the corporation had already been deemed valid even though the plaintiff’s money claim wasn’t mathematically certain until after the company dissolved.  As a consequence, plaintiff had a pre-existing claim against the corporation under the Illinois BCA to trigger application of the five-year limitations period.


An obvious pro-creditor decision.  The case stands for proposition that in a judgment creditor’s action against corporate shareholders to pierce the corporate veil after an earlier, unsatisfied judgment against a corporation, the seven-year limitations period to enforce a judgment applies.  The only reason the five-year period applied here was because of the specific BCA section (815 ILCS 5/12.80) that speaks to suing dissolved corporations.

Still, the plaintiff’s suit was timely as he filed well before the 2003 deadline.  Had the defendant prevailed, the plaintiff’s claim would have been barred if he didn’t sue in 1995 – two years after plaintiff’s underlying personal injury.

Debtor’s (Non-Spousal) Inherited IRA Not Exempt from Civil Judgment – IL First District Rules

Case: In re Marriage of Xenakis, 2015 IL App (1st) 141297

Fact Snapshot: The judgment debtor successfully moved to discharge citations issued to the custodian of an individual retirement account (IRA) he inherited from his deceased mother.  The judgment creditor appealed, arguing that the IRA wasn’t properly exempt from the judgment’s reach.

Result: The First District agreed with the creditor and reversed the trial court’s discharge of the citations.

Memorable Quote: “We find no indication that the Illinois legislature intended to allow a judgment debtor to exempt assets that could be spent freely and frivolously at the debtor’s whim.  The [post-judgment statute] is aimed at protecting retirement assets as opposed to funds that could, conceivably, be used to supplement the lifestyle of a non-retiree debtor.”


The purpose underlying exemptions from judgments is the protection of a debtor’s essential needs.  Setting aside funds for retirement is a court-recognized example of a debtor protecting his essential needs;

– Code Section 12-1006 exempts retirement plan assets from actions to collect a judgment so long as the retirement plan is intended in good faith to qualify as one under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;

– Code Section 12-1006 is silent on the difference between a traditional IRA and an inherited non-spousal IRA, such as the one involved in this case and is the functional equivalent of Section 522 of the Bankruptcy Code which governs debtor exemptions from the bankruptcy estate;

– The US Supreme Court has held that money in an inherited IRA does not qualify as “retirement funds” under Bankruptcy Code Section 522 1

– Funds in a non-spousal inherited IRA, on their face, are not set aside for purposes of retirement;

– Unlike in a traditional IRA, the beneficiary of an inherited IRA can freely withdraw funds at any time with no tax penalty.  In fact, the owner of an inherited IRA must withdraw its funds – either in total within 5 years of the original owner’s death or via minimum annual withdrawals 2;

– Since inherited retirement funds can be withdrawn and spent by the account holder whenever he wants, these funds don’t serve the purpose of providing a debtor with the “basic necessities of life” and so do not implicate the policies that underlie judgment exemptions;

– An inherited IRA has nothing to do with retirement since the holder can spend it at will.  It is more akin to a discretionary bank account;

(¶¶ 18-26)

After canvassing the Federal bankruptcy Code, the Internal Revenue Code, the Illinois judgment exemption statutes and the foundational rationale for the exemptions, the First District squarely held that non-spousal inherited IRAs can be attached (i.e. are not exempt) by judgment creditors.


1/ Exemptions serve salutary purpose of protecting debtor from destitution and abject poverty;

2/ Retirement accounts further that prophylactic purpose;

3/ This policy of protecting debtors has limits though.  If “retirement” funds can be withdrawn and spent at will, the funds won’t be treated as retirement funds and will be within a creditor’s reach.



Clark v. Rameker, 134 S.Ct. 2242 (2014); 11 U.S.C. §§ 522(b), (d).

2  26 U.S.C. § 408(d)(3)(C)(ii)(2012)

Time Of Essence Clauses and Installment Payments: How Late Is Too Late?

In Handler v. Johnson, 2015 WL  4506712 (N.D.Ill. 2015), a bankrupt debtor’s adversary moved to reopen a case after the debtor was late on two installment payments under a settlement agreement.

The creditor, a lawyer who previously represented the debtors in unrelated litigation, sued to recover about $21K in attorneys’ fees owed from the prior representation.  The debtors previously agreed to pay the lawyer $7,500 in monthly installments of $100, payable on the 15th of each month.  When the debtors missed the deadline, the attorney creditor moved to reopen the bankruptcy and enter judgment for the full amount of his claim.

The court denied the motion on the basis that the breach was immaterial.  The creditor appealed.

Affirming, the Northern District provides a useful discussion of contractual time is of the essence clauses and the level of breach required to void a settlement agreement calling for payments over time.

Only a material breach will excuse the non-breaching party’s performance under a contract.  A technical or immaterial breach usually doesn’t merit the wholesale undoing of a contract.   If the contract would not have been made absent the disputed provision, then the breach is considered material.  While a party can recover damages in some situations for only a minor breach, he must prove how those damages flowed specifically from the minor breach.

Timely performance of a contract can be considered a material term, especially if the parties say so in the contract.  But even where parties have a time is of the essence provision and a party technically breaches, a court can still inquire into the circumstances underlying the delay in performance to determine whether the delay equals a material breach.  If timely performance is viewed as a material term, a court can still refuse to enforce the contract when to do so would work an unfairness to breaching party or provide a windfall to the non-breaching one.  (*3).

To determine whether a given contract term is material, the court considers several factors including (i) whether the breach defeats the bargained-for objective of the parties, (ii) whether the non-breaching party suffered disproportionate prejudice; (iii) whether economic inefficiency or waste will result by enforcing the subject contract term; and (iv) whether the non-breaching party would receive an inflated, unfair advantage if the court found a material breach.

Here, the equities pointed in the debtors’ favor.  While they did miss the payment deadline by a few days, the breach was tempered by the fact that one of the debtors was hospitalized around the time the payment was due.  Moreover, the lawyer adversary failed to establish any prejudice by having to wait a few days for payment.  Considered in their totality, the circumstances weighed in favor of finding that the tardy payment was not a material breach.  As a result, the District Court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion to reopen the case.


(1) Only a material breach will justify abandonment of a contract;

(2) Materiality in the breach context is a fact-specific inquiry that focuses on whether a contract would be made if the breached provision was excised;

(3) A court won’t undo an installment payment contract if payment is made a few days late and no prejudice is shown resulting from the late payment.

“Make Sure You Get My Good Side” – Blogger’s Use of Photo is Transformative, Fair Use – Defeats Copyright Suit (11th Cir.)

As someone who eats, drinks and sleeps social media marketing and blogging, this 11th Circuit case naturally captured my attention.

The plaintiff in Katz v. Chevaldina, 2015 WL 5449883 (11th Cir. 2015), Raanan Katz, a Miami businessman and co-owner of the Miami Heat, sued the defendant – one of plaintiff’s former commercial tenants and a full-time blogger – for using his photograph in 25 separate blog posts that derided Katz’s real estate business practices.  The “embarrassing”, “ugly,” and “compromising” photo (according to Katz) was taken by a photographer who originally published it on-line in an Israeli newspaper, the Haaretz.  Defendant later found the photo on Google images and used it as an illustration in her scathing posts.

After taking an assignment of the photo’s copyright from its photographer, Katz sued the defendant for copyright infringement.  The District Court granted summary judgment for the blogger on the basis that her use of the photograph was satirical commentary and a fair use of the image.  Katz appealed.

Held: Affirmed.


Section 107 of the Copyright codifies the fair use doctrine which posits that use of a copyrighted work that furthers “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research” is not an infringement.  17 U.S.C. s. 107.

The four factors a court considers to determine whether fair use applies are (1) the purpose and character of the allegedly infringing use (here, reproducing the photo of plaintiff on defendant’s blog), (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount of the copyrighted work used; and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market or value of the copyrighted work. (*2).

The Court held that three of the four factors (1, 2 and 4) weighed in favor of a fair use and affirmed summary judgment for the defendant.

(1) Purpose and Character

This factor requires the court to consider whether the use serves a nonprofit educational purpose as opposed to a commercial one and the degree to which the infringing use is “transformative” as opposed to a “superseding” use of the copyrighted work.

A use is transformative where it adds something new to a copyrighted work and infuses it with a different character and “new expression, meaning or message.”  A use of a copyrighted work doesn’t have to alter or change the work for the use to be transformative.

The court found that defendant’s use of plaintiff’s photo was both educational and transformative.  It found that the defendant posted the photo as an adjunct to articles in which she sharply criticized plaintiff’s business practices and she made no money from her use of the photo.  Her use of the photo satisfied the “comment” and “criticism” components of the fair use doctrine.

The use of photo was transformative because the defendant used it to make fun of (“satirize”) the plaintiff and impugn his business ethics.  At bottom, the defendant’s use of the photo was a critical statement and therefore transformative under copyright law.

(2) Nature of Copyrighted Work

Copyright law gives more protection to original, creative works than to derivative works or factual compilations.  Courts consider whether a work was previously published and whether the work is creative or factual.  Here, the photo was previously published in an Israeli newspaper and its use in the defendant’s blog was mainly factual.

Noting that “photography is an art form” rife with creative decisions such as tone, lighting, and camera angle, the Katz photo was a simple candid shot taken in a public forum.  It lacked any badges of creativity that could give it strengthened copyright protection.  The court also pointed out there was no evidence the original photographer sought to convey emotion or ideas through the photo.

(3) Amount of Work Used

This fair use factor considers the amount of the copyrighted work used in proportion to the whole.  This factor is less relevant when considering a photograph though since most of the time the entire photo must be used to preserve its meaning.  That was the case here: defendant had to use all of Katz’s photo to preserve its meaning.  Ultimately, because the defendant used the whole photo as an adjunct to her blog posts, the “amount used” factor was a wash or “neutral”.

(4) Effect of the Infringing Use on the Potential Market for the Work

This factor asks what would happen if everyone did what the defendant did and whether that would cause substantial economic harm to the plaintiff by materially impairing his incentive to publish the work.  The court found this fair use factor easily weighed in defendant’s favor.  In fact, the plaintiff profoundly disliked the photo and did not want it published anywhere at any time.  According to the court, because Katz used copyright law to squelch defendant’s criticism of him, there was no potential market for the photo.


Since three of the four fair use elements weighed in favor of the defendant, the court found that her use of the plaintiff’s photo was a fair use and immune  from copyright infringement liability.

This case provides a useful detailed summary of the four fair use factors along with instructive analysis of each factors sub-parts.  The Katz case is especially pertinent to anyone facing a copyright claim predicated on a claimed infringing use of a Google images photograph used to enhance on-line content.






Commercial Landlord’s Suit for Rent Damages Accruing After Possession Order Survives Tenant’s Res Judicata Defense

18th Street Property, LLC v. A-1 Citywide Towing & Recovery, Inc., 2015 IL App (1st) 142444-U examines the res judicata and collateral estoppel doctrines in a commercial lease dispute.

The plaintiff landlord obtained a possession order and judgment in late 2012 on a towing shop lease that expired March 31, 2013. 

About six months after the possession order, the lessor sued to recover rental damages through the lease’s March 2013 end date.  The defendant moved to dismiss on the basis of res judicata and collateral estoppel arguing that the landlord’s damage claim could have and should have been brought in the earlier eviction suit.  The trial court agreed, dismissed the suit and the lessor plaintiff appealed.

Held: Reversed.

Q: Why?

A:  Res judicata (claim preclusion) and collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) seek to foster finality and closure by requiring all claims to be brought in the same proceeding instead of filing scattered claims at different times.

Res judicata applies where there is a final judgment on the merits, the same parties are involved in the first and second case, and the same causes of action are involved in the cases.  

Res judicata bars the (later) litigation of claims that could have brought in an earlier case while collateral estoppel prevents a party from relitigating an issue of law or fact that was actually decided in an earlier case.  (¶¶ 20-21, 30)

In Illinois, a commercial landlord’s claim for past-due rent and for future rent on an abandoned lease are different claims under the res judicata test.

This is because the payment of future rent is not a present tenant obligation and a tenant’s breach of lease usually will not accelerate rent (i.e. require the tenant to immediately pay the remaining payments under the lease) unless the lease has a clear acceleration clause.  Each month of unpaid rent gives rise to fresh claims for purposes of res judicata.

The landlord’s remedy where a tenant breaches a lease is to (a) sue for rents as they become due, (b) sue for several accrued monthly installments in one suit, or (c) sue for the entire amount at the end of the lease.

The commercial lease here gave the landlord a wide range of remedies for the tenant’s breach including acceleration of rental payments. 

The tenant defendant argued that since the lessor failed to try to recover future rent payments in the earlier eviction case, it was barred from doing so in the second lawsuit.  The landlord claimed the opposite: that its claims for damages accruing after the possession order were separate and not barred by res judicata or collateral estoppel.

The court held that res judicata did not bar the lessor’s post-possession order damage suit.  It noted that while the lease contained an optional acceleration clause, it was one of many remedies the landlord had if the tenant breached.  The lease did not require the landlord to accelerate rents upon the tenant’s breach. 

The court also noted that the lease required the landlord to notify the tenant in writing if it (the landlord) was going to terminate the lease.  Since terminating the lease was a prerequisite to acceleration, the Court needed more evidence as to whether the lessor terminated the lease.  Without any termination proof, the trial court should not have dismissed the landlord’s suit.


1/ If a lease does not contain an acceleration clause, a landlord can likely file a damages action after an earlier eviction case without risking a res judicata or collateral estoppel defense.

2/ If a lease contains mandatory acceleration language, the landlord likely must sue for all future damages coming due under the lease or else risk having its damages cut off on the possession order date.



Lone Corporate Officer Can’t Tortiously Interfere with Contract Involving His Company; No Punitives for Breach of Contract – ND IL Says

In Richmond v. Advanced Pain Consultants, P.C., 2015 WL 4971040 (N.D.Ill. 2015), the plaintiff sued the defendants – two companies that operated suburban (Chicago) pain clinics and their doctor principal – claiming several thousand dollars in unpaid computer and accounting services plaintiff performed at the clinics over a several-month period.  The plaintiff brought claims for overtime under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and joined companion state law claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit and tortious interference with contract.  The defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claims arguing preemption and the failure to state a claim, among other things.

In dismissing some of plaintiff’s claims (and sustaining others), the Northern District stressed some vital pleading rules and substantive law principles that apply in Federal court litigation.

