Articles Posted in Illinois Appellate Courts

An Illinois appellate court reversed a circuit court order dismissing a doctor’s lawsuit for slander per quod against two colleagues. Tunca v. Painter, et al, 965 N.E.2d 1237 (Ill. App. 2012). Two doctors who worked at the same hospital as the plaintiff alleged that the plaintiff was negligent during a surgery, resulting in injury to the patient. The plaintiff alleged that their statements were defamatory, causing damage to his professional reputation and a decline in patient referrals. After the circuit court dismissed multiple claims of slander per se and per quod, the plaintiff appealed. The appellate court held that the defendants’ statements were slanderous on their face, and ruled in the plaintiff’s favor.

The plaintiff, Dr. Josh Tunca, is a surgeon specializing in gynecological oncology. Defendant Dr. Thomas Painter is a vascular surgeon who worked at the same hospital. Defendant Dr. Daniel Conway was chairman at the time of the hospital’s quality review committee. After Dr. Tunca performed surgery to remove an ovarian tumor in June 2006, a severe blood clot formed in the patient’s femoral artery. Dr. Painter performed a femoral-femoral bypass, correcting the condition. Id. at 1241. Dr. Painter allegedly told the hospital’s vice president and medical affairs director that Dr. Tunca had “inadvertently cut the [patient’s] left iliac artery,” and made similar statements to other doctors. Id. at 1241-42. Dr. Conway allegedly spoke to Dr. Tunca, in the presence of other doctors, “regarding his allegedly cutting the [patient’s] artery.” Id. at 1242.

Dr. Tunca filed suit against Drs. Painter and Conway in July 2007, alleging slander per se against both defendants. This is a claim that the statements in question are unambiguously defamatory. He claimed that their statements, made in the presence of others, were “false, malicious, slanderous, and…inten[ded] to injure plaintiff’s good name and credit in his profession.” Id. After several dismissals of his slander claims, the plaintiff filed a third amended petition alleging slander per quod against both defendants, adding allegations that the defendants’ statements had been “disseminated throughout the hospital,” affecting his ability to treat patients and his ability to get new patients. Id. at 1245. After the Cook County Circuit Court dismissed these claims, the plaintiff appealed.

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An appellate court in Illinois reversed a lower court ruling dismissing a defamation lawsuit brought by an associate professor at Northwestern University. Mauvais-Jarvis v. Wong, et al, Nos. 1-12-0070, 1-12-0237 cons., slip op. (Ill. App. 1st Dist., Mar. 28, 2013). The plaintiff claimed that the defendants committed libel against him in emails and other correspondence exchanged in the course of an internal investigation into data presented by the plaintiff for publication. The trial court dismissed all defamation claims, holding that the statements in question were subject to an absolute privilege because the defendants were investigating “suspected research misconduct.” Id. at 2. The appellate court accepted the plaintiff’s argument that the statements are only protected by a qualified privilege, and that the defendants had not established in their motion to dismiss that the privilege should apply.

The plaintiff, Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, is an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University and the research director of the school’s Comprehensive Center on Obesity. Part of his research is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The court gives a comprehensive overview of HHS’ policies on “research misconduct,” which includes fabrication, falsification, or manipulation of data and research materials, as well as plagiarism. Id. at 4. Northwestern maintains an Office of Research Integrity (ORI) based on HHS regulations, which conducts reviews of alleged research misconduct.

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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 Lubin Austermuehle, 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.

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Every business has employees, and as business litigators, the attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle pride ourselves on being knowledgeable about all the areas of law that affect our clients, including employment laws. Our Orland Park business attorneys recently discovered a case that has an impact on companies who utilize employment non-competition agreements with their employees.

Reliable Fire Equipment Company v. Arredondo pits an employer against two former employees, Defendants Arredondo and Garcia, who worked as fire alarm system salesmen for Plaintiff. Each Defendant signed an employment agreement where Defendant’s would allegedly earn commissions of varying percentages of the gross profits on items or systems sold. After working for Plaintiff for several years, Defendants created Defendant High Rise Security Systems, LLC., which was allegedly a competitor to Plaintiff’s business. Plaintiff eventually became aware that Defendants were starting an alleged competitor company, and asked Defendants if in fact they had created a fire alarm business. Defendant Arredondo allegedly denied that he was starting such a business, and resigned shortly afterward, with Defendant Garcia tendering his resignation two weeks after Arredondo.

Plaintiff then filed suit alleging breach of the duty of fidelity and loyalty, conspiracy to compete against Plaintiff and misappropriation of confidential information, tortious interference of prospective economic advantage, breach of the employment agreements, and unjust enrichment. The trial court held that the employment agreements were unenforceable because of unreasonable geographic and solicitation restrictions and the fact that language of the agreements was unclear. A trial on the issues unrelated to the employment agreement ensued, and Defendants successfully moved for a directed verdict because there was insufficient evidence that Defendants competed with Plaintiffs prior to Arredondo’s resignation.

