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Parrish v. City of Carbondale





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jackson County; the Hon. PEYTON KUNCE, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal by the city of Carbondale (city) from a judgment of the circuit court of Jackson County, allowing the reformation of an agreement for an easement and denying the relief sought by the city in its countercomplaint.

The easement agreement involved was entered into between appellees, Gordon A. and Violet Parrish, and the city on November 1, 1965. By its terms the above-mentioned appellees granted the city a perpetual easement across their land, which was located north of and outside the corporate limits of the city and used as a mobile home park, for the purpose of the construction of a water main and for its permanent maintenance and repair. A similar easement was executed in 1964 with respect to sanitary sewers. Both easements traversing the property of the Parrishes were obtained so that the city could supply utility services to an industrial park area being developed to the north of the Parrishes' mobile home park.

The 1965 water easement expressly reserved to the Parrishes the right to tap on to the line as necessary to develop their land, provided they pay the usual and customary charges for such taps. As a result of a pre-existing city rule requiring any person whose property was not located within the corporate limits of the city but supplied with utility services to execute an annexation agreement, an annexation agreement was also entered into between these parties contemporaneously with the water easement.

The annexation agreement was limited to a five-year period as presumably required by statute, and basically provided that the Parrishes (or their heirs, successors or assigns) would annex their land to the city upon its becoming contiguous thereto and that, in the meantime, the landowners could attach to and use the water and sanitary sewer facilities as required "and at the water and sewer rates as are established from time to time for all users thereof." Apparently, the property never became contiguous during the agreement's life. No complaint was made with respect to a party's meeting any obligations imposed under the annexation agreement.

Count I of the Parrishes' complaint, granted by the instant judgment, sought reformation of the easement on the basis of mutual mistake, alleging that the agreement as executed did not reflect the parties' agreement as to service charges and that such failure was the result of a scrivener's error. It further alleged that the true agreement was that in consideration of the Parrishes' execution of the easement, the city would furnish water and sewer service to the property of the Parrishes at the same water and sewer rates being charged, from time to time, to users located within the corporate limits of the city. The court agreed and ordered such a reformation.

The city's countercomplaint (and third-party complaint) sought recovery of the difference between the water and sewer charges assessed "outside" users pursuant to a 1972 city ordinance (1 1/2 times the rate of city users), which rate the city alleged was applicable to the Parrishes, and the city or "inside rates" which appellees had persisted in paying since June 30, 1972. This countercomplaint was grounded on the assertion that the agreement to charge city rates expired with the annexation agreement. The court found against the city as to the countercomplaint.

The main contention of the city on appeal is that the appellees did not meet their burden of proof in establishing that a