Federal Notice Pleading Requirements

Federal Rule 8(a)(2) requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing a pleader is entitled to relief.”  The plaintiff must provide enough factual context to rise above a speculative level so that a defendant has “fair notice” of what the plaintiff’s claim is.  However, “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action” are not enough to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion.

Preemption and Punitive Damages

The defendant first argued the plaintiff’s common law claims (breach of contract, quantum merit, tortious interference) were preempted by the FLSA.  FLSA preempts common law claims that seek to recover overtime or minimum wage compensation.  But if the plaintiff’s claim seeks something other than overtime or minimum wage payments, those claims aren’t preempted.  Here, several of the plaintiff’s claims were for “regular wages” (not overtime) and so were not preempted by FLSA.

The court next struck plaintiff’s punitive damages claim from his breach of contract suit.  Under Illinois law, contract law’s sole purpose is to compensate the nonbreaching party.  It does not seek to punish the breaching party or give an economic windfall to the plaintiff.  This is true even if the breach is intentional.  Punitive damages can only be allowed in the breach of contract setting where the breach is itself an actionable, independent tort (e.g. a civil conspiracy, fraud, etc.).  Since there was no independent tortious conduct over and above the breach of contract – failure to pay plaintiff for his office services – the court struck plaintiff’s punitive damages claims.

Tortious Interference Against A Single-Member Corporation

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s tortious interference claims against the individual defendant – the sole shareholder of the two corporate defendants.

To state a claim for tortious interference with contract, a plaintiff must allege: (i) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract between a plaintiff and another; (ii) defendant’s awareness of the contractual obligation; (iii) defendant’s intentional and unjustified inducement of a breach of contract; (iv) breach of the contract by the third party caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct.

A colorable tortious interference claim requires the involvement of at least three entities: (1)-(2) the parties to the contract and (3) the person inducing the breach.

Here, the individual defendant was the sole officer and manager of the two defendant medical offices who had unchallenged authority to make all hiring and firing decisions for the two entities.  The court noted that the two corporate defendants wouldn’t exist without the individual defendant.  There were no other shareholders or parties who had an interest in the corporate defendants.  Since the individual defendant was the only operator and stakeholder in the corporate defendants, he could not tortuously induce a breach of (effectively) his own contract with the plaintiff.


The case provides some useful damages law reminders including that in a breach of contract suit, punitive damages normally can’t be recovered.  The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach is itself an intentional tort for a punitive claim possibly to lie.

Advanced Pain Consultants also makes clear that an officer of a corporation cannot tortiously interfere with a contract involving that corporation where that officer is the only shareholder of the corporation and has sole responsibility for the corporation’s business.


Illinois Court Examines Trade Secrets Act and Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine In Suit Over Employee Wellness Health Program

The plaintiff workplace wellness program developer sued under the Illinois Trade Secrets Act in Destiny Health, Inc. v. Cigna Corporation, 2015 IL App (1st) 142530, after it accused a prospective business partner pilfered its confidential data.

Affirming summary judgment for the defendants, the First District appeals court asked and answered some important questions that often arise in trade secrets litigation.

The impetus for the suit was the plaintiff’s hoped-for joint venture with Cigna, a global health insurance firm.  After the parties signed a confidentiality agreement, they spent a day together planning their future business partnership.  The plaintiff provided some secret actuarial and marketing data to Cigna to hopefully motivate it to partner with the plaintiff.  Cigna ultimately declined plaintiff’s overtures and instead joined up with IncentOne – one of plaintiff’s competitors.  The plaintiff sued on the theory that Cigna incorporated many of plaintiff’s secret wellness program elements into its current arrangement with IncentOne program.  The trial court granted Cigna’s motion for summary judgment and plaintiff appealed.

Held: Affirmed.


On summary judgment, the “put up or shut up” moment in the lawsuit, the non-moving party must offer more than speculation or conjecture to beat the motion.  He must point to evidence in the record in support of each element of the cause of action.  In deciding a summary judgment motion, the trial court does not decide a question of fact.  Instead, the court decides whether a question of fact exists for trial.  The court does not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in deciding a summary judgment motion.

The Illinois Trade Secrets Act (765 ILCS 1065/1 et seq.) provides dual remedies: injunctive relief and actual (as well as punitive) damages for misappropriation of trade secrets.  To make out a trade secrets violation, a plaintiff must show (1) existence of a trade secret, (2) misappropriation through improper acquisition, disclosure or use, and (3) damage to the trade secrets owner resulting from the misappropriation. (¶ 26)

To show misappropriation, the plaintiff must prove the defendant used the plaintiff’s trade secret.  This can be done by a plaintiff offering direct (e.g., “smoking gun” evidence) or circumstantial (indirect) evidence.  To establish a circumstantial trade secrets case, the plaintiff must show (1) the defendant had access to the trade secret, and (2) the trade secret and the defendant’s competing product share similar features.  (¶ 32)

Another avenue for trade secrets relief is where the plaintiff pursues his claim under the inevitable disclosure doctrine.  Under this theory, the plaintiff claims that because the defendant had such intimate access to plaintiff’s trade secrets, the defendant can’t help but (or “inevitably” will) rely on those trade secrets in its current position.  However, courts have made clear that the mere sharing of exploratory information or “preliminary negotiations” don’t go far enough to show inevitable disclosure.

Here, there was no direct or circumstantial evidence that defendant misappropriated plaintiff’s actuarial or financial data.  While the plaintiff proved that defendant had access to its wellness program components, there were simply too many conceptual and operational differences between plaintiff’s workplace wellness program and the one ultimately developed by Cigna and IncentOne to support a trade secrets violation.  These stark wellness program differences were too glaring for the court to find misappropriation. (¶ 35)

Plaintiff also failed prove misappropriation via inevitable disclosure.  The court held that “[a]bsent some evidence that Cigna [defendant] could not have developed its [own] program without the use of [Plaintiff’s] trade secrets,” defendant’s access to plaintiff’s data alone was not sufficient to demonstrate that defendant’s use of plaintiff’s trade secrets was inevitable.  (¶¶ 40-42).


A viable trade secrets claim requires direct or indirect evidence of use, disclosure or wrongful acquisition of a plaintiff’s trade secrets;

Access to a trade secret alone isn’t enough to satisfy the inevitable disclosure rule.  It must be impossible for a defendant not to use plaintiff’s trade secrets in his competing position for inevitable disclosure to hold weight;

Preliminary negotiations between two businesses contemplating a future business relationship that involve an exchange of sensitive data likely won’t give rise to an inevitable disclosure trade secrets claim where the companies aren’t competitors and where there is no proof of misappropriation.  To hold otherwise, would stifle businesses’ attempts to form economically beneficial partnerships.


Basketball Deity Can Add Additional Plaintiff in Publicity Suit Versus Jewel Food Stores – IL ND (the ‘Kriss Kross Will Make You…Jump’ Post(??)

There’s No Way(!) I’m going to simply pull-and-post just any Google Image of His Airness and hope no one sees it (or, more accurately, takes it seriously enough to engage in some copyright saber-rattling about it).  Not after Michael Jordan is fresh off his nearly $9M Federal jury verdict in a publicity suit against erstwhile Chicago grocer Dominick’s and its parent company.  I didn’t even know he filed a companion suit – this one against Jewel Food Stores – another iconic Midwest grocery brand – pressing similar publicity claims against the chain for using his image without his permission.  Now I do.

In fact, just a couple days before that Friday night Federal jury verdict in the Dominick’s suit, Jordan successfully moved to add his loan-out company1, Jump 23, Inc. as a party plaintiff in his Jewel suit.  The Jewel case, like its Dominick’s case counterpart, stems from Jewel’s use of Jordan’s likeness in an ad congratulating him on his 2009 hoops Hall of Fame induction.

In granting Jordan’s motion to add the Jump 23 entity, the court in Jordan v. Jewel Food Stores, Inc., 2015 WL 4978700 (N.D.Ill. 2015), quite naturally, drilled down to the bedrock principles governing amendments to pleadings in Federal court as expressed in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

In the Federal scheme, Rule 15 controls pleading amendments and freely allows amendments to pleadings “when justice so requires.”  Rule 15(c)(1)(C) governs where an amended claim is time-barred (filed after the statute of limitations expires) and seeks to add a new claim or a new party.  If the party or claim to be added stems from the same transaction as the earlier pleading, the amended pleading will “relate back” to the date of the timely filed claim.

Assuming an amended claim arises out of the same conduct, transaction or occurrence as the earlier (and timely) claim, the (normally) time-barred claim will be deemed timely as long as the party to be brought in by the amendment (1) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending the suit on the merits; and (2) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party’s identity.

While Rule 15 only speaks to bringing in additional defendants, it’s rationale extends to situations where a party seeks to add a new plaintiff.  Delay alone in adding a party (either plaintiff or defendant) usually isn’t enough to deny a motion to amend to add a new party. Instead, the party opposing amendment (here, Jewel) must show prejudice resulting from the joined party.  Prejudice here means something akin to lost evidence, missing witnesses or a compromised defense caused by the delay.

In this case, the court found there was no question that the Jump 23 entity was aligned with Jordan’s interests and its publicity claim was based on the same conduct underlying Jordan’s.  It also found there was no prejudice to Jewel in allowing Jump 23 to be added as co-plaintiff.  The court noted that Jump 23’s addition to the suit didn’t change the facts and issues in the case and didn’t raise the specter of increased liability for Jewel.  In addition, the court stressed that Jewel is entitled to use the written discovery obtained in the Dominick’s case.  As a result, Jewel won’t be exposed to burdensome additional discovery by allowing the addition of Jump 23 as plaintiff.


This case provides a good summary of Rule 15 amendment elements in the less typical setting of a party seeking to add a plaintiff as a party to a lawsuit.  The lesson for defendants is clear: delay alone isn’t severe enough to deny a plaintiff’s attempt to add a party.  The defendant (or person opposing amendment) must show tangible prejudice in the form of lost evidence, missing witnesses or that its ability to defend the action is weakened by the additional parties’ presence in the suit.

Jordan versus Jewel is slated for trial in December 2015.  I’m interested to see how the multi-million dollar Dominick’s verdict will impact pre-trial settlement talks in the Jewel case.  I would think Jordan has some serious bargaining leverage to exact a hefty settlement from Jewel.  More will be revealed.

  1. Loan-out company definition (see http://www.abspayroll.net/payroll101-loan-out-companies.html)


Piercing the Corporate Veil Not a Standalone Cause of Action: It’s A Remedy – IL Court Rules

Gajda v. Steel Solutions Firm, Inc., 2015 IL App (1st) 142219, stands as a recent discussion of the standards governing section 2-619 motions, successor liability and whether piercing the corporate veil is a cause of action or only a remedy for a different underlying legal claim.

The plaintiffs alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees under the Illinois Employee Classification Act (820 ILCS 185/60) by their employer and one of its principals.  The plaintiffs sued under piercing the corporate veil and successor liability theories.  The trial court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims and they appealed.

Reversing the trial court and sustaining the bulk of plaintiffs’ claims, the First District stressed some important recurring procedural and substantive rules in corporate litigation.

Piercing the corporate veil – Standalone cause of action or remedy?

Answer: remedy.  In Illinois, piercing the corporate veil is not a cause of action but is instead a “means of imposing liability in an underlying cause of action.”  In the usual piercing setting, once a party obtains a judgment against a corporation, the party can then “pierce” the corporate veil of liability protection and hold the dominant shareholder(s) responsible for the corporate obligation.  Piercing can also be used to reach the assets of an affiliated or “sister” corporation.

Here, since the plaintiff captioned their first count as one for piercing the corporate veil, the trial court properly dismissed the claim on defendant’s Section 2-615 motion since piercing isn’t a recognized cause of action in Illinois.  (¶¶ 19-24).  However, the court did find that the plaintiff’s factual allegations that the defunct predecessor and its successor were alter-egos of each other, that they commingled one another’s funds and made improper loans to each other were sufficient to state a claim for piercing the corporation veil as a remedy (not a separate cause of action).  (¶ 25).

Successor Liability

The court then applied Illinois’ established successor liability rules to both the defunct and current employers.  A company that purchases another company’s assets normally isn’t responsible for the purchased company’s debt.  Exceptions to this rule against corporate successor non-liability include (1) where there is an express or implied agreement or assumption of liability; (2) where a transaction amounts to a consolidation or merger of the buyer and seller companies; (3) where the buying entity is a “mere continuation” of the selling predecessor entity; and (4) where the transaction is fraudulent in that it is done so that the selling entity can evade liability for its financial obligations. (¶ 26).

Here, the plaintiff’s allegations that showed an overlap in the buying and selling entities’ management and employees as well as the complaint’s assertions that the predecessor and successor companies were commingling funds were sufficient to make out a case of mere continuation successor liability. (¶ 26).


This case cements proposition that piercing isn’t a standalone cause of action – but is instead a remedy where there is an underlying failure to follow corporate formalities.  The case is also useful for its providing some clues as to what facts a plaintiff must allege to state a colorable successor liability claim under Illinois law.

Economic Loss Rule Requires Reversal of $2.7M Damage Verdict In Furniture Maker’s Lawsuit- 7th Circuit

In a case that invokes Hadley v. Baxendale** – the storied British Court of Exchequer case published just three years after Moby-Dick (“Call me ‘Wikipedia’ guy?”) and is a stalwart of all first year Contracts courses across the land – the Seventh Circuit reversed a multi-million dollar judgment for a furniture maker.

The plaintiff in JMB Manufacturing, Inc. v. Child Craft, LLC, sued the defendant furniture manufacturer for failing to pay for about $90,000 worth of wood products it ordered.  The furniture maker in turn countersued for breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation versus the wood supplier and its President alleging that the defective wood products caused the furniture maker to go out of business – resulting in millions of dollars in damages.

The trial court entered a $2.7M money judgment for the furniture maker on its counterclaims after a bench trial.

The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment for the counter-plaintiff based on Indiana’s economic loss rule.  

Indiana follows the economic loss doctrine which posits that “there is no liability in tort for pure economic loss caused unintentionally.”  Pure economic loss means monetary loss that is not accompanied with any property damage (to other property) or personal injury.  The rule is based on the principal that contract law is better suited than tort law to handle economic loss lawsuits.  The economic loss rule prevents a commercial party from recovering losses under a tort theory where the party could have protected itself from those losses by negotiating a contractual warranty or indemnification term.