Plaintiff then appealed the trial court’s ruling that the employment agreements in question were unenforceable and the directed jury verdict. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s directed verdict, stating that the lower court had properly weighed the evidence in finding a total lack of competent evidence. The Court then analyzed the restrictive covenants under the legitimate business interest test and found that the geographic restrictions were not reasonable and therefore the trial court did not err in ruling that the restrictive covenants were unenforceable.

Reliable Fire Equipment Company v. Arredondo illustrates why it is so important for business owners to keep an eye on their employees, and serves as a warning for companies wanting to sue former employees based upon non-competition agreements. Furthermore, the case shows that courts frown upon the use of vague language in such agreements, and it is always in your best interests to keep the terms of employment agreements reasonable.

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Lubin Austermuehle represents clients all over the Chicago-land area, and because Chicago is a growing metropolis, land comes at a premium. This means that there is constant property development going on all over our fair city, and with that development comes unique legal problems. Water Tower Realty Company v. Fordham is a case that was decided in the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Third Division that addresses some of the problems that arise when companies perform construction in close proximity to neighboring businesses.

In Water Tower Realty Company v. Fordham, Defendant Fordham constructed a building on a parcel of land in Chicago, and prior to its construction, Defendant agreed to indemnify Plaintiff Water Tower for losses suffered due to the erection of the edifice. Five years after the building was finished, Plaintiff filed suit alleging that during construction Defendant had “so used its property as to make it impossible to lease” an adjacent property. Plaintiff claimed that it had lost over $75,000 in rental business as a result and that Defendant had refused to indemnify Plaintiff for this loss. Plaintiff filed for a dismissal of the action, and the trial court dismissed the claims because they were barred by the applicable statute of limitations as set forth in 735 ILCS 2-619(a)(5). Defendant then appealed the trial court’s dismissal.

The Appellate Court analyzed whether the trial court was correct in applying the four year statutory period or whether a ten year period was appropriate. The Court found that the nature of the injury was determinative in making such a decision, with the four year term applying if the injury was due to a construction-related activity, and the ten year term applying if the harm was caused by a breach of contract. In reversing the lower court’s dismissal, the Appellate Court concluded that the appropriate statute of limitations was the ten year term because the Plaintiff’s injury was caused by Defendant’s failure to honor the indemnity agreement. The Court went on to hold that the agreement’s indemnity provisions applied to both first party and third party claims, and that it contained no language that could hold Defendant’s agents personally liable for Plaintiff’s damages.

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Lubin Austermuehle represents clients from many industries who operate all kinds of businesses, including both franchisors and franchisees. Our Aurora business attorneys came across an appellate decision from the Fourth District here in Illinois that involves a dispute that arose out of a franchise agreement between a heavy-duty truck manufacturer and a truck dealer.

Crossroads Ford Truck Sales, Inc. v. Sterling Truck Corp. is a disagreement that came about after the two parties entered into a sales and service agreement where Plaintiff Crossroads had the right to purchase Sterling Trucks and vehicle parts from Defendants and Defendants “reserved the right to discontinue at any time the manufacture or sale” of their parts or change the design or specs of any products without prior notice to Plaintiff. Several years after entering the agreement, Defendants allegedly announced that they were discontinuing the production of Sterling trucks and that Detroit Diesel Corporation (the truck’s engine manufacturer) would cease accepting orders as well. Defendant sent written notice of these decisions to Plaintiffs. Defendants decided to discontinue manufacture of the Sterling vehicles allegedly because they were duplicative of other vehicles manufactured by Sterling’s parent company.

In response to this notice, Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act, fraud, and tortious interference with contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on all counts, which was granted in part by the trial court because Defendants’ discontinuance and re-branding of the Sterling brand constituted good cause for terminating the contract. Plaintiff then filed an interlocutory appeal for the trial court’s partial dismissal.

The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the violations of sections 4(d)(1) of the Franchise Act because Plaintiffs failed to allege specific facts supporting each element of violation under the Act and instead merely made conclusory allegations for each violation. The Court also found that the allegations under section 9 of the Act were improperly plead, as Plaintiff’s allegations contained only conclusions without the specific facts required by the Act. The Court then upheld the lower court’s ruling as to the allegations under section 9.5 of the Act because the sales and service agreement remained in effect and had not been terminated. Next the Court found the dismissal of the fraud claims to be proper because Plaintiff failed to allege a misrepresentation of a present fact and dismissed the claims under section 4(b) of the act because Defendant’s conduct was neither arbitrary nor in bad faith. Finally, the Court did not address the alleged 4(d)(6) violations due to a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as such violations are within the purview of the Review Board under section 12(d) of the Act.

