Illinois Guaranty Law: Increasing Guarantor’ Risk or Changing the Terms = Discharged Guaranty

In Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois, Inc. v. Steiner, 2014 IL App (1st) 123435, the First District outlined and applied the rules governing the interpretation and enforcement of written guaranty agreements in Illinois.

The plaintiff wine distributor purchased the assets of another distributor that had previously entered into a contract with a liquor store company; a contract personally guaranteed by the individual liquor store owners.

The year after the asset purchase, the plaintiff began supplying wine to the defendants’ liquor store on account.  But neither the plaintiff nor the purchased distributor informed the guarantors of the asset purchase.  Because of this, the guarantors had no idea that the assets of the distributor were sold to the plaintiff.  The defendants also didn’t know that the plaintiff now held the guaranty given by the liquor store owners to purchased distributor.

When the liquor store defaulted on about $20,000 worth of merchandise, the plaintiff sued under the guaranty signed by the liquor store owners.

The defendants moved to dismiss on the basis that the personal guaranty wasn’t assignable to the plaintiff since defendants didn’t know they were guaranteeing the liquor store’s contract obligations to the plaintiff.  The trial court agreed and plaintiff appealed.

Result: Trial court affirmed.


In Illinois, a guaranty is simply a contract where a guarantor promises to pay the debts of a “principal” (the main debtor) to a third party creditor.

A guaranty is construed like any other contract and a guarantor is given the benefit of any doubts that may arise from the language of a guaranty.  A guarantor’s liability can’t exceed the scope of what he has agreed to accept and guaranties are strictly construed in favor of the guarantor; especially when the creditor drafted the guaranty.  ¶ 16. 

Guaranty agreements are generally not assignable but a guaranty can be assigned where the essentials of the original contract are not changed and the performance required under the guaranty isn’t materially different from what was originally contemplated

Where (1) a guarantor’s risk is increased or (2) performance is materially changed by the assignment of a guaranty or a merger involving the plaintiff-creditor, the guarantor’s obligations can be discharged. ( ¶ 18).

The Court held that because the defendants didn’t know that the guaranty was assigned to the plaintiff and because the amount owed the plaintiff fluctuated from month-to-month (in contrast to the  fixed amount the guarantors owed the original distributor), the defendants’ risk under the guaranty was materially increased by the assignment to plaintiff.

This was deemed a material change in the terms of the agreement that defendants entered into with plaintiff’s predecessor and changed defendants’ risk from known to completely unknown.  (¶¶ 21-22).

The Court also held that the trial court properly struck key parts of the plaintiff’s affidavit filed in response to defendants’ motion to dismiss.

The plaintiff filed the affidavit of its credit manager who testified that she reviewed the payment history involving the purchased distributor and the guarantors’ liquor store business.  The credit manager attached about two years’ worth of invoices and a payment ledger to her affidavit.

But the invoices didn’t  reference the prior wine distributor and only identified the guarantors’ liquor store.  The Court found that because the affidavit attachments failed to link the plaintiff directly to either the guarantor defendants or their liquor business, the plaintiff failed to lay an adequate foundation for the invoices as business records.


– A guaranty agreement should specify whether or not it’s assignable and enforceable by third parties;

– Where a guaranty is assigned to a third party, the original creditor and assignee should both notify the guarantor and make it clear that the assignee creditor plans to hold the guarantor to the terms of the guaranty;

– Where an assigned or sold guaranty either changes the guarantor’s performance or materially increases his risk, for example by increasing the payment terms or frequency, the guaranty will likely not be enforceable by a third party/assignee.

Illinois Business Records: Getting Them In at Trial


I’ve learned from painful experience to always have evidentiary foundation and authenticity considerations at the forefront of my trial preparation plan. 

I’ve also found that having a working knowledge of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 236 (SCR 236), as well as Federal and Illinois Evidence Rules 803(6) and 902(11) (hearsay exception and self-authentication rules for business records, respectively) is essential to preparing for and proving my client’s breach of contract case at trial.

Bank of America v. Land, 2013 IL App (5th) 120283 serves as a good case law illustration of the business records rule.  

The plaintiff bank sued to foreclose a mortgage and later moved for summary judgment.  The bank supported its summary judgment motion with a bank officer’s affidavit who testified that she reviewed the bank’s books and records of the mortgage holders, reviewed the borrowers’ payment history and certified a payment history attached to the affidavit. Land, ¶ 5. 

The trial court granted the bank’s motion awarding it money damages of over $100,000 and a judgment of foreclosure.  Land, ¶ 6.  Defendant appealed.

Result: Trial Court affirmed.  The bank’s supporting affidavit meets the requirements of SCR 236.

Reasoning:  The defendant’s chief argument on appeal was that the bank officer’s supporting affidavit was inadmissible hearsay since the underlying mortgage didn’t originate with the plaintiff and because the affidavit relied on a third party’s (another mortgage company) loan records. 

The Court rejected the argument and held that the affidavit met the requirements of SCR 236, which codifies the hearsay exception for business records (a link to the Rule’s text follows this post).

SCR 236 provides that any record of a monetary transaction is admissible as evidence of that transaction if the record is made in the regular course of business and the business’s regular practice was to make a record of a transaction at or near the time of the transaction;

– The rationale for the rule is that business records exist to aid in the proper transaction of business and so records are “useless for that purpose unless accurate.” 

– Lack of personal knowledge by the maker may affect the evidence’s weight, but not its admissibility;

A third party’s records can also be admitted where that third party is authorized to generate the record on behalf of the offering party.

¶ 13.

Applying these rules, the Court found that plaintiff satisfied SCR 236 requirements where the affiant/bank officer testified

(i) that she was familiar with the bank’s business records creation and maintenance practices,

(ii) that the records pertaining to the defendants were made at or near the time of the occurrences giving rise to the records,

(iii) were made by individuals with personal knowledge of the information contained in the business record, and

(iv) the records were kept in the regular course of the bank’s business.  ¶ 13.

Take-aways: Illinois litigants now have a slew of evidence rules – SCR 236, IRE 803(6), IRE 902(11) – at their disposal that streamline the process of getting business records into evidence at trial and eliminate many of the logistical and hearsay headaches that trial practice formerly entailed.  

The case underscores the importance of knowing the rules for business record admissions at trial and on summary judgment.  A key holding of Land is that the business records relied on can be those of a third party; as long as the witness can testify to her familiarity with the records and can establish that the third party records were integral to the witness’s business.  This obviously obviates the need to subpoena a third party to testify concerning the third-party records.