Recognized exceptions to the economic loss rule in Indiana include claims for negligent misrepresentation, where there is no privity of contract between a plaintiff and defendant and where there is a special or fiduciary relationship between a plaintiff and defendant. 

The court focused on the negligent misrepresentation exception – which is bottomed on the principle that a plaintiff should be protected where it reasonably relies on advice provided by a defendant who is in the business of supplying information. (p. 17).

The furniture maker counter-plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation claim versus the corporate president defendant failed based on the agent of a disclosed principal rule.  Since all statements concerning the moisture content of the wood imputed to the counter-defendant’s president were made in his capacity as an agent of the corporate plaintiff/counter-defendant, the negligent misrepresentation claim failed.

The court also declined to find that there was a special relationship between the parties that took this case outside the scope of the economic loss rule.  Under Indiana law, a garden-variety contractual relationship cannot be bootstrapped into a special relationship just because one side to the agreement has more formal training than the other in the contract’s subject matter.

Lastly, the court declined to find that the corporate officer defendant was in the business of providing information.  Any information supplied to the counter-plaintiff was ancillary to the main purpose of the contract – the supply of wood products.

In the end, the court found that the counter-plaintiff negotiated for protection against defective wood products by inserting a contract term entitling it to $30/hour in labor costs for re-working deficient products.  The court found that the counter-plaintiff’s damages should have been capped at the amount representing man hours expended in reconfiguring the damaged wood times $30/hour – an amount that totaled $11,000. (pp. 9-17, 24).


1/ This case provides a good statement of the economic loss rule as well as its philosophical underpinnings.  It’s clear that where two commercially sophisticated parties are involved, the court will require them to bargain for advantageous contract terms that protect them from defective goods or other contingencies;

2/ Where a corporate officer acts unintentionally (i.e. is negligent only), his actions will not bind his corporate employer under the agent of a disclosed principal rule;

3/ A basic contractual relationship between two merchants won’t qualify as a “special relationship” that will take the contract outside the limits of Indiana’s economic loss rule.


** Hadley v. Baxendale is the seminal breach of contract case that involves consequential damages.  The case stands for the proposition that the non-breaching party’s recoverable damages must be foreseeable (ex: if X fails to deliver widgets to Y and Y loses a $1M account as a result, X normally wouldn’t be responsible for the $1M loss (unless Y made it clear to X that if X breached, Y would lose the account, e.g.) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadley_v_Baxendale]

Michael Keaton Defeats Production Company’s “Merry Gentleman” Breach of Contract Suit – ‘Reliance’ Damages Summary

The ultimate badass introduction. Say this upon meeting someone tough and they’ll never mess with you.”

That’s how no less an authority than Urban Dictionary (who said I wasn’t high-brow?!!) describes “I’m Batman!” – a film-defining movie line that seems to have been catapulted into cultural idiom status. (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=I’m+Batman)

Not sure if Michael Keaton unveiled this quiver-inducing Statement as a breach of contract defense but the Seventh Circuit did recently rule in the actor’s favor in a multi-million dollar contract dispute that’s the genesis of Merry Gentleman, LLC v. George and Leona Productions, Inc. (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1711569.html)

There, the plaintiff production company sued the famed actor and one of his companies for damages, alleging Keaton failed to deliver timely versions or “cuts” of a film, failed to cooperate in the distribution and marketing of the film and was derelict in his film post-production obligations.

The suit concerns 2009’s The Merry Gentleman, a motion picture directed by and acted in by Keaton that was a box office bust but was lauded by some critics, including the late Roger Ebert.  The plaintiff claimed Keaton breached his director duties at the movie’s pre-production, distribution and post-production phases and sought a cool $5.5M in damages – the amount plaintiff claimed it spent producing and marketing the film.  Keaton won summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff couldn’t prove a causal link between Keaton’s’ breach and the plaintiff’s claimed damages.  Plaintiff appealed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed and in doing so, espoused some key contract damages guideposts.

The two entrenched contract damage schemes are expectation damages and the more remote reliance damages.  Expectation damages apply where a party seeks the “benefit of his bargain”; what he would have received had the breaching party performed.  Reliance damages, by contrast, involve a plaintiff getting reimbursed for loss caused by his reliance on the contract.

Classic reliance damages include preparatory costs: those expenses incurred by a plaintiff in preparing for performance of a contract minus any loss he would have suffered had the contract been performed.  Restatement (Second) of Contracts, § 349.

Reliance damages are designed to compensate a plaintiff who is unable to demonstrate expectation damages.  Reliance damages involve a burden-shifting analysis where a plaintiff must first prove his expense outlay in preparing for performance.  The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove what damages the plaintiff would have sustained if the contract was performed.

While reliance damages present a lower proof hurdle than do expectation damages, the breach of contract plaintiff must still produce evidence that the claimed losses were both caused by the breach and foreseeable.

Typically, reliance damages apply where one party to a contract has walked away without performing.  The plaintiff then recovers the expenses it incurred in its own preparation for performance.  Here, though, the court emphasized, Keaton did perform: he made and acted in the movie.  He also presented Merry Gentleman at the vaunted Sundance Film Festival.

The court said that if Keaton had failed to act in or direct the movie, then maybe the plaintiff could have recovered its reliance expenses.  However, since Keaton substantially performed his contractual obligations (acting and directing), plaintiff failed to prove how the actor’s claimed breaches caused over $5M in damages.  To allow plaintiff’s damages in this case meant that Keaton’s performance as director and actor was completely worthless – that plaintiff lost its entire multi-million dollar investment in the film based on Keaton’s breach.  The court refused to find that the actor’s services entirely lacked value.

Based on the plaintiff’s failure to establish proximate cause (that Keaton’s breach resulted in $5.5M in damages), the Seventh Circuit upheld summary judgment for defendants.


This case provides a good summary of expectation and reliance contract law damages including when one damage scheme applies versus the other.

Merry Gentleman also illustrates in sharp relief how difficult it is for a plaintiff to recover reliance damages where the defendant substantially performs a contract.  This is especially so in a case like this where the claimed breach is subjective – involving the quality of performance – rather than a more readily measurable breach like a complete failure to perform.

Loss of Earning Capacity and The Self-Employed Plaintiff: What Damages Are Recoverable (IL 4th Dist. Case Note)

The plaintiff in Keiser-Long v. Owens, 2015 IL App (4th) 140612, a self-employed cattle buyer, sued for injuries she suffered in a car accident with the defendant.  The defendant admitted negligence and the parties went to trial on damages.

The defendant successfully moved for a directed verdict on plaintiff’s attempt to recover for lost earning capacity at trial and the Plaintiff appealed.

Reversing, the Fourth District appeals court expanded on the potential damages a personal injury claimant can recover where the plaintiff is self-employed and doesn’t draw a formal salary from the business she operates.

Illinois allows a plaintiff in a negligence suit to recover all damages that naturally flow from the commission of a tort.  Impaired earning capacity is a proper element of damages in a personal injury suit.  However, recovery is limited to loss that is reasonably certain to occur.  Lost earning capacity damages are measured by the difference between (a) the amount a plaintiff was capable of earning before her injury; and (b) the amount she is able to earn post-accident.

Lost earning capacity damages focus on an injured person’s ability to earn money instead of what she actually earned before an injury.  That said, a plaintiff pre- and post-accident earnings are relevant to a plaintiff’s damages computation.  ¶ 37.

Where a plaintiff is self-employed, a court can consider the plaintiff’s company’s diminution of profits as evidence of a plaintiff’s monetary damages where the plaintiff’s services are the dominant factor in producing profits.  By contrast, where a self-employed plaintiff’s involvement is passive and she relies on the work of others to make the company profitable, a profits reduction is not a proper damage element in a personal injury action.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for directed verdict since the plaintiff failed to present evidence that she lost income in the form of a salary or bonus from her cattle-buying business.

The appeals court reversed.  It noted that the plaintiff was solely responsible for her company’s profits and was the only one who travelled around the State visiting various cattle auctions and meeting with cattle sellers.  Plaintiff also offered expert testimony that she missed out on the chance to earn some $200,000/year in the years following the accident and that any company profits were labeled “retained earnings” and treated as the plaintiff’s personal retirement plan  ¶¶ 41-43.

The court held that since the plaintiff was the only one whose efforts dictated whether her cattle buying business was profitable or not, her business’s post-accident balance sheet was relevant to her recoverable damages.

The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that since plaintiff’s company was a C corporation (and not an S corp.1), profits and losses did not flow through to the plaintiff, the court should not have considered lost business income as an element of plaintiff’s damages.  The court found that any tax differences between C and S corporations were irrelevant since plaintiff was the cattle company for all intents and purposes.  As a result, any loss suffered by the company was tantamount to monetary loss suffered by the plaintiff.  ¶¶ 45-46.

The court’s final reason for reversing the trial court was a policy one.  Since the plaintiff’s corporation couldn’t sue the defendant, there was no potential for double recovery.  In addition, if the court prevented the plaintiff from recovering just because she didn’t earn a formal salary, this would operate as an unfair windfall for the defendant.  The end result is now the parties must have a retrial on the issue of plaintiff’s lost earning capacity.  ¶¶ 46-47.


Owens provides a useful synopsis of when impaired earning capacity can be recovered in a personal injury suit.  In the context of a self-employed plaintiff, a plaintiff’s failure to draw a salary per se will not foreclose her from recovering damages; especially where the plaintiff – and not someone working for her – is the one mainly responsible for company profits.  In cases where the plaintiff is self-employed and is singularly responsible for a company’s profits, a loss in business income can be imputed to the defendant and awarded to the business-owner plaintiff.


A C corporation is taxed at both the corporate level and at the shareholder level.  By contrast, an S corporation is not taxed at the corporate level; it’s only taxed at the shareholder individually. (This is colloquially termed “flow-through taxation.”)

Statute of Limitations and Installment Contracts: What is the Date of Breach and When Does the Limitations Period Start to Run – An IL Case Note

The statute of limitations defense and the equitable doctrine of laches are firmly-entrenched legal devices aimed at fostering finality in litigation.  The limitations and laches defenses both look to the length of time a plaintiff took to file suit and strive to balance a plaintiff’s right to have his claim heard on the merits with a defendant’s competing right to timely defend a lawsuit.

The inherent tension between the goals advanced by the limitations and laches defenses and the legal principle that everyone should have his or her day in court comes into sharp relief in cases involving multi-year contracts that are to be performed over time like a contract payable in annual installments.

Akhtert v. D’avis, 2013 IL App(1st) 113556-U, serves as a recent example of how difficult it can be to apply the statute of limitations and laches defenses where an oral contract doesn’t provide a clear end date and where it calls for yearly installment payments.

The oral agreement there provided that the defendant would use plaintiff’s medical facility to treat defendant’s patients in exchange for paying plaintiff between 40-50% of defendant’s gross income.  The defendant made monthly payments for about two years (from 2002-2004) and stopped.

The plaintiff didn’t sue until nearly seven years later (in 2011) and sought several years’ worth of payments it claimed it was owed by the defendant.  The defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s breach of contract claim on statute of limitations grounds and sought dismissal of plaintiff’s accounting action based on laches.  The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s claims as untimely and plaintiff appealed.

Held: Reversed in part.

Q: Why?

A: The court first held that the plaintiff’s breach of contract was timely as to all payments due within five years of the complaint’s 2011 filing date.

The statute of limitations for oral contracts in Illinois is five years, measured from the date where a creditor can legally demand payment from a debtor. 735 ILCS 13-205, (¶14).  Where a money obligation is payable in installments, the limitations period begins to run against each installment on the date the installment becomes due.  Each installment carries its own limitations period.

So, if you have a 2000 oral contract calling for annual payments starting in 2001 and wait until August 31, 2015 to sue, the suit will still be timely as to payments coming due within five years of the filing date (e.g. for all payments due on or after August 31, 2010).

Here, the court found the plaintiff’s suit was timely as to payments coming due on or after March 8, 2006 – five years preceding the 2011 complaint filing date.  Any payments due before March 8, 2006 were time-barred.

Next, the court addressed the defendant’s laches argument – asserted as a defense to plaintiff’s equitable accounting claim.  Laches is a “neglect or omission to assert a right, taken in conjunction with a lapse of time of more or less duration, and other circumstances causing prejudice to an adverse party” and applies where a plaintiff is seeking equitable (as opposed to legal or monetary relief). (¶ 25).

Laches applies where (1) a plaintiff files suit, (2) the plaintiff delays in filing the suit despite having notice of the existence of his claim, (3) the defendant lacks knowledge or notice of the existence of plaintiff’s claim, and (4) injury or prejudice resulting to the defendant by the plaintiff’s delay in filing suit.  Where the period of delay in bringing suit exceeds the applicable limitations period (here – the five-year period for breach of oral contracts), that delay will automatically constitutes laches.

The burden of showing laches is squarely on the defendant.  The mere lapse of time (between plaintiff’s knowledge of facts giving rise to a claim and plaintiff’s filing suit) isn’t enough.  The defendant must also show prejudice: that it is unfair to make him defend plaintiff’s delayed suit.

Here, the defendant couldn’t establish any unfairness in having to defend against plaintiff’s claims so it’s laches claim failed as to payments due within five years of the complaint filing date.


Contracts payable in installments provide a separate limitations period for each breach;

An oral installment contract claim will be timely as to any payments pre-dating complaint date by five years;

Laches requires more than passage of time/delay between when a plaintiff is first armed with facts giving him a claim and when he actually files suit.  A defendant must also show prejudice – such as inability to track down witnesses and documents – in his ability to mount a defense based on the plaintiff’s lag time in bringing a claim to state a winning laches defense.



Shufflin’ Crew’s Right of Publicity Claim Not Pre-Empted by Copyright Law – IL Northern District Rules

Dent v. Renaissance Marketing Corp., 2015 WL 3484464 (N.D.Ill. 2015) involves a royalty dispute over the 1985 “Super Bowl Shuffle” – a storied (locally, at least) song and video performed by several Chicago Bears football players – the Shufflin’ Crew – to commemorate the Bears’ Super Bowl thrashing of the New England Patriots that year.

And while the case’s connection to football coupled with its celebrity-slash-nostalgia sensibility naturally piques a reader’s interest, the case is legally post-worthy mainly for its useful, quick-hits discussion of the operative rules governing Federal removal jurisdiction and copyright preemption.

The lawsuit pits former Bears players against a marketing firm and an individual who held a now-expired license to market the Shuffle video in an action challenging the defendants’ unauthorized use of the plaintiffs’ identities.

