Archives for March 2016

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.

Afterwords:

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.

 

 

 

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)

Afterwords:

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. 

Afterwords:

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.