Filing Counterclaims Does Not Waive Contractual Right to Arbitration, Fourth District Rules

As Illinois mediation and arbitration lawyers, we were interested to see a decision confirming that parties may invoke their contractual rights to arbitrate even after some participation in the other side’s lawsuit. TSP-Hope Inc. v. Home Innovators of Illinois, Inc., No. 1-07-1028 (Ill. 4th June 26, 2008) pits a Springfield housing nonprofit, TSP-Hope Inc., against residential construction company Home Innovators of Illinois. The two made a contract in July of 2005 for the construction of houses. In the summer of 2006, construction stopped. Shortly after, TSP-Hope sued for breach of contract and other causes.

About a month later, the defendant filed for an extension of time to plead, saying the plaintiff had served a demand three days before for the defendant to file suit to enforce its liens. Another month later, the defendant filed an answer and counterclaims, including duress in contract formation, breach of contract and enforcement of the liens. After a series of motions and counter-motions, the defendant in July of 2007 filed to dismiss all claims and compel arbitration. In this motion, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff had verbally agreed to mediation before the lawsuit. The parties’ contract specified that they should use mediation at first, and then binding arbitration with a specified arbitration company, to resolve disputes. The trial court eventually granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim, saying it had not been waived by participation in the litigation. After a motion to reconsider failed, the plaintiff appealed.

Unusually, the Fourth said, the defendants did not file a brief in the appeals case. However, the court said it had sufficient evidence from the plaintiffs’ brief. That brief argued that defendants had waived their right to arbitration by waiting almost 11 months to assert it, and by submitting arbitrable issues to the trial court in the meantime. To determine whether this is true, the Fourth wrote, it needed to determine whether the defendant had acted inconsistently with its right to arbitrate. Under Cencula v. Keller, 152 Ill. App. 3d 754, 757, 504 N.E.2d 997, 999 (1987), this can include submitting arbitrable issues to the court.

The Fourth then ran down a list of past cases in which a party was found to have waived its right to arbitration. In all of those cases, the court noted, parties had conducted discovery and made pleadings that were more than just responses to the other side. Neither of these was true in this case, it said. It is true that the defendant’s counterclaims could have waived its right to arbitration, the court said, but this is not automatic. In this case, the counterclaim “appeared to be responsive to plaintiff’s complaint” as well as the plaintiff’s demand to enforce its liens. Under those circumstances, the Fourth concluded that the defendant had not acted inconsistently with its right to arbitrate. Thus, the appeals court affirmed that trial court was correct to find that there was no waiver.

The Chicago dispute resolution lawyers at Lubin Austermuehle offer mediation and arbitration services to clients interested in resolving disputes fairly and fully outside of court. Based in Chicago and Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., we represent clients throughout the Chicagoland area and all of Illinois. To learn more or set up a free consultation, contact us online or call toll-free at 630-333-0333 today.

Contact Information