Removal and Remand

Removal (from state court to Federal court) is controlled by 28 USC s. 1441, which provides that any state court suit of which a Federal district court has original jurisdiction may be removed by the defendant;

Only state court cases that could have originally been filed in Federal court are subject to removal;

Once a case is removed to Federal court, it can be remanded (sent back) to the removing state court at any time where the Federal court loses subject matter jurisdiction;

Whether a case is ripe for removal is determined at time of removal – any post-removal amendments to a complaint normally won’t strip the Federal court of jurisdiction over the removed action;

A Federal court can retain supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims where the Federal claim is dismissed.  However, if all claims that gave the Federal court original jurisdiction are dismissed, the Federal court can (and most likely will) relinquish jurisdiction over the state law claims.

What About Preemption?

Preemption applies where a Federal law proverbially “covers the field.”  That is, the Federal law is so broad that it completely displaces state-law claims that cover the same topic.  If a state law complaint implicates (but doesn’t specifically mention) an expansive Federal law that touches on a complaint’s subject matter, that state law case can be removed to Federal court.

The Federal Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. s. 101 et seq.) is a prime example of a Federal statute that pre-empts equivalent state-law rights.  If a state law complaint involves legal and equitable rights that are within copyright’s subject matter, then that state law claim – even though it makes no mention of copyright law can still be removed to Federal court.  (**2-3).

To avoid copyright pre-emption in a royalty dispute, a state law claim must involve a right that is “qualitatively distinguishable” from the five copyright rights – the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, adapt (perform derivative works) and display a work. 17 U.S.C. ss. 106, 301.

Illinois Right of Publicity Act – Is it Pre-empted by the Copyright Act?

In a close call, the answer here was “no.”  The reason: there is a fine-line distinction between using a plaintiff’s identity or persona (which implicates a right to publicity) and infringing on a that plaintiff’s rights to publish (or distribute or reproduce or display) a given work (which invokes copyright law protections).

The Illinois Right of Publicity Act (“IRPA”) gives individuals the right to control and choose whether and how to use an individual’s identity for commercial purposes.  765 ILCS 1075/10.  IRPA bans the unauthorized use of a plaintiff’s personal identity for a commercial purpose.

The crux of the plaintiffs’ IRPA claim was that the defendants held themselves out as having an affiliation with or connection to the Shufflin’ Crew and used the Crew members’ personas in marketing defendants’ products and services.

The court found that the plaintiffs’ IRPA claim wasn’t pre-empted by copyright law.  The reason was because the plaintiffs’ IRPA claim was based on more than the defendants’ unauthorized marketing of the Super Bowl Shuffle music video.  Instead, the plaintiffs alleged the defendants traded in and profited from the crew members’ identities or “personas” in trying to sell Shuffle copies – an action distinct from performing or distributing the work itself.  Since plaintiffs’ IRPA claim was not based on unauthorized reproductions or distributions of the Shuffle music video, copyright law didn’t pre-empt the plaintiffs’ IRPA suit. (**4-5).

Once plaintiffs dropped their displaced state law claims (conversion, injunctive relief, declaratory relief), the Federal court remanded the remaining claims (IRPA, unjust enrichment, equitable accounting) to state court finding the state court better equipped to handle those claims.


1/ When all Federal claims drop out of a removed case, a Federal court will likely remand the case to state court unless there is a compelling reason to keep it in Federal court;

2/ A state court action can be pre-empted by a Federal statute (like the Copyright Act) where the state court claims implicate Federal statutory rights and obligations even where the state claims make no mention of the Federal claims;

3/ The case illustrates that the respective legal interests vindicated by the Illinois Right to Publicity Act and Federal Copyright statute are similar yet still different enough to avoid pre-emption in certain factual contexts.






Fire Alarm Contract Doesn’t Create Implied Warranty Claim – IL ND

Two titans of their respective industries went head-to-head in Allstate Indemnity Company v. ADT, LLC, 2015 WL 3798715 (N.D.Ill. 2015), a dispute over an alarm company’s responsibility for fire damage to its homeowner customer.

After a 2013 house fire decimated its insured’s home to the tune of about $1.4M in damages, the plaintiff home insurer (Allstate) sued ADT, the home smoke and fire alarm installer, for negligence, breach of contract and consumer fraud for failing to complete smoke detector repairs it was hired to complete about 7 months before the fire.

The Northern District, in Allstate Indemnity Company v. ADT LLC, 2015 WL 3798715, *2 (N.D.Ill. June 17, 2015), granted ADT’s motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice and in doing so, addressed some important issues involving contract interpretation, exculpatory provisions and damage limitations in home security contracts.

The 2007 alarm contract (the “Alarm Contract”) was for an initial three-year term and was automatically renewed for 30-day increments unless terminated in writing. The Alarm Contract contained a limited warranty and a waiver clause that provided that the alarm company was not an insurer against damage to the insured home.

Other than some basic warranties, ADT’s contract disclaimed consequential or incidental damages.

The court rejected the insurer’s argument that the contract’s damage waiver was unenforceable. In Illinois, an exculpatory clause or damage waiver is enforceable unless it is unconscionable or violates public policy. Since there were no public policy concerns implicated, the alarm contract damage waiver was upheld and defeated Allstate’s claims.

Allstate also lost its breach of implied warranty claim.  Illinois doesn’t recognize an implied warranty in service contracts. The only settings where a court recognizes an implied warranty is in (1) contracts involving the sale of goods, (2) contracts involving residential property construction (where the implied warranty of habitability attaches) and (3) construction contracts – where Illinois recognizes an implied warranty of performance in a good, workmanlike manner.

Since the Alarm Contract didn’t involve the sale of goods and wasn’t a construction contract, Allstate’s implied warranty claim failed.

Lastly, the court discarded Allstate’s consumer fraud claim.  The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (ICFA), 815 ILCS 505/2 broadly prohibits unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts.  But where a consumer fraud claim simply duplicates a breach of contract claim, the consumer fraud count is redundant and should be stricken.

A plaintiff can’t “dress up” a garden-variety contract claim as one sounding in fraud.  Here, since Allstate repackaged its breach of contract suit and labeled it as a consumer fraud claim, the court dismissed Allstate’s ICFA claim.

Key take-aways:

1/ A clear waiver provision in a service contract will be enforced as written; even if it puts some financially harsh consequences on the plaintiff;

2/ Service contracts won’t give rise to an implied warranty claim in Illinois;

3/ A breach of contract does not equate to consumer fraud.  A repackaged breach of contract claim that is appended with a consumer fraud label will be dismissed as redundant (to the parallel breach of contract claim).

Reference: http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/illinois/ilndce/1:2014cv09494/303656/21/

Talent Agency’s Implied In Law Contract Claim Survives Dismissal In Suit For TV Commercial Services


Karen Stavins Enteprises, Inc. v. Community College District No. 508, 2015 IŁ App (1st) 150356 stands as a recent example of a plaintiff suing in quasi-contract – specifically, under an implied-in-law contract theory – to recover the reasonable value of unpaid acting services rendered in connection with a television commercial.

The plaintiff, a well-known Chicago talent agency, sued the City Colleges of Chicago’s corporate parent (“City Colleges”) when it failed to pay for the services of nine actors (just over $13K) booked by the plaintiff who starred in a commercial promoting the benefits of a City Colleges education.

The trial court dismissed the agency’s complaint on City Colleges’ Section 2-615 motion.  Plaintiff appealed.

Held: reversed.


City Colleges argued that the plaintiff’s claim failed because it didn’t comply with the procurement standards set forth in the Illinois Public Community College Act, 110 ILCS 805/3-27.1 – a statute that delineates specific requirements for a party entering a contract with a public educational entity.

Reversing the trial court’s dismissal, the appeals court first attacked City Colleges’ motion to dismiss on procedural grounds, noting that a Section 2-615 motion cannot be supported by affidavit or based on facts not contained within a complaint’s four-corners. 

Since City Colleges supported its motion with its agent’s affidavit testifying to some background facts concerning the creation of the commercial, the affidavit should have been excluded from consideration by the trial court.  (¶ 5).

Turning to the merits, the First District provides a useful primer on the salient rules governing implied in law contracts (“ILC”).

In Illinois, an ILC is not an express contract.  Instead, as the name suggests, it’s an implied promise by a recipient of services or goods to pay for them. 

An ILC presupposes that no actual agreement exists between parties, but the court imposes a duty to pay a reasonable value of the services in order to prevent unjust enrichment.  ILC’s “essence” is where a defendant voluntarily accepts a benefit from a plaintiff and fails to pay the plaintiff.

No ILC claim will lie, however, where there is an express contract (including a contract implied in fact) between the parties.  To state a valid ILC claim, a plaintiff must plead and prove specific facts that support the conclusion that a plaintiff conferred a benefit on a defendant who unjustly retained the benefit in violation of basic principles of fairness and good conscience.  Put another way, the plaintiff must establish he supplied valuable services to a defendant under circumstances where it’s unjust for the defendant to retain them without paying a reasonable value for the services.  (¶ 7).

Applying the operative ILC rules, the court found the talent agency plaintiff sufficiently pled that it booked actors to perform TV commercial services for City Colleges, that the actors weren’t working for free, and City Colleges’ refusal to pay.  Under Illinois pleading rules, this was enough of an ILC claim to survive City Colleges’ motion to dismiss.


I’ve experienced how difficult it is to comply with a government entity’s (like a school, e.g.) byzantine contractual requirements.  Typically, you must follow the procurement rules to the letter or else risk case dismissal – usually for a failure to contract with an authorized party or to not adhere to the government’s contract award policies.  The practical problem I see is that your client usually won’t even know of the procurement policies until after a default and it’s time to sue.

Stavins provides a useful summary of the implied-in-law contract claim and illustrates how it can serve as a valuable fall-back or Plan B claim in situations where a contract formation defect precludes a breach of express contract action.

The important take-away is that a party who enters a business relationship with a unit of government can still recover for the reasonable value of its services even where it fails to strictly comply with the government contract award policies and procedures.

Land Trust Beneficiary Can Sue On Title Policy; Title Insurer Not An Information Provider Under Economic Loss Rule – IL 2d Dist.

Two key questions the Illinois Second District appeals court asked and answered in Warczak v. Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc., 2015 IL App (2d) 140677-U are (1) whether a land trust beneficiary can sue under a title insurance policy naming the trustee as the covered entity (answer: yes) and (2) if a title insurer that issues a title commitment to a property buyer is in the business of providing information under the negligent misrepresentation exception to the Illinois economic loss rule (answer: no).

The plaintiff bought vacant land in September 2005 (titling it in a land trust; plaintiff was the beneficiary) and the defendant issued a title insurance policy against the property at the same time.  A month earlier (August 2005), the title insurer issued a title commitment that failed to list 2003 taxes as unpaid.  A tax buyer eventually recorded a tax deed against the property in 2008.  When the plaintiff found out, he sued to recover under the title policy.

The plaintiff’s three-count complaint sought a declaratory judgment that he was entitled to title policy coverage and added claims for negligence and breach of contract (alleging breach of the defendant’s sale closing services) against the insurer. The trial court granted the insurer’s motion to dismiss the declaratory action and later entered summary judgment for the insurer on the breach of contract and negligence complaint counts.  Plaintiff appealed.

Partially reversing the trial court, the appeals court addressed legal standing to sue on behalf of a land trust and whether a title commitment provides “information” for the guidance of others sufficient to arm the recipient with a negligent misrepresentation claim against the insurer.

The court reversed dismissal of plaintiff’s declaratory judgment suit and found the plaintiff had standing to sue under the policy as trust beneficiary.  The operative rules relied on by the court included:

– in a land trust (“L-T”), the beneficiary wields broad management power over the property;

– an L-T beneficiary can possess, manage and control the property and also receive income generated from the property;

– the L-T beneficiary maintains all incidents of property ownership except for title to the property (which is held in the name of the Trustee);

– the hallmarks of L-T ownership are (1) secrecy of ownership and (2) ease of property transfer ;

– because of his intimate involvement with the property, the L-T beneficiary has property tax obligations and can pursue litigation affecting the property.

Here, while the trustee was the named title policy insured, it was clear that the parties viewed the plaintiff as the property owner based on their conduct.  In addition, while the plaintiff wasn’t a named insured under the policy, his involvement in the property was so extensive that he was effectively the real party in interest under the title policy.  As a result, the court reversed dismissal of the declaratory judgment suit.  (¶¶ 37-42).

The court did affirm summary judgment for the insurer on the plaintiff’s negligence claim.  The economic loss rule, which prevents a plaintiff from recovering purely economic losses (costs of repair, replacement, lost profits, etc.) in tort (negligence, e.g.) when a contract defines the relationship, defeated the claim.  The governing contract here was the written agent/escrow agreement between the parties.

An exception to the economic loss rule exists where a defendant makes a negligent misrepresentation and is in the business of providing information for the guidance of others in their business dealings.  Following Illinois Supreme Court guidance, the court found that a title insurer who issues a title commitment – as opposed to a title abstract (which does furnish information) – is not in the business of providing information.  This is because a title commitment only specifies what title defects an insurer will not cover; it (the title commitment) limits the risks (of defective title) that an insurer will cover.  (¶¶ 54, 58-59).

In the end, the court found that any information provided by the insurer in the title commitment was ancillary to the sale of title insurance – the main purpose of the parties’ dealings.  Otherwise, the court said, the title insurer would be cast in the role of guarantor of the property’s title condition – something the insurer never signed up for.  ¶ 59.


1/ L-T beneficiary can sue on title policy naming the trust as insured where beneficiary has hands-on relationship with the property;

2/ The economic loss rule bars negligent misrepresentation claim against title insurer based on title commitment.  This is because title commitment doesn’t provide information.  Instead, it serves to notify an insured (like the plaintiff here) of what defects the insurer is excluding.  Any information is tangential to the main thrust of the contract – to provide insurance over certain title defects.




“It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time”: Revenge Porn In Illinois – A Crime With Myriad Civil Components


Nation-wide vilification of revenge porn (“RP”) – the unconsented on-line dissemination of sexual photos or images of others (almost always females) – reached an ironic crescendo on Good Friday of this year when a California judge  sentenced Kevin Bollaert, 28, proprietor of the UGotPosted.com and ChangeMyReputation.com Websites, to an 18-year prison term after a jury convicted him of identity theft and extortion.1

Mr. Bollaert’s sites allowed users (usually jilted paramours) to post intimate photos of third parties without their permission.  When the terrified photographed party would contact the site to take the images down, Mr. Bollaert would then extract (extort?) a “settlement” payment from the party.