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Workers’ compensation insurance is a necessary part of doing business for many companies, so the attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle are always on the lookout for emerging legal issues in that area. Our Naperville business attorneys recently discovered a decision rendered by the Appellate Court of Illinois that is significant for current and potential clients who have workers’ compensation insurance agreements that contain an arbitration clause.

All-American Roofing, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company pits Plaintiff All-American Roofing against its Defendant insurer, Zurich American in a lawsuit that arose from alleged unpaid deductibles and retrospective insurance premiums. The five-year insurance agreement was based upon retrospectively rated premiums that required Plaintiff to reimburse Defendant after the end of a policy year for claims that arose during that year. After the fourth year, the policy exchanged the retrospectively rated premiums for a larger deductible. The dispute began when Defendant summoned Plaintiff to arbitration regarding the aforementioned unpaid sums pursuant to a mandatory arbitration clause contained within the parties’ agreement. In response to the arbitration summons, All-American Roofing filed for declaratory judgment along with claims for breach of contract, fraud, and related causes of action. Plaintiff requested that the trial court declare that the mandatory arbitration clause was unenforceable and sought damages for their other claims. The trial court stayed the arbitration, dismissed most of Plaintiffs claims through summary judgment and ordered the parties to arbitrate the remaining issues. Plaintiff then appealed the trial court’s rulings regarding the arbitration clause, contract, and fraud claims.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the arbitration clause was added to their policy after the first year of coverage and that the clause constituted a material alteration to the policy’s coverage. Furthermore, Plaintiff argued that the Illinois Insurance Code required Defendant to give notice that it was not renewing the original coverage. Because Defendant failed to give such notice, the arbitration clause did not legally take effect. The Appellate Court disagreed, stating that the addition of an arbitration clause did not constitute a change in coverage, and cited the plain language of the statute for their reasoning. The Court went on to hold that the agreements and subsequent addenda to it for the first two years were valid because the parties lawfully entered into the agreements and there was sufficient consideration on both sides. The Court also upheld the trial courts granting of Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s fraud claim because there was not sufficient evidence in the record of fraud nor had Plaintiffs identified any material issue regarding Defendant’s alleged violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The Court held that the arbitration clause was not operative for the final two year of the agreement because Plaintiffs never signed the amended policy documents for those years. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court on this issue because they disagreed with the trial court’s ruling that Plaintiff’s payment and acceptance of coverage signified acceptance of the new terms.

All-American Roofing, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company provides a valuable lesson to business owners who utilize arbitration clauses in their contracts. Namely, this case tells us to read the fine print in any contract before signing it, as you may be getting more (or less, depending on your point of view) than you originally bargained for.

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Earlier this year, the Appellate Court of Illinois handed down an opinion that has implications for businesses with leased premises. Our Aurora business attorneys found Bright Horizons Children’s Centers LLC v. Riverway Midwest LLC, which is a dispute regarding a commercial lease that was initially filed in Cook County.

Bright Horizons is a company that operates day care facilities across the state of Illinois. The company entered into a ten year commercial lease agreement with Riverway for a property in Rosemont, Illinois. The lease agreement contained restrictive language allowed for the building to only be used for a child-care center. The agreement also contained a relocation provision which gave Riverway the right to relocate Bright Horizons, upon 180 day written notice, to a different property of equal quantity and quality to the original premises. The dispute between these two parties arose when Riverway sought to invoke the relocation clause less than one year into the lease.

Riverway attempted to exercise the relocation provision on three occasions. The first attempt was unsuccessful because the alternative premises allegedly presented to Bright Horizons did not meet the requirements of the lease agreement. Bright Horizons accepted the second space offered by Riverway, but Riverway withdrew their notice before renovating the new facilities to meet the requirements of the lease. Riverway then proposed a third relocation premises, and allegedly informed Bright Horizons that if they were unable to agree on an alternative space, Riverway would terminate the lease in 180 days from the date of the notice. This third property allegedly ran afoul of state licensing standards for child care facilities and the Illinois Administrative Code. Bright Horizons informed Riverway that the third property did not meet Illinois’ licensing standards and could not be legally used as a child care facility. In response, Riverway informed Bright Horizons that they were in default of the lease and that Bright Horizons could cure their default by relocating to the third alternative premises.

Bright Horizons then filed for declaratory judgment requesting that the trial court find: 1) that they were not in breach of the lease, 2) that Riverway could not terminate the lease, and 3) that Riverway had failed to properly exercise the relocation clause of the lease agreement. Bright Horizons then filed for summary judgment on these issues, which was granted by the trial court. Riverway then appealed the trial court’s ruling. On appeal the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Bright Horizons. In so ruling, the Court held that the lease allowed for one permitted use of the premises and required that Bright Horizons comply with all laws and regulations, including the state child-care licensing standards. The Court held that Bright Horizons’ relocation to the proffered space would violate state regulations and cause Bright Horizons to be in breach of the lease due to their inability to operate a child-care. As such, the Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Bright Horizons.

