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made a gift of the dog to the defendant, defendant accepted the gift, and plaintiff failed to show that the gift was revoked.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.

Take-aways:

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.