The near two-decades long jail sentence can be viewed as a culmination of cultural outrage at RP as evidenced by a flurry of civil verdicts across the country and (at current writing) 16 state legislatures criminalizing the practice.  Mr. Bollaert’s lengthy punishment, aside from giving him some time to consider “was it worth it?”, may also prove a symbolic harbinger of what’s to come for future RP peddlers.

Hostility toward RP has bled into varied sectors of society.  In the international realm, Great Britain recently (April 2015) criminalized the practice by enacting a law that provides for tough penalties against RP defendants and other nations across the globe are likely to follow suit.2

RP has infiltrated the sports arena, too.  In December of last year, New York Jets linebacker Jermaine Cunningham was arrested and charged after he posted naked photos of his ex-girlfriend on-line and sent them to her family members (ouch!).   Mr.vCunningham pled not guilty in May 2015 to various criminal invasion of privacy charges.3

Most recently, RP hit the news on an astronomical scale as Google, the Web search behemoth, announced it would allow anyone to delete images posted without their permission.4  Social media titans Twitter, Facebook and Reddit followed in Google’s wake and announced similar policies that police the posting of sexually explicit media.5

But while RP’s criminalization garners the most media attention – Illinois’ own statute, which took effect in June 2015, is praised by privacy advocates as particularly robust 6 – RP also gives rise to a plethora of civil causes of action and provides fertile ground for creative lawyering.

This article briefly discusses the various civil claims under Illinois law that are implicated in a case where a defendant – be it an individual or Website owner – posts sexual photos without someone’s consent.

Wikipedia describes RP as “sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual.”7  Typically, RP is uploaded by a victim’s ex-partner whose goal is to shame the imaged victim and who sometimes includes the victim’s name, social media links and other identifying information.

Many times, the salacious images are “selfies”, pictures taken by the RP victim.  The harmful impact of RP is (or should be) self-evident: sociologists and psychologists have studied RP recipients and heavily documented the toxic psychological, social and  financial ramifications they suffer.

The legal community has also taken notice of RP’s proliferation in this digitally-drenched culture.  Witness international mega-firm K&L Gates’ recent launch of a legal clinic dedicated to helping RP plaintiff’s get legal redress

Civil verdicts

Civil suits against RP defendants appear to be gaining traction.  For just in the past year or so, juries and judges in several states have hit both individual and corporate RP defendants with substantial money judgments.  A California and Ohio court recently socked RP defendants with $450,000 default judgments and civil juries in Florida and  Texas awarded RP plaintiffs $600,000 and $500,000, respectively. 10, 11. 

My research has revealed only a single revenge porn case pending in Illinois, but no published decisions yet. 12

“So What’s A Gal (Almost Always)/Guy To Do?” – Common Law and Statutory Civil Claims

Aside from lodging a criminal complaint, an RP plaintiff has an array of common law and statutory remedies at her disposal.  A brief summary of the salient causes of action under Illinois law that attach to a revenge porn follows.

(1) Invasion of Privacy – Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Illinois recognizes four common-law invasion of privacy torts, those being (1) an unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another; (2) an appropriation of another’s name or likeness; (3) a public disclosure of private facts; and (4) publicity that reasonably places another in a false light before the public. 13

To state a common law claim for invasion of privacy through public disclosure of private facts, a plaintiff must prove: “(1) publicity was given to the disclosure of private facts; (2) the facts were private, and not public, facts; and (3) the matter made public was such as to be highly offensive to a reasonable person.” 14

Generally, to satisfy the publicity element of the tort, a plaintiff must show that the information was disclosed to the public at large; however, the publicity requirement may be satisfied where a disclosure is made to a small number of people who have a “special relationship” with the plaintiff. 15  An invasion of a plaintiff’s right to privacy is important if it exposes private facts to a public whose knowledge of those facts would be embarrassing to the plaintiff.

This might equate to the “general public” if the person is a public figure, or a particular public such as fellow employees, club members, church members, family, or neighbors, if the person isn’t a public figure. 16

Invasion of privacy damages include actual, nominal, and punitive ones. 17

An intrusion on seclusion invasion of privacy plaintiff must show: (1) an unauthorized intrusion or prying into a plaintiff’s seclusion; (2) the intrusion is highly offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person; (3) the matters upon which the intrusion occurred were private; and (4) the intrusion caused anguish and suffering. 17-a

RP Application:  Posting a sexual image on the Internet would qualify as “publicity” and “private” matters under any reasonable interpretation.  And nonconsensual posting would signal highly offensive content to a reasonable person.  The plaintiff’s biggest hurdle would be quantifying his damages in view of the paucity of published RP cases.  But judging from the above default and jury awards, damages ranging from $450,000-$600,000 don’t seem to shock the court’s conscience.  In addition, an intrusion on seclusion claim could fail if the RP case involved a selfie – since that would seem to defeat the “private” and “seclusion” elements of the tort.

(2) Illinois Right of Publicity Act (the “IRPA”)

In 1999, IRPA replaced the common law misappropriation of one’s likeness – the second (2) above branch of the four common-law invasion of privacy torts outlined above.  Illinois recognizes an individual’s right to “control and to choose whether and how to use an individual’s identity for commercial purposes.” 18  The right of publicity derives from the right to privacy  and is “designed to protect a person from having his name or image used for commercial purposes without (her) consent.” 19

“Commercial purpose” under the IRPA means the public use or holding out of an individual’s identity (i) on or in connection with the offering for sale or sale of a product, merchandise, goods, or services; (ii) for purposes of advertising or promoting products, merchandise, goods, or services; or (iii) for the purpose of fundraising. 20 “Identity” means “any attribute” of a plaintiff including a photograph or image of the person. 21

Plaintiff must prove revenue that a defendant generated through the use of Plaintiff’s image.  Failing that, plaintiff can recover statutory damages of  $1,000. 22.  An IRPA plaintiff can also recover punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. 23.

RP Application: RP fits snugly within IRPA’s coverage.  It specifically applies to photographs or images.  If the RP defendant was making money off the unconsented Web postings, and IRPA claim could prove both a viable and valuable claim that would allow the plaintiff to recover statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.

(3), (4) Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

“To prove a cause of action f0r intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must establish three elements: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) intent or knowledge by the actor that there is at least a high probability that his or her conduct would inflict severe emotional distress and reckless disregard of that probability; and (3) severe emotional distress.” 24

A negligent infliction of emotional distress plaintiff must plead and prove the basic elements of a negligence claim: a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and an injury proximately caused by that breach. 25  A bystander negligent infliction plaintiff must prove a physical injury or illness resulting from the conduct. 26  

Since literally millions consume social media on a daily basis (27), perhaps it’s not a stretch to see a bystander make out a negligent infliction claim based on RP aimed at a bystander’s close relative for example.

RP Application  Under prevailing social mores, posting sexually explicit media    designed to shame someone or to extract money from them would likely meet the objectively extreme and outrageous test.  The intent or reckless disregard element would likely be imputed to a defendant by virtue of him publicizing the offending material.  The unanswered questions would be damages.  Putting it rhetorically, how would you (judge or jury) compensate the RP where there is no precise numerical formula?

(5) Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement as applied to the RP setting represents a creative – and some way the best – way to attack RP.  28  The Federal copyright scheme particularly fits a RP situation involving “selfies” – which, by some accounts, make up nearly 80% of RP claims. 29

Copyright law gives an owner the exclusive rights – among others – to duplicate and exhibit a work.  Copyright protection exists for any work fixed in a tangible medium and includes photographs and videos. 30  The copyright infringement plaintiff must establish (1) she owns the copyright in the work; and (2) the defendant copied the work without the plaintiff’s authorization.18  Inputting a copyrighted work onto a computer qualifies as “making a copy” under the Copyright Act. 31

The catch here is that formally registering the work is a precondition to filing suit for infringement. 32

Being able to sue a defendant for copyright infringement is obviously an important right since that is copyright law’s “teeth”: a winning copyright plaintiff can recover statutory damages, actual damages plus attorneys’ fees. 33

But it begs the question – is it realistic that an RP plaintiff is going to draw more attention to a salacious photo by registering it with a Federal government agency?  Not likely.  Nevertheless, a copyright claim could lie for RP conduct involving a plaintiff’s selfies if she registered them with the US Copyright office.

What about the CDA (Communications Decency Act)?

Another important consideration in the RP calculus involves Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) – a statute on which much electronic “ink” has spilled and that is beyond the scope of this article.  34  Basically, as I understand it, the CDA immunizes Web service providers (Comcast, AOL, etc.) from a third-party’s publication of offensive content but not Web content providers.  35  So the CDA inquiry distills to whether a Website defendant is a service provider (in which there would be immunity) or content provider (in which case there wouldn’t be).36.

(6) Negligence

A common law negligence action against an RP spreader constitutes another creative adaptation of a tried-and-true cause of action to a decidedly post-modern tort (and crime).  An Illinois, a negligence plaintiff must plead and prove (1) the defendant[s] owed a duty of care; (2) the defendant[s] breached that duty; and (3) the plaintiff’s resulting injury was proximately caused by the breach. 37

The plaintiff would have to prove that the RP defendant owed a duty of care not to post and distribute intimate images of the plaintiff, that the defendant breached the duty by indiscriminately posting the image, and that plaintiff suffered injury as a proximate cause.

Like the privacy torts encapsulated above, the key questions seem to be causation and damages.  That is – what numerical damages can the RP plaintiff establish that are traceable to the illicit (electronic) is is  publication?  Conceivably, she could request lost wages, medical and psychological treatment costs, pain and suffering, loss of a normal life, etc. – the entire gamut of damages a personal injury plaintiff can seek.


RP is a subject whose contours seem to be in perpetual flux as the law is fluid and still developing.  In fact, by the time this article is published, it’s possible that there will be a flurry of legislative, political and even case law developments that make some of the contents dated.

That said, as on-line privacy issues and social media use continue to pervade our culture and expand on a global level, and as publishers of private, salacious photographs aren’t learning their collective lesson, RP will likely secure its foothold in cyberlaw’s criminal and civil landscapes.

The above is not an exclusive list of potential revenge porn causes of action.  As states (and countries) continue to enact laws punishing RP, it’s likely that civil damage claims attacking the practice will mushroom in lockstep with RP’s rampant criminalization.


1. http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Kevin-Bollaert-Revenge-Porn-Sentencing-San-Diego-298603981.html

2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/revenge-porn-illegal-in-england-and-wales-under-new-law-bringing-in-twoyear-prison-terms-10173524.html

3. http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nfl/nfl-linebackers-case-highlights-rise-of-revenge-porn-laws/ar-BBj8sP9

4.  http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ff3b7f7b697b4af295935ed6a482ca1e/google-cracks-down-revenge-porn-under-new-nudity-policy

5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-anne-franks/how-to-defeat-revenge-porn_b_7624900.html

6. http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=098-1138 (text of Illinois’ revenge porn law, eff. 6.1.15)

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenge_porn

8.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-anne-franks/how-to-defeat-revenge-porn_b_7624900.html

9.  http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/law-firm-founds-project-to-fight-revenge-porn/?_r=0

10. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/03/revenge-porn-creepsters-ordered-to-pay-900000-in-default-judgment

11. http://www.brownanddoherty.com/florida-jury-delivers-record-setting-600000-00-verdict-in-revenge-porn-case.php; http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Jury-awards-500-000-in-revenge-porn-lawsuit-5257436.php6.

12. http://articles.redeyechicago.com/2014-03-11/news/48127548_1_hunter-moore-mary-anne-franks-legislators

13.  Ainsworth v. Century Supply Co., 295 Ill.App.3d 644, 648, 230 Ill.Dec. 381, 693 N.E.2d 510 (1998).

14-16.  Miller v. Motorola Inc., 202 Ill.App.3d 976, 978, 148 Ill.Dec. 303, 560 N.E.2d 900, 902 (1990), citing W. Keeton, Prosser & Keeton on Torts § 117, at 856–57 (5th ed.1984)

17.  Lawlor v. North American Corporation, 2012 IL 112 530, ¶¶ 58-65

17-a.  Huon v. Breaking Media, LLC, 2014 WL 6845866 (N.D.Ill. 2014) 

18-19. Trannel v. Prairie Ridge Media, Inc., 2013 IL App (2d) 120725, ¶¶ 15-16

20. 765 ILCS 1075/1.

21. 765 ILCS 1075/5

22. 765 ILCS 1075/40(a)(2)

23. 765 ILCS 1075/40(b)

24. Doe v. Calumet City, 161 Ill.2d 374 (1994)

25-26.  Rickey v. CTA, 98 Ill.2d 546 (1983)

27.  http://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/ (Facebook has 1.44B users; Twitter has 236M; Instagram – 300M)

28-29. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/09/08/how-copyright-became-the-best-defense-against-revenge-porn/

30-31: In re Aimster Copyright Litigation, 343 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2003)

32.  17 U.S.C. § 1104

33.  http://copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf

34.  https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230

35.  http://www.defamationremovallaw.com/what-is-section-230-of-the-communication-decency-act-cda/

36.  Zak Franklin, Justice for Revenge Porn Victims: Legal Theories to Overcome Claims of Civil Immunity by Operators of Revenge Porn Websites, 102 Cal. L. Rev. 1303 (Oct. 2014).                               

37. Corgan v. Muehling, 143 Ill.2d 296, 306 (1991)


The (Ruthless?) Illinois Credit Agreements Act

The Illinois Credit Agreements Act, 815 ILCS 160/1, et seq. (the “ICAA”) and its requirement that credit agreements be in writing and signed by both creditor and debtor, recently doomed a borrower’s counterclaim in a multi-million dollar loan default case.

The plaintiff in Contractors Lien Services, Inc. v. The Kedzie Project, LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 130617-U, sued to foreclose on a commercial real estate loan and sued various guarantors along with the corporate borrower.

The borrower counterclaimed, arguing that a “side letter agreement” (“SLA”) signed by an officer of the lender established the parties’ intent for the lender to release additional funds to the borrower – funds the borrower claims would have gotten it current or “in balance” under the loan. The trial court disagreed and entered a $14M-plus judgment for the lender plaintiff.  The corporate borrower and two guarantors appealed.

