Snow Plower’s Quantum Meruit Claim Fails; Dissent Takes Rule 23 Publishing Standards to Task – IL 1st Dist.

In Snow & Ice, Inc. v. MPR Management, 2017 IL App (1st) 151706-U, a snow removal company brought breach of contract and quantum meruit claims against a property manager and several property owners for unpaid services.

The majority affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims and in dissent, Judge Hyman gives a scathing critique of Rule 23, which provides standards for publishing (or not) opinions, including the rule’s penchant for quiet minority voices on an appeals court.

Plaintiff sued to recover about $90K for snow removal services it supplied to nine separate properties managed by the property manager defendant.  After nonsuiting the management company, the plaintiff proceeded against the property owners on breach of contract and quantum meruit claims.

The trial court granted the nine property owners’ motion to dismiss on the basis there was no privity of contract between plaintiff and the owners.  The court dismissed the quantum meruit suit because an express contract between the plaintiff and property manager governed the parties’ relationship and a quantum meruit claim can’t co-exist with a breach of express contract action.

Affirming the Section 2-615 dismissal of the breach of contract claims, the appeals court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the management company contracted with plaintiff on behalf of the property owner defendants.  In Illinois, agency is a question of fact, but the plaintiff still must plead facts which, if proved, could establish an agency relationship.

A conclusory allegation of a principal-agent relationship between property manager and owners is not sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.  Since the plaintiff only alleged the bare conclusion that the property owners were responsible for the management company’s contract, the First District affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s breach of contract claims.

The Court also affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s quantum meruit claims against the owners.  A quantum meruit plaintiff must plead (1) that it performed a service to defendant’s benefit, (2) it did not perform the service gratuitously, (3) defendant accepted the service, and (4) no contract existed to prescribe payment for the service.  Quantum meruit is based on an implied promise by a recipient of services or goods to pay for something of value which it received.  (¶¶ 17-18).

Since the properties involved in the lawsuit were commercial (meaning, either vacant or leased), the Court refused to infer that the owners wanted the property plowed.  It noted that if the property was vacant, plaintiff would have to plead facts to show that the owner wanted plaintiff to clear snow from his/her property.  If leased, the plaintiff needed facts tending to show that the owner/lessor (as opposed to the tenant) implicitly agreed to pay for the plaintiff’s plowing services.  As plaintiff’s complaint was bereft of facts sufficient to establish the owners knew of and impliedly agreed to pay plaintiff for its services, the quantum meruit claim failed.

If leased, the plaintiff needed facts tending to show that the owner/lessor (as opposed to the tenant) implicitly agreed to pay for the plaintiff’s plowing services.  As plaintiff’s complaint was bereft of facts sufficient to establish the owners knew of and impliedly agreed to pay plaintiff for its services, the quantum meruit claim failed.

In dissent, Judge Hyman agreed that the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim was properly dismissed but found that the plaintiff did plead enough facts to sustain a quantum meruit claim.  Hyman’s dissent’s true value, though, lies in its in-depth criticism of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23’s publication guidelines.

Rule 23 provides for an opinion’s publication only where a majority of the panel deems a decision one that “establishes a new rule of law or modifies, explains, or criticizes an existing rule of law” or “resolves, creates, or avoids an apparent conflict of authority within the Appellate Court.” Sup. Ct. R. 23(a).

Hyman’s thesis is that these standards are too arbitrary and the Rule should be changed so that just one justice, instead of a majority of the panel, is all that’s needed to have a decision published.  Hyman then espouses the benefits of dissents and special concurrences; they perform the valuable functions of clarifying, questioning and developing the law.

In its current configuration, Rule 23 arbitrarily allows a majority of judges to squelch lone dissenters and effectively silence criticism.  Judge Hyman advocates for Illinois to follow multiple other courts’ lead and adopt a “one justice” rule (a single judge’s request warrants publication).  By implementing the one justice rule, minority voices on an appeals panel won’t so easily be squelched and will foster legal discourse and allow the competing views to “hone legal theory,

By implementing the one justice rule, minority voices on an appeals panel won’t so easily be squelched and will foster legal discourse and allow the competing views to “hone legal theory, concept and rule.”



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.


Amended Complaints and Quantum Meruit – Some Illinois Reminders

Earlier ( I discussed how quantum meruit is a valuable fallback or “Plan B” theory of recovery when a client has done work for someone, hasn’t been paid and there is no governing express contract between them.  Quantum meruit (translation: “as much as he deserves”) ensures that my client at least gets something where his  services have benefitted a defendant who welcomed the services or stood silently as my client performed them.

Blietz v. System Integration, 2014 IL App (1st) 132270-U examines the pleading elements of quantum meruit and the importance of assigning a monetary value to the services that form the basis for the quantum meruit suit.

There, the Plaintiff sued his former employer – an architecture firm – to recover about $300K in unpaid compensation for accounting and marketing services the plaintiff rendered for the firm.  He brought claims for breach of contract, a statutory wage payment and collection act claim and an alternative quantum meruit action.

The trial court dismissed the claims for lack of factual specifics and the architect appealed.

Held: Affirmed

Q: Why:

A: The appeals court affirmed dismissal of the plaintiff’s breach of contract and wage payment claim on purely procedural grounds.  When a plaintiff files an amended complaint, he waives objections to the court’s ruling on prior complaints.  Where an amendment is complete in itself and doesn’t refer to or adopt the prior pleading, the prior pleading ceases to be part of the record and it’s viewed as abandoned.  A party only needs to reference an earlier pleading in a footnote or a single paragraph to preserve it for appellate review.

Here, by failing to adopt or reference his breach of contract and wage count claims in his most recent pleading, these claims were abandoned and unappealable.

The court also affirmed plaintiff’s quantum meruit dismissal.  To recover in quantum meruit, the plaintiff must plead (1) he performed services, (2) that benefitted a defendant, (3) that it’s unjust for the defendant to reap the benefits of the plaintiff’s services without paying the plaintiff. 

The quantum meruit plaintiff has the burden to show the defendant received the plaintiff’s services and that it would be unjust for the defendant to retain the services without paying for them.  Critically, the plaintiff must prove his services were of “measurable benefit” to the defendant.  (¶25).

The plaintiff’s quantum meruit claim failed on its face.  The plaintiff didn’t monetize the value of his unpaid work but did say he was paid over $96K during his tenure with the defendant.  By doing so, plaintiff had to plead that he performed work that had a value over and above the $96K paid to him.  Because the plaintiff couldn’t plead work that exceeded the $96K paid him, he failed to allege that he conferred a measurable benefit on the defendant.

Plaintiff’s bare allegations that he “created value” for defendant and “greatly increased” the defendant’s company value during plaintiff’s tenure were too nebulous to survive a motion to dismiss.  Under Illinois fact-pleading rules, these bare bones allegations with no factual support didn’t provide a calculable amount of the claimed services.  As a result, plaintiff’s quantum meruit claim failed.  (¶ 29).


A.  To preserve your right to appeal a dismissed count, you should reference it in the amended pleading – otherwise the count is abandoned and can’t be appealed;

B.  Quantum meruit only applies where there is no express contract or a contract formation defect (e.g. uncertain price term, duration, etc) that makes a basic breach of contract claim impossible;

B.  The quantum meruit plaintiff must do more than nakedly plead that he performed services that benefitted a defendant.  He must instead allege he provided quantifiable value to the defendant and also plead surrounding facts that show it’s unfair for the defendant to enjoy the fruits of the plaintiff’s services without paying him.