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Chicago Land Clear. Com. v. Darrow





APPEAL from the Superior Court of Cook County; the Hon. DONALD S. McKINLAY, Judge, presiding.


Petitioner brought suit in the superior court of Cook County to condemn 23 parcels of land for slum clearance. A jury fixed the sum of $65,000 as compensation for the taking of the property described as parcel 9-14, upon which verdict the court entered judgment from which this appeal is prosecuted. The appeal is properly directed to this court under the statutory provision for eminent domain proceedings.

The subject property is known as the Ford Hotel and is located at 2953-61 South State Street in the city of Chicago. It is improved with 2 two-story connected buildings approximately 65 years of age which cover virtually the entire lot. The buildings contain 36 hotel rooms and almost 200 six-by-eight-foot cubicles with chicken wire over the top, each containing a bed. There are four or five common washrooms. Only men patronize the hotel and for seventy-five cents they obtain one of the cubicles, a sheet, a pillowcase and a blanket for the night.

The defendants are the Cosmopolitan National Bank of Chicago, trustee and legal title holder of the property, Irving N. Chroman, Albert Chroman, and Philip Chroman, beneficiaries under the trust. Two of the Chroman brothers managed the hotel with the help of three women and seven male employees.

The petitioner's witnesses, Joseph M. West and George Becker, appraised the premises at $55,000 and $57,000, respectively. Defendants' four witnesses, Philip Chroman, Marvin Winthrop, John Golden, and Harold Passman, appraised the premises at $150,000, $135,000, $140,000 to $150,000, and $150,000, respectively. The jury after hearing all the evidence and viewing the property returned the $65,000 verdict.

Defendants allege that they were deprived of their constitutional guarantee against taking property without due process of law, that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of proper elements to be considered by the jury in arriving at the fair cash market value of the premises, that the verdict of the jury is against the manifest weight of the evidence, and that the court erred in instructing the jury.

It is first argued that there has been a taking of property without due process of law. Defendants assert that the denial of due process resulted from the denial of their motions for a continuance and a series of erroneous rulings by the court. It appears to be elementary that there is no question of due process involved here. The essential elements of due process of law are notice and an opportunity to be heard in an orderly proceeding adapted to the nature of the case. If errors are committed they may be corrected in the manner provided by law for correction of such errors. (Benton v. Marr, 364 Ill. 628.) In short, due process of law is not a guarantee against error. In this case the trial judge had within his discretion the power to rule as he did on the motion for continuance (no statutory right to continuance being involved) and on other matters during the trial. Even though the rulings complained of may have been erroneous, they did not deprive the defendants of due process of law.

The question, then, is whether the trial judge committed reversible error by his rulings. First, we shall consider the denial of the motion for continuance. The defendants contend they were entitled to a continuance because: local prejudice had been inflamed against "flophouse" owners by news stories and broadcasts concerning a then recent heinous crime; appraisers contacted by defendants' counsel were in disagreement as to how to appraise a "flophouse" and that, therefore, counsel needed more time to prepare for trial; and, finally, one of the defendants was a nonresident who needed more time to decide on an attorney and to negotiate with said attorney with respect to fees.

Section 59 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1955, chap. 110, par. 59) and Supreme Court Rules 8(5) and 14 confer broad discretion upon the trial court in the allowance or denial of continuances. This is not to say, however, that an arbitrary or capricious exercise of discretion would not be grounds for a reversal. (See Adcock v. Adcock, 339 Ill. App. 543.) A close scrutiny of the record in this case convinces us that the trial judge did not exercise his discretion capriciously or arbitrarily.

The propriety of granting a continuance on the ground of hostile feelings in the community is necessarily lodged in the discretion of the trial judge, who, from closer contact with the people, is better able to judge the intensity and universality of the prejudice complained of. Though the petitioner did not deny by affidavit the charge of community prejudice, there is no showing that the defendants were denied voir dire examination or an opportunity to challenge any juror.

Despite the fact that defendants allege the appraisers contacted by their counsel could not agree on a method of appraising the subject property, the valuation testimony of the four witnesses produced by them varied but little. In the exercise of its discretion the trial court could easily have concluded this ground was not urged in good faith.

The nonresident defendant, Irving Chroman, is the owner of a one-third beneficial interest in the land trust which held title to the property in question. We have held that the beneficiary of a land trust is not a necessary party in a suit to condemn property. (Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad Co. v. Chicago Title and Trust Co. 328 Ill. 610.) Petitioner, by naming Irving Chroman as a party defendant, did not make him a necessary party, and it was entirely within the discretion of the trial judge to proceed to trial without granting additional time to an unnecessary party.

Defendants make much of the fact that the trial court withheld the issuance of a writ of assistance for almost three months after the trial, which showed that no great emergency existed, and they complain that parcel 9-14 was tried while the trial of the remaining 23 parcels was continued. The trial court could not try all the parcels at once and some parcel had to be first. There may have been no emergency with respect to this particular parcel but there is no valid reason given for not starting with it first. We must keep in mind the necessity for ...

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