Held: Affirmed


The ICAA provides that a debtor cannot maintain an action based on a “credit agreement” unless it’s (1) in writing, (2) expresses an agreement or commitment to lend money or extend credit or (2)(a) delay or forbear repayment of money and (3) is signed by the creditor and the debtor. 815 ILCS 160/2

An ICAA “credit agreement” expansively denotes “an agreement or commitment by a creditor to lend money or extend credit or delay or forbear repayment of money not primarily for personal, family or household purposes, and not in connection with the issuance of credit cards.”  So, the ICAA does not apply to consumer transactions.  It only governs business/commercial arrangements.

The ICAA covers and excludes claims that are premised on unwritten agreements that are even tangentially related to a credit agreement as defined by the ICAA.

The borrower argued that the court should construe the SLA with the underlying loan as a single transaction: an Illinois contract axiom provides that where two instruments are signed as part of the same transaction, they will be read and considered together as one instrument.

The court rejected this single transaction argument.  It found the SLA was separate and unrelated to the loan documents.  The SLA post-dated the loan documents as evidenced by the fact that the  SLA specifically referenced the loan.  Conversely, the loan made no mention of the SLA (since it didn’t exist when the loan documents were signed).

All these facts militated against the court finding the SLA was part-and-parcel of the underlying loan transaction.

Another key factor in the court’s analysis was the defendants admitting that the SLA post-dated the loan (and so was a separate and distinct writing).  The court viewed this as a judicial admission – defined under the law as “deliberate, clear, unequivocal statement by a party about a concrete fact within that party’s knowledge.”

Here, since the SLA was not part of the loan modification, it stood or fell on whether it met the requirements of the ICAA.  It did not since it wasn’t signed by both lender and borrower.  The ICAA dictates that both creditor and debtor sign a credit agreement.  Here, since the debtor didn’t sign the SLA (it was only signed by lender’s agent), the SLA agreement was unenforceable.  As a consequence, the lender’s summary judgment on the counterclaim was proper.


This case and others like it show that a commercially sophisticated borrower – be it a business entity or an individual – will likely be shown no mercy by a court.  This is especially true where there is no fraud, duress or unequal bargaining power underlying a given loan transaction.

Contractor’s Lien Services also illustrates in stark relief that ICAA statutory signature requirement will be enforced to the letter.  Since the borrower didn’t sign the SLA (which would have arguably cured the subject default), the borrower couldn’t rely on it and the lender’s multi-million dollar judgment was validated on appeal.

Commercial Real Estate Broker’s Judgment Against Property Owner Upheld Where Owner Negotiated Deal Behind Broker’s Back

In AMA v. Kaplan Realty, Inc., 2015 IL App(1st) 143600, the court looked to the common dictionary definitions of “exclusive” and “refer” as they apply to an exclusive real estate listing agreement to find that a commercial real estate broker could recover unpaid commissions from a property owner who negotiated a property sale without the broker’s knowledge.

Here is the relevant chronology: the plaintiff property owner hired the defendant broker to sell a multi-unit apartment building.  The parties signed an exclusive listing agreement running from January 2009 – January 2010 that required the owner to refer all purchase inquiries to the broker and that provided for a 5% commission on the gross sale price from any buyer during the term of the agreement.

About two months before the agreement expired, the owner started dealing directly with a prospective buyer whom the broker had earlier introduced to the owner. The owner and buyer continued to discuss the details of the purchase through the end of the contractual listing period.  Ultimately, some 18 days after the agreement expired, the owner and buyer signed a $6.75M sales contract for the parcel.  After learning of the sale, the broker recorded a lien for 5% of the sale price.

The plaintiff filed a slander of title suit (arguing that the broker lien clouded property title) and the broker filed a breach of contract counterclaim for his 5% commission.

The trial court entered summary judgment for the broker for nearly $500K and the owner appealed.

Affirming, the First District rejected the owner’s argument that since the broker “knew about” the property’s eventual buyer, the owner complied with the listing contract.  The court noted that the contract required the owner to “immediately refer” any prospect who contacted the owner for any reason and there was no exception for prospects known to the broker.

Looking to the Merriam-Webster’s College Dictionary, 11th edition (“MWCD”) “refer” means “to send or direct for treatment, air or information, or decision.”  Under this definition, the owner was obligated to send anyone who contacted the owner about the property to the broker.  MWCD, p. 1045, 11th ed. 2006.

The court also noted that the listing agreement was an exclusive one.  “Exclusive” in the listing contract context denotes “limiting or limited to possession, control or use by a single individual or group.”  MWCD, p. 436 (11th ed. 2006).  Under this definition, the court found that the subject listing agreement gave the broker the sole right to market the property – even to the exclusion of the owner.

Affirming the money judgment for the broker, the court found that the owner’s sustained pattern of excluding the broker from communications with the buyer and failing to apprise the broker of the owner’s contacts with the buyer supported the trial court’s half-million dollar judgment for the broker.


This case represents a straightforward application of contract interpretation principles to merit what the court believes is a fair result for the broker.  The owner’s pattern of bypassing the broker to contact the buyer directly, coupled with the fact that the purchase contract was signed so soon after the listing agreement terminated was a suspicious factor weighing in favor of upholding the money judgment against the owner.

I’m left wondering why the broker didn’t file suit to foreclose his broker’s lien.  As I’ll write in a future post, the Illinois Commercial Real Estate Broker Lien Act, 770 ILCS 15/1 et seq. (“Broker Act”), arms a commercial broker who secures a buyer (or tenant) but isn’t paid with a strong remedy.  The successful Broker Act plaintiff can recover her attorneys’ fees against the owner or buyer, whatever the case may be. 770 ILCS 15/5, 10, 15.


Sole Shareholder Of Dissolved Corporation Can Sue Under Nine-Year Old Contract – Eludes Five-Year ‘Survival’ Rule



Haskins, d/b/a Windows Siding Unlimited, Inc. v. Hogan, 2015 IL App (3d) 140609-U – A Synopsis

In 2003, Plaintiff’s former company entered into a written contract with defendant to install windows on defendant’s home. Defendant failed to pay.

The windows company was administratively dissolved in 2005 by the Illinois Secretary of State.  Seven years later, in 2012, Plaintiff – the sole shareholder of the windows company – assigned the company’s claim against the defendant to himself and sued defendant for breach of contract.

The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and found that the claim was untimely under Illinois’ five-year survival period for a dissolved corporation’s claims.  Plaintiff appealed.

Reversing the trial court, the appeals court first noted that a dissolved corporation’s assets belong to the former shareholders, subject to the rights of creditors.

Section 12.80 of the Business Corporation Act provides that an administrative dissolution of a company does not take away or effect any civil remedy belonging to the corporation, its directors, or shareholders, for any pre-dissolution claim or liability.

The lone limitation on this rule is that suit must be filed on the pre-dissolution claim within five years of the dissolution date. 805 ILCS 5/12.80.

This five-year “survival period” represents the outer limit for lawsuits by or against dissolved corporations.  The purpose of the five-year survival period is to allow the corporation to wrap up its affairs.  The court clarified that the five-year time span applies both to voluntary and involuntary dissolutions.

There are two exceptions to the five-year rule that allow a shareholder to file suit outside the five-year period.  They are: (1) where the shareholder is a direct beneficiary of the contract; and (2) where the shareholder seeks to recover a fixed, easily calculable sum.  (¶ 17).

To meet the first exception, the shareholder must show the parties manifested an intent to confer a benefit on the third party/shareholder. Here, this first exception didn’t apply since there was nothing in the contract suggesting an intent to benefit the plaintiff individually: the windows contract was clearly between a corporate entity (the windows company) and the defendant.

The second exception did apply, however.  The contract was for a fixed sum – $5,070.  As a result, the court found the 10-year limitations period for breach of written contracts applied (instead of the 5-year survival statute) and the plaintiff’s suit was timely (he sued in 2012 for a 2003 breach – within 10 years.) (¶¶ 17-20); 735 ILCS 5/13-206.

Comments: An interesting application of the five-year corporate survival rule to the small claims context.  It appears to be wrongly decided though.  The plaintiff clearly didn’t establish the first exception to the five-year rule: that he was a third-party beneficiary of the 2003 windows contract.  Since he failed to establish both exceptions, the five-year rule should have applied and time-barred the plaintiff’s claim.

Maybe it’s because the plaintiff was the sole shareholder of the defunct corporation that the court collapsed the two exceptions.  Regardless, it remains to be seen whether this decision is corrected or reversed later on.

Facebook Posts Not Hearsay Where Offered To Show How Ex-Wife Presented Relationship To Others – Illinois Case Note


Reversing a family law judge’s decision to terminate ex-spousal maintenance, the Second District appeals court in In re Marriage of Miller, 2015 IL App(2d) 140530 delves into the foundation requirements for getting Facebook pages into evidence and again highlights the crucial role social media plays in litigation in this digitally saturated culture.

The trial court granted the ex-husband (“Husband”) motion to terminate maintenance payments to his ex-wife (“Wife”) based on her multiple Facebook posts that she was in a relationship and (presumably) living with another man.  Illinois divorce law posits that maintenance payments must cease when the recipient remarries or cohabitates with another on a continuing basis.

Since the Facebook posts revealed the Wife frequently trumpeting her new relationship, the court found that the policies behind maintenance payments would be compromised by allowing the Wife to continue receiving payments from Husband.

The Wife appealed, arguing that the trial court shouldn’t have allowed her Facebook posts into evidence.

Held: Reversed (but on other grounds).  Wife’s social media posts were properly authenticated, not hearsay and any prejudice to her didn’t substantially outweigh the posts’ probative value.


– To enter a document into evidence at trial or on summary judgment, the offering party must lay a foundation for it;

– The party offering the document into evidence – including a document to impeach (contradict) a witness on the stand – must authenticate the document through the testimony of a witness who has personal knowledge sufficient to satisfy the court that the document is what the proponent claim it is;

– To lay a foundation for an out-of-court statement (including a document), the party attempting to get the statement into evidence must direct the witness to the time, place, circumstances and substance of the statement;

– Hearsay is a statement, other than made by the declarant while testifying at trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted;

– When the making of statement is the significant fact, hearsay isn’t involved (ex: the mere fact that a conversation took place isn’t hearsay);

Here, the court found that the Facebook posts weren’t offered for their truth.  Instead, they were offered to illustrate the way the Wife was portraying her current relationship to others.  The court deemed the posts relevant to the issue of how “public” or “out in the open” the Wife was about the relationship. 

And since the Husband didn’t offer the posts for the truth of their contents (that Wife was in fact living with someone and so disqualified from further maintenance payments) but instead to show the court the manner in which the Wife presented the relationship to others, the court properly allowed the posts into evidence.

The Second District also agreed with the trial court that the posts didn’t unfairly prejudice the Wife.  Indeed, the court characterized the posts as “bland”, “cumulative” and less effective than the parties’ live testimony.

(¶¶ 33-38)

The Wife still won though as the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision to terminate Husband’s maintenance obligations.  The court found that more evidence was needed on the specifics of the Wife’s existing relationship including whether it was continuing and conjugal enough to constitute a “de facto marriage” (as opposed to a “dating” relationship only) and thus exclude the Wife from further maintenance payments from Husband.


Hearsay doesn’t apply where out-of-court statement has independent legal significance;

Facebook posts authored by a party to lawsuit will likely get into evidence unless their prejudice outweighs their probative value;

Where social media posts are authored by third parties, it injects another layer of hearsay into the evidence equation and makes it harder to get the posts admitted at trial.

Fraud, Economic Loss and Contractual Integration Clauses (And More): Illinois Fed Court Provides Primer

Plaintiff purchased the defendant’s nation-wide network of auto collision centers as part of a complicated $32.5M asset purchase agreement (APA).   A dispute arose when the plaintiff paid $9.5M to a paint supply company and creditor of the defendant in order to consummate the APA.  The plaintiff argued that the defendant breached the APA by not satisfying the paint supply debt and securing a release from the paint supplier before the APA’s closing date.  Plaintiff sued on various tort and contract theories.  Defendant countersued for reformation, rescission and breach of contract.  Both parties moved to dismiss.

In granting the bulk of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the court in Boyd Group, Inc. v. D’Orazio, 2015 WL 3463625 (N.D.Ill. 2015) examines the interplay among several recurring commercial litigation issues including the economic loss doctrine as it applies to negligent misrepresentation claims, the impact of a contractual integration clause, and the pleading requirements for fraud in Illinois.

The court dismissed the breach of contract claim based on the APA’s integration clause.  Where parties insert an integration clause into their contract, they are manifesting their intent to guard against conflicting interpretations that could result from extrinsic evidence.  If a contract has a clear integration clause, the court cannot consider anything beyond the “four corners” of the contract and may not address evidence that relates to the parties’ understanding before or at the time the contract was signed.1

Here, the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim was based in part on e-mails authored by the defendant the same day the APA was signed.  Since the APA integration clause clearly provided that the APA was constituted the entire agreement between the parties, the court found that the defendant’s e-mails couldn’t be considered to vary the plain language of the APA.2.

The plaintiff’s negligent misrepresentation claim was defeated by the economic loss doctrine, which posits that where a written contract governs the parties’ relationship, a plaintiff’s remedy is one for breach of contract, not one sounding in tort.  An exception to this rule is where the defendant is in the business of providing information for the guidance of others in their business transactions.

Case law examples of businesses that the law deems information suppliers (for purposes of the negligent misrepresentation/economic loss rule) include stockbrokers, real estate brokers and terminate inspectors.  Conversely, businesses whose main product is not information include property developers, builders and manufacturers.

Here, the in-the-business exception (to the economic loss rule) didn’t apply since defendant operated car collision repair businesses.  He did not supply information for others’ business guidance.  The court found the defendant more akin to a manufacturer of a product and that any information he furnished was ancillary to his main collision repair business.3

The one claim that did survive the motion to dismiss was plaintiff’s fraud claim.  To plead common law fraud under Illinois law, the plaintiff must establish (1) a false statement of material fact, (2) defendant’s knowledge the statement was false, (3) defendant’s intent to induce action by the plaintiff, (4) plaintiff’s reliance on the truth of the statement, and (5) damages resulting from reliance on the statement.  Fraud requires heightened pleading specificity and it must be more than a simple breach of contract.  A fraud claim must also involve present or past facts; statements of future intent or promises aren’t actionable. 4

The plaintiff’s complaint allegations that the defendant factually represented to the plaintiff that he was in the process of securing the release of the paint supply contract as an inducement for plaintiff to enter into the APA were sufficiently factual to state a fraud claim under Federal pleading rules.