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For many business owners, they operate their companies with the hopes that they will continue to be successful ventures long after they are gone. However, both low level and senior personnel eventually move on, and businesses may have obligations to their surviving family members. Lubin Austermuehle is familiar with such agreements, and often times companies may not wish to honor those obligations after employees are no longer working for the company. Pielet v. Pielet is one case discovered by our Crystal Lake business litigation lawyers that addresses that very issue.

In Pielet v. Pielet, Arthur Pielet allegedly entered into a consulting agreement with Defendants that provided him lifelong monthly payments in exchange for his consulting services for Defendants scrap metal business, and should he pass on, those payments were to continue and be paid to his wife until her death. Arthur Pielet eventually died, and Defendants then allegedly ceased making payments to his widow, who filed suit alleging a breach of contract and successor liability among other causes of action. Plaintiff successfully filed a motion for summary judgment, and Defendants appealed the trial court’s decision.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued that Defendant PBS One, a successor in interest to Pielet Corp. (the company who was originally obligated under the consulting agreement), was liable under the agreement because they had entered into a purchase and assignment agreement with Pielet Corp. In response, PBS One argued that a novation had occurred whereby Pielet LP had substituted for Pielet Corp. in the consulting agreement, which absolved PBS One of liability. PBS One supported their claims with deposition testimony that, in the absence of providing a defense, at least raised an issue of material fact as to the existence of the novation. Additionally, PBS One argued that because the company had dissolved four years prior to the cessation of payments (and the accrual of Plaintiff’s claims), the applicable Illinois Survival Statute prevented Plaintiff’s claim.

The Appellate Court began with its analysis of the Survival Statute, and found that the statute applies to “rights”, “liabilities”, and “causes of action.” Because the case at bar concerned Plaintiff’s “right” to payment and Defendants’ “liability” to pay, and Plaintiff raised her claim to payment within the five-year period allowed under the statute, her claim was allowed under the law. The Court went on to discuss Defendant’s second argument regarding the existence of a novation that would place liability elsewhere. The Court did not make a finding of a novation, but the facts indicated that a novation could be inferred at two different points in time. Thus, the Court concluded that a triable fact question existed as to whether a novation occurred, and if there was a novation, at what point in time did it occur. In so holding, the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on all of the appealed causes of action, and remanded the case.

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At Lubin Austermuehle, we are accustomed to litigating wage claims brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and most of our clients have FLSA claims. However, our firm also is well versed in Illinois wage laws, and our Tinley Park wage and hour attorneys discovered an interesting overtime class-action in the Appellate Court of Illinois.

Robinson v. Tellabs, Inc. is wage dispute over a policy instituted by Defendant Tellabs requiring employees to take mandatory unpaid days off. Defendant is a manufacturer of telecommunications components that saw a significant boom in its business during the 1990’s, but saw its profits dwindle after the turn of the millennium. As a result of the downturn in revenue, Defendant laid off a significant portion of its work force and instituted many other cost cutting measures. One of the measures implemented by the company was to institute mandatory unpaid leave several days each year around existing paid holidays. Even after the mandatory unpaid leave policy was instituted, Defendant’s had to lay off additional employees to keep the company afloat.

The named Plaintiff worked as a lead engineer for Defendant while the unpaid leave policy was in effect, and was laid off eleven months after his hiring having never been paid any overtime. Plaintiff then filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that Defendant’s implementation of their mandatory unpaid leave policy made he and similarly situated employees non-exempt for the purposes of the Illinois Minimum Wage Law (IMWL). Therefore, Plaintiffs were entitled to overtime pay for any week in which they worked more than forty hours. The trial court ruled in favor of Defendant and found that the mandatory days off was essentially a prospective salary reduction that served the company’s bona fide business needs.

Plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s decision and claimed that the trial court incorrectly applied the salary basis test in making its ruling. The Appellate Court did not find Plaintiffs’ arguments persuasive and agreed with the trial courts decision. The Court discussed that the rule relied upon by the trial court and set forth by Department of Labor opinion letters, which states “the salary-basis test permits employers to prospectively reduce employees’ salaries for a legitimate business need unless done so frequently that the purported salary becomes a sham attempt to pay an hourly wage.” The Court went on to hold that the rule “refers only to deductions during the current pay period…not reductions in future salary.”
Because Defendant’s policy caused reductions in future salary and the policy was a result of Defendant’s bona fide economic difficulties, the Court found that Defendant satisfied the salary-basis test. Additionally, the Court found the test to be met because the policy was applied uniformly among all employees and was not instituted on an ad hoc basis.

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