Illinois Appellate Court Denies Request for a New Trial After $1.2 million Verdict for Fraudulent Misrepresentation in Commercial Property Transaction
Most businesses are of the brick and mortar variety, meaning that they have a physical location where they conduct operations, and as a result these business have to either buy or rent properties to acquire the space they need. At DiTommaso-Lubin, our Elgin business attorneys have handled many commercial and industrial building sale disputes, and are always researching the law in that area to better serve our clients. Napcor Corporation v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA is one such case about material misrepresentations made in the sale of a commercial property.
In Napcor Corporation v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA, Plaintiff purchased a large commercial building from Defendants. Prior to the sale, the building's roof allegedly began to leak significantly, and the building's broker performed an inspection to determine the extent of the damage. The broker allegedly concluded that the existing roof needed to be removed and replaced to fix the problems. Instead of replacing the damaged roof, Defendant constructed a second roof over the first because it was a cheaper option. This second roof was constructed in spite of the fact that Defendant was allegedly warned that the new roof would be susceptible to being torn off by winds. Additionally, the original leakage problem allegedly remained after the new roof's construction.
The building was then listed for sale, and the pertinent part of the listing stated that the building had a “new roof in 1994 (tear off).” In 1996, Plaintiff purchased the building for $1.309 million through a contract where Plaintiff agreed to accept the building “as is”, and had a 30-day due diligence period. Plaintiff was allegedly not made aware of the leaks, and relied upon Defendant's alleged representation that the old roof had been torn off. Upon moving into the building, Plaintiff allegedly found the leakage problem and over several years three sections of the roof blew off on three different occasions. Plaintiff then filed suit for fraudulent misrepresentation, and was awarded a $1.2 million judgment after a trial by jury.
Defendant appealed the decision and asked for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial based upon faulty jury instructions and the exclusion of evidence that Plaintiff agreed to accept the building in its “as is” condition. Defendant contended that the jury instruction failed to state that Plaintiff had the burden of proof to show all the elements of fraud by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court denied Defendant's motion.
The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. The Court made its decision because the 'as is' language in the purchase agreement did not preclude Plaintiff from claiming it relied on the alleged misrepresentations, and the clause also did not serve as a defense to fraud. As such, the Court decided, the verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Finally, the Court denied the request for a new trial because the lower court used an IPI civil jury instruction that accurately stated the law, and in doing so, the trial court did not abuse its discretion.