  • The economic loss rule bars negligent misrepresentation claim where the defendant’s main business is providing a tangible product rather than information;
  • A clearly drafted integration clause will prevent a party to a written contract from introducing evidence (here, emails) that alters a contract’s plain meaning;
  • The failure of a condition precedent won’t equate to a breach of contract where the party being sued for breach failure isn’t the fault or responsibility of the party being sued for breach;
  • A plaintiff successfully can plead fraud where it involves a statement concerning a present or past fact, not a future one.

1.  2015 WL 3463625, * 7

2. Id.

3. Id. at * 11

4. Id. at **8-9



Illegality Defense Doesn’t Defeat HVAC Subcontractor’s Damage Claim Versus General Contractor on Chicago Transit Authority Project (N.D. 2015)

I’ve written before on the illegality defense to breach of contract suits.  It’s bedrock contract law that an agreement to do something criminal (example – murder, arson, selling drugs, etc.) is unenforceable against the person who doesn’t perform (example: if I fail to pay a hit man, he can’t sue me for the $). 

The illegality defense also applies in the civil context where it can defeat an agreement that runs afoul of a State or Federal statute.  The policy underpinning for the illegality rule is that it would make a mockery of the justice system if you could sue to enforce an agreement to commit a crime.

Energy Labs, Inc. v. Edwards Engineering, 2015 WL 3504974 (N.D.Ill. 2015) examines contractual illegality in the context of a high-dollar subcontract to supply HVAC equipment to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

The plaintiff air conditioning parts subcontractor was hired by the defendant to provide parts in connection with the defendant’s contract with the CTA.  When the defendant found out that plaintiff was procuring its parts in a foreign country, it cancelled the contract since the Buy America Act, 49 U.S.C. s. 5323 (“BAA”) required the parts used in the CTA project to be made in the U.S.

Plaintiff sued to recover damages resulting from the defendant’s contract cancellation since plaintiff had already designed and started making the HVAC parts.  Defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that the contract was illegal since it violated the BAA.

The court denied the motion to dismiss.  While the general rule is that a contract that violates a Federal statute is normally unenforceable, the court said the rule isn’t automatic.  Instead, the court considers the “pros and cons” of enforcing the putative illegal contract taking into account the benefits of upholding the contract against the drawbacks of doing so.

Even if a contract isn’t illegal, a Federal court can still refuse to enforce it when doing so would violated a clear congressional goal or policy. 

Illegality also applies where a contract isn’t illegal on its face but requires a contracting party to commit an illegal act carrying out its obligations. 

To determine whether a contract violates a Federal statute, the court compares the four-corners of the contract to the statutory text and any interpreting case law.(*3).

Here, the court found that the contract wasn’t explicitly illegal.  The purchase orders submitted by the general contractor defendant didn’t require it to pay for plaintiff’s services with Federal funds.  The defendant was free to pay the plaintiff with its own funds; not the government’s. 

In addition, the BAA doesn’t outlaw the sale of all foreign-made air conditioning units to government agencies like the CTA.  It instead only applies to projects that are paid for at least in part with Federal funds.  As a consequence, the contract wasn’t illegal on its face.

Next, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that allowing plaintiff to enforce the contract violated public policy.  In the procurement contract context, where there is a mandatory contract term that is based on a strong Federal policy, this policy is read into the contract by operation of law. 

However, this so-called Christian doctrine1 only applies to parties that contract directly with the government; not to subcontractors like the plaintiff.  This is because subcontractors contract with general contractors, not with the government. 

To impose a Federal procurement edict on a subcontractor who often doesn’t even know he is contracting for government work is plainly unfair. (*5).


An interesting discussion of the illegality defense in somewhat arcane context of Federal procurement rules.  The court gave a constricted reading to the illegality rule and looked at the underlying fairness if the contract was defeated. 

The fact that the plaintiff performed extensive work before termination figured heavily in the court’s analysis.  Another key ruling is that only general contractors, not subcontractors like the plaintiff here, have the duty to inquire into applicable procurement requirements.


1.  G.L. Christian and Associates v. United States, 312 F.2d 418 (1963).

Contractor’s Legal Malpractice Suit Can Go Forward In Case of (Alleged) Misfiled Mechanics’ Lien: IL 1st Dist.

Construction Systems, Inc. v. FagelHaber LLC, 2015 IL App (1st) 141700, dramatically illustrates the perilous consequences that can flow from a construction contract’s failure to identify the contracting parties and shows the importance of clarity when drafting releases intended to protect parties from future liability.

The plaintiff contractor sued its former law firm (the Firm) for failing to properly perfect a mechanics lien against a mortgage lender on commercial property.  The plaintiff alleged that because of the Firm’s lien perfection failure, the plaintiff was forced to settled its claim for about $1.3M less than the lien’s worth (about $3M). 

In the underlying lien case, the plaintiff and defendant Firm got into a fee dispute and the Firm withdrew.  The Firm turned over its file to the plaintiff after the plaintiff made a partial payment of the outstanding fees (owed to defendant Firm) and signed a release (the “Release”). The Release, which referenced “known and unknown” claims and contained “without limitation” verbiage, was signed by the plaintiff in 2004.  Plaintiff filed the current malpractice suit in 2009.

The trial court entered summary judgment for the Firm on the basis that the Release immunized the Firm from future claims.  Plaintiff appealed.

Held: Reversed


Reversing summary judgment for the Firm, the First District first applied the relevant rules governing written releases in Illinois.

a release is a contract and is governed by contract law;

– a release will be enforced as written where it’s clearly worded

– the scope and effect of a release is controlled by the intention of the parties;

– the intention of the parties is divined by reference to the words of the release and a release won’t be construed to defeat a claim that was not contemplated by the parties when they signed it;

– A “general” release will not apply to specific claims where a party is unaware of other (specific) claims;

– Where one party to a release owes the other a fiduciary duty (e.g. lawyer-client), the party owing the fiduciary duty has the burden of showing that it disclosed all relevant information to the other party.

(¶¶ 25-28).

Here, the court gave the Release a cramped construction.  It held that it didn’t apply to the malpractice suit since that case wasn’t filed until 5 years after the Release was signed and there was no evidence that the plaintiff knew that the Firm possibly flubbed the lien filing when it (the plaintiff) signed the Release.  This lack of evidence on the parties’ intent raised a disputed fact question that required denial of summary judgment.

Next, the court turned to the Firm’s judicial estoppel argument – that the plaintiff couldn’t sue for malpractice since it obtained a benefit in the underlying lawsuit (a settlement payment of $1.8M from the competing lender) by claiming it was an original contractor and not a subcontractor.  Judicial estoppel applies where (1) a party takes two positions under oath, (2) in separate legal proceedings, (3) the party successfully maintained the first position and obtained a benefit from it; and (4) the two positions are inconsistent.  (¶ 37).

The issue was paramount to the underlying lien case because if the plaintiff was a subcontractor, it had to comply with the 90-day notice requirement of Section 24 of the Lien Act.  But if it was a general or original contractor, plaintiff was excused from the 90-day notice requirement.  Based on this factual uncertainty, the court found the plaintiff had a right to pursue alternative arguments to salvage something of its approximately $3M lien claim.

The court also agreed with the plaintiff that it could recover prejudgment interest on the legal malpractice claim.  Since that claim flowed from the underlying allegation that the Firm failed to perfect plaintiff’s lien, and since Section 21 of the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act allows for prejudgment interest (770 ILCS 60/21), the plaintiff could add the interest it would have recovered to the damage claim versus the Firm. (¶ 48).


1/ A broad release can still be narrowly interpreted to encompass only those claims that were likely in the release parties’ contemplation.  If a claim hadn’t come to fruition at the time a release is signed, the releasing party can argue that an expansive release doesn’t cover that inchoate claim;

2/ Judicial estoppel requires more than alternative pleadings or arguments.  Instead, the litigant must take two wholly contradictory statements and obtain a benefit from doing so.  What’s a “benefit” is open to interpretation.  Here, the plaintiff received $1.8M on its lien claim in the earlier litigation.  Still, this wasn’t a benefit in relation to the value of its lien – which exceeded $3M;

3/ If the underlying claim – be it common law or statutory – provides for pre-judgment interest, then the later malpractice suit stemming from that underlying claim can include pre-judgment interest in the damages calculation.



Company’s Fraud Suit Versus Rival’s Ex-CFO Defeated by Prior Arbitration Award: Illinois Res Judicata Basics

The privity element of the res judicata doctrine focuses on whether two parties to two separate lawsuits have legal interests that are so intertwined they should be treated as the same parties.  Privity is usually an easier question than the res judicata’s other well-settled components – whether the two cases stem from the same transaction and whether that first case was resolved via a final judgment on the merits.

In Alaron Trading Co. v. Hehmeyer, 2015 IL App (1st) 133785-U, the First District examines res judicata’s privity element through the lens of a trading firm suing an officer of a rival company for stealing clients and not paying referral fees where that rival previously won an arbitration award against the trading firm for breach of contract.

Facts and Chronology: In 2012, the corporate officer defendant’s former company won a $400,000 arbitration award against the plaintiff trading firm for prematurely terminating a year-long trading contract.  Several months after the arbitration award, the trading firm sued the corporate officer in state court for fraud and tortuous interference. The trial court granted defendant’s Section 2-619 motion, premised on res judicata.

Held: Affirmed.


A motion under Code Section 2-619(a)(4) is the proper section to bring a res judicata motion;

– Res judicata requires an “identity of cause of action” between two separate legal proceedings (here, an arbitration case followed by a later court case);

– Res judicata can bar a defendant in one case from filing claims in a second case where the second case claims are based on the same facts as the plaintiff’s first case allegations.

– Separate claims are considered the same for res judicata purposes where they arise from a single group of operative facts, even though the causes of action are titled differently;

– Res judicata not only bars claims that were brought in an earlier case/arbitration, but also claims that could have been brought;

– Res judicata also requires “privity” between parties to two separate proceedings.  Privity applies where two parties are different in name but whose legal interests are substantially aligned such that an adjudication of one party’s rights in an earlier case will bind the second party in the second case;

– Quintessential privity relationships include members of partnerships and corporation and their officers, directors and shareholders;

(¶¶46-49, 56).

Here, all res judicata grounds were present.  The defendant in the state court case was the ex-CEO of the prior arbitration plaintiff.  In addition, the state court plaintiff (the trading firm and arbitration defendant) filed a voluminous counterclaim in the arbitration that was based primarily on the (state court) defendant’s conduct and that stemmed from the same underlying facts as the state court complaint.

Given his former CEO status, the defendant’s interests neatly aligned with those of his former employer – the arbitration plaintiff.  And since the court found that the state court plaintiff could have filed counterclaims against the defendant CEO in the earlier arbitration, res judicata applied and defeated plaintiff’s current court action.


The lesson of this case is to file all possible claims against all possible parties that stem from the same underlying facts.  This is especially urgent where it looks like there is a possibility of multiple proceedings: that is, where successive lawsuits (or arbitrations) could be filed.  Otherwise, by holding back on claims in a prior case, a litigant could be foreclosed from filing claims in a second suit.

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin 6.30.15 – Article on Lease Assignment and Prevailing Party Attorneys’ Fees Standards in Commercial Litigation

Contractor’s Substantial Performance Of Home Repair Work Defeats Homeowners’ Breach of Contract Suit – IL 5th Dist.

Brown v. Daech & Bauer, 2015 IL App (5th) 140203-U, serves as a recent example of a court applying the substantial performance doctrine in favor of a contractor in a disgruntled homeowner’s breach of contract suit versus the contractor.

The homeowner plaintiffs sued the contractor for defective work on plaintiffs’ home after some hail damage.  The plaintiffs joined statutory claims for violation of the Home Remodeling and Repair Act (HRRA) and the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) in their complaint.

For its part, the contractor counterclaimed for monies withheld by the plaintiff.  After a bench trial, the lower court sided with the contractor and awarded it damages.  It ruled against the plaintiffs on all claims.

 The 5th District affirmed and in doing so, gives some content to both the substantial performance and partial performance doctrine under Illinois contract law.

In Illinois, contractors aren’t required to perform with surgical precision.  Instead, contractors only need to exhibit the “honest and faithful performance of the material and substantial parts of the contract with no willful departure from or omission of the essential terms of the contract.” This is the substantial performance doctrine.

Like most legal tests, the substantial performance one is fluid and fact-based.  A contractor can meet the standard even where there are some defects, deviations or omissions from the contract.  So long as the project’s structural integrity remains intact and any contractual deviations can be fixed without damaging the property, the contractor can likely show substantial performance and recover under the contract.  The homeowner’s recourse when faced with a substantially (as opposed to perfectly) performing contractor is to take a credit against the contract price for any defects in the contractor’s work.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court’s finding that the plaintiff met the substantial performance standard. Since this finding wasn’t against the manifest weight of the evidence (“unreasonable, arbitrary, not based on the evidence”), the judgment for the contractor was upheld.

The court also found that the contractor could recover under the related doctrine of partial performance. This rule applies where a plaintiff performs most but not all of the material terms of a contract – where it consists of several component parts that can be neatly separated from each other. The key inquiry in deciding whether a contract is “entire” as opposed to “severable” (divisible, basically) is whether the parties gave a single assent to the whole transaction or whether they agreed separately to various parts of the contract.

Here, the court found that while the contractor didn’t finish about $1,000 worth of the $4,000-plus contract, it could still recover for the portions of the contract it did sufficiently perform.  The court found that certain aspects of the contract were different enough to allow piecemeal recovery.

Lastly, the court rejected the homeowners’ HRRA claim premised on the contractor’s failure to supply the required statutory brochure.  First, the court agreed with the contractor’s argument that it did in fact provide all HRRA disclosures.  Moreover, even if it didn’t furnish the forms, the plaintiff still failed to show any measurable damages caused by the HRRA breach.  At most, this was a technical violation that didn’t merit wholesale defeat of the plaintiff’s suit.


A pretty straight-forward illustration of the substantial performance doctrine and what a homeowner and contractor must show to win on a breach of contract suit based on faulty construction. The case emphasizes that contractors aren’t held to a flawlessness standard but instead they only must perform the material parts of a contract in a workmanlike fashion.

This case also signals a court’s unwillingness to defeat a contractor claim where there is a technical violation of the HRRA.  Absent actual damages flowing from an HRRA misstep, a homeowner likely won’t win on this claim.



Seventh Circuit Files: Court Voids LLC Member’s Attempt to Pre-empt LLC’s Suit Against That Member

In Carhart v. Carhart – Halaska International, LLC, (http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca7/14-2968/14-2968-2015-06-08.html) the plaintiff LLC member tried to shield himself from a lawsuit filed against him by the LLC by (1) taking an assignment of a third-party’s claim against the LLC; (2) getting and then registering a default judgment against the LLC; (3) seizing the LLC’s lone asset: its lawsuit against the plaintiff; and (4) buying the lawsuit for $10K.  This four-step progression allowed the plaintiff to extinguish the LLC’s claim against him.

Plaintiff was co-owner of the defendant LLC.  After a third-party sued the LLC in Minnesota Federal court (the “Minnesota Federal Case”), Plaintiff paid the third-party $150,000 for an assignment of that case.  Plaintiff then obtained a $240K default judgment against the LLC.

Meanwhile, the LLC, through its other owner, sued the plaintiff in Wisconsin State Court (the “Wisconsin State Case”) for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with plaintiff’s alleged plundering of the LLC.  While the Wisconsin State Case was pending, Plaintiff registered the Minnesota judgment against the LLC in Wisconsin Federal court.

Plaintiff, now a judgment creditor of the LLC, filed suit in Wisconsin Federal Court (the “Wisconsin Federal Case”) to execute on the $240K judgment against the LLC.  The Wisconsin District Court allowed the plaintiff to seize the LLC’s lone asset – the Wisconsin State Case (the LLC’s breach of fiduciary duty claim against plaintiff) – for $10,000.  This immunized the plaintiff from liability in the Wisconsin State Case as there was no longer a claim for the LLC to pursue against the plaintiff.  The LLC appealed.

The Seventh Circuit voided the sale of the Wisconsin State Case finding the sale price disproportionately low.

Under Wisconsin law, a chose in action is normally considered intangible property that can be assigned and seized to satisfy a judgment.  However, the amount paid for a chose in action must not be so low as to shock the conscience of the court.

In this case, the court branded the plaintiff a “troll of sorts”: it noted the plaintiff buying the LLC’s claim (the Wisconsin State Case) at a steep discount: the defendant paid $150,000 for an assignment of a third-party claim against the LLC and then paid only $10,000 for the LLC’s breach of fiduciary duty claim against plaintiff.

The court found that under Wisconsin law, the $10,000 the plaintiff paid for the LLC’s claim against him was conscience-shockingly low compared to the dollar value of the LLC’s claim.  The plaintiff did not purchase the LLC’s lawsuit in good faith.  The Seventh Circuit reversed the District Court’s validation of plaintiff’s $10K purchase so the LLC could pursue its breach of fiduciary duty claim against the plaintiff in the Wisconsin State Case.


This seems like the right result.  The court guarded against a litigant essentially buying his way out of a lawsuit (at least it had the appearance of this) by paying a mere fraction of what the suit was possibly worth.  

The case serves as an example of a court looking beneath the surface of a what looks like a routine judgment enforcement tool (seizing assets of a judgment debtor) and adjusting the equities between the parties.  By voiding the sale, the LLC will now have an opportunity to pursue its breach of fiduciary duty claim against the plaintiff in state court. 

Planting GPS Device On Car Not Enough for Invasion of Privacy Claim – IL Fed Court


Let’s see.  Secretly planting a GPS tracking device on a plaintiff’s car would certainly qualify for an invasion of the plaintiff’s privacy.  Wouldn’t it?

Not always.  That’s the key take-away from Troeckler v. Zeiser, 2015 WL 1042187, a recent Southern District of Illinois case that examines this question adapted to a plaintiff’s intrusion on seclusion claim filed against her ex-husband – the defendant who, with some help, secretly affixed a GPS device (a “black box”) to the plaintiff’s car.

The defendant’s two principal acts giving rise to plaintiff’s suit were (1) installing the GPS device; and (2) repeatedly trying to log-in to the plaintiff’s personal email, computer and cell phone accounts.  Plaintiff sued for invasion of privacy/intrusion on seclusion (the “Intrusion Claim”) and conspiracy against the ex-husband and the people he hired to install the device and log in to plaintiff’s e-mail.

The defendant moved to dismiss all claims and the Court dismissed some claims and sustained others.

On the Intrusion Claim, the court noted that in Illinois, intrusion on seclusion is a species of the invasion of privacy tort.  To make out a valid invasion of privacy claim in Illinois, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) an unauthorized intrusion or prying into the plaintiff’s seclusion; (2) an intrusion that is offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person, (3) the matter upon which the intrusion occurs is private; and (4) the intrusion causes anguish and suffering.

Element (3) – the intrusion involves something that is private – generates the most litigation.  Case examples of private matters include poking holes in a bathroom ceiling and installing hidden cameras in a doctor’s examination room.  Conversely, private facts contained in public records (name, address, SS #, e.g.) do not satisfy the privacy element.

The court looked to a New Jersey case for guidance as to whether installing a GPS device was actionable intrusion on seclusion.  The New Jersey court in Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, Inc., 21 A.3d 650 (N.J.App.Ct 2001) held that a defendant who surreptitiously placed a GPS monitor on her ex-husband’s car (to see if he was cheating on her) was not an invasion of privacy where there was no evidence the defendant drove his car into a private or secluded location.

Following the reasoning of the NJ case, the Troeckler court dismissed the plaintiff’s Intrusion Claim since the plaintiff failed to allege that she drove her car somewhere in which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The plaintiff fared better on the Intrusion Claim as it pertained to the defendant hacking into her private email accounts.  The court found that for purposes of a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff did sufficiently allege a claim for invasion of privacy based solely on the e-mail allegations.

The plaintiff won and lost parts of her conspiracy claim against her ex and the various people he enlisted to help him install the GPS device and breach the plaintiff’s emails accounts.  Civil conspiracy requires concerted action and an underlying wrongful act.  Since the plaintiff failed to establish invasion of privacy on her Intrusion Claim, there was no predicate tort for the conspiracy.

The result was different with respect to the e-mail hacking though.  Since logging in to the plaintiff’s private accounts was a possible invasion of privacy (at least at the early pleading stage), the conspiracy claim survived as it related to the e-mail claims.


1/A defendant’s unauthorized hacking into a plaintiff’s private email accounts can underlie an intrusion on seclusion/invasion of privacy claim;

2/ In the context of installing a monitoring device on someone’s car, the privacy tort is applied literally: if the plaintiff doesn’t show that she drove somewhere private or “secluded,” invasion of privacy isn’t the proper cause of action to assert.  With the benefit hindsight, the plaintiff probably should have pled a violation of the civil stalking statute based on the defendant’s GPS installation.

Plaintiff Loses Bid to Repossess Dog Gifted to Ex: Illinois Replevin, Personal Property and Gift Law Basics

Koerner v. Nielsen, 2014 IL App (1st) considers the parameters of an inter vivos gift (a gift made during a giver’s lifetime) as they pertain to the question of who owns a dog after the break-up of a romantic relationship.

The plaintiff gave her then-boyfriend (the defendant) a dog (a Stig) for Christmas.  About fourteen months later, the parties’ broke up and the defendant moved out, taking the dog with him.  Plaintiff filed a replevin suit to get the dog back.

A two-day bench trial culminated in a judgment for the defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

Held: Affirmed.  Plaintiff made a gift of the dog to the defendant, defendant accepted the gift, and plaintiff failed to show that the gift was revoked.

Under Illinois personal property and gift law, where a defendant asserts that he owns something based on a gift from a plaintiff, he must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, donative intent: that the owner departed with “exclusive dominion and control over the subject of the gift” and delivered the property to the donee (the party claiming he is the gift’s recipient).

Donative intent is determined at the time of the transfer of property, and is based on what was done or said at the time of transfer, not at some later date.  The delivery element of a gift is satisfied where the parties live together (like here).

A gift in contemplation of marriage (e.g. an engagement ring) is a conditional gift.  If the condition (the marriage) never materializes, the property reverts back to the gifting party.

The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that she never delivered the dog to the defendant.  The plaintiff claimed that since she maintained insurance on the dog at all times and was listed as the owner on the dog’s registration papers, she never relinquished control of the dog.

The court found “documentary title is not conclusive of ownership” and noted that all that is required is that the donor part with exclusive dominion and control.

Since the plaintiff could point to no evidence that showed the gift of the dog to defendant was conditional on a later marriage or continuing the relationship, the court found that the defendant conclusively established that the dog was an unconditional gift to him and that he was the rightful owner.

Take-away:  This case is post-worthy for its discussion of a somewhat arcane legal topic (in the sense that inter vivos gifts are not often the subject of published opinions) in a commonplace fact setting.

The case holds practical relevance for lawyers and non-lawyers alike as it highlights the potential complications that arise when romantic cohabitants break up and there is no formal marital union to neatly divide their personal property upon dissolution.

Apparent Agency Questions Defeat Summary Judgment in Guaranty Dispute – IL ND

The Northern District of Illinois recently examined the nature of apparent agency liability in the context of a breach of guaranty dispute involving related limited liability companies (LLCs).  The plaintiff in Hepp v. Ultra Green Energy Services, LLC, 2015 WL 1952685 (N.D.Ill. 2015) sued to enforce a written guaranty signed by the defendant company in connection with a $250K-plus promissory note signed by a company owned by the defendant’s managing member.

The court denied the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion.  It found there were material and triable fact issues as to whether the person signing the guaranty had legal authority to do so.

The court first addressed whether the guaranty was supported by consideration.  Consideration is “bargained-for exchange” where the promisor receives something of benefit (or the promisee suffers detriment) in exchange for the promise.  A guaranty’s boiler-plate provision that says “For Value Received” creates a presumption (but one that can be rebutted) of valid consideration.

Where the guaranty is signed at the same time as the underlying note, the consideration for the note transfers to the guaranty.  But where the guaranty is signed after the note, additional consideration (beyond the underlying loan) needs to flow to the guarantor.  A payee’s agreement to forbear from suing can be sufficient consideration.

Here, the plaintiff agreed to extend the deadline for repayment of the note by thirty days.  According to the court, this was sufficient consideration for the plaintiff to enforce the guaranty.  **3-4.

Next, the court shifted to its agency analysis and considered whether the LLC manager who signed the guaranty had authority to bind the LLC.  Answer – maybe not.

Apparent agency arises where (1) the principal or agent acts in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to believe the actor is an agent of the principal, (2) the principal knowingly acquiesces to the acts of the agent, and (3) the plaintiff reasonably relies on the acts of the purported agent.

When considering whether a plaintiff has shown apparent agency, the focus is on the acts of the principal (here, the LLC), and whether the principal took actions that could reasonably lead a third party to believe the agent is authorized to perform the act in question (here, signing the guaranty on the LLC’s behalf).

The scope of an apparent agent’s authority is determined by the authority that a reasonable person might believe the agent has based on the principal’s actions.  Also, a third party dealing with an agent has an obligation to verify the fact and extent of an agent’s authority.  **5-6.

The court found there material questions of disputed fact as to whether the plaintiff reasonably relied on the LLC manager’s representation that he had authority to sign the guaranty for the LLC.  The court noted that this was an unusual transaction that was beyond the ordinary course of the LLC’s business (since it implicated a possible conflict of interest (the manager who signed the guaranty was an officer of the corporate borrower) and it resulted in a pledge of the LLC’s assets), and culminated in the LLC taking on another $125,000 in debt in exchange for a short repayment time extension.  * 7.

The anomalous nature of the transaction coupled with the affidavit testimony of several LLC members who said they had no knowledge of the manager signing the guaranty, created too many unresolved facts to be decided on summary judgment.


1/ A guaranty signed after the underlying note requires additional consideration running to the guarantor;

2/ Great care should go into drafting an Operating Agreement (OA).  Here, because the OA specifically catalogued numerous actions that required unanimous written consent of all members, the LLC defendant had ammunition to avoid the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion.

As-Is Rider in Real Estate Contract Doesn’t Defeat Implied Warranty of Habitability in Home Sale – Fattah v. Bim Deconstruction – Part II of II)

The Fattah v. Bim (2015 IL App (1st) 140171) developer defendant seemed to have double protection.  Not only did the person it sold the home to (Buyer 1) waive the implied warranty of habitability, but Buyer 1’s buyer – the plaintiff – took the home “as-is” pursuant to a contract rider.

Despite the added layer of protection, the court still allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed against the developer defendant. It’s reasons:

the “as is” rider was part of the contract between plaintiff and Buyer 1: it has no bearing on plaintiff’s rights versus the defendant;

– even if the “as is” rider did impact plaintiff’s rights versus the  defendant,  the rider wouldn’t negate the implied warranty of habitability;

– that’s because the “as is” rider (in the plaintiff-Buyer 1 contract) didn’t mention the implied warranty of habitability or a waiver of it;

– where a purchaser agrees to accept a house “as is” and the “as-is” provision doesn’t refer to any implied warranties in general and also doesn’t disclose the consequences of waiving an implied warranty, the as-is provision can’t be viewed as a valid disclaimer that a home builder/developer can rely on.

(¶¶ 34-35)

The court also fond that when a purchaser accepts a home as-is, a builder/developer still has to carry its burden of proving the home buyer   knowingly waived the implied warranty of habitability “by showing a conspicuous provision [that] fully discloses the consequences of [the waiver.]”  Since the defendant failed to meet its burden, the as is rider didn’t defeat the earlier waiver of the implied warranty of habitability on the house.

The court further circumscribed the implied warranty waiver signed by Buyer 1.  It held that a waiver of an implied warranty of habitability protects only the person identified in the contract.  It doesn’t extend to unwitting parties (like the plaintiff) unless there is a clear intent for that waiver to apply to a third party.

The as-is rider precludes the plaintiff from pursuing Buyer 1 (who sold the home to plaintiff) for damages based on home defects but it does not impact plaintiff’s rights versus the developer.  The developer defendant was not party to the as-is agreement between plaintiff and Buyer 1  wasn’t a named beneficiary of it.

Now What?

While the plaintiff obtained a reversal of summary judgment in the builder’s favor, he still hasn’t won the case.  He must now carry his burden of proving the defendant breached the implied warranty of habitability.  He must prove: (1) latent defects in the house, (2) that interfere with the reasonably intended use of the house and (3) the latent defects manifested themselves within a reasonable time after the house was purchased.  

The court agreed that the patio collapse constituted a latent defect.  Plaintiff will now have to establish elements (2) and (3) – that the patio defects interfered with plaintiff’s use of the home and that he learned of the defects a reasonable time after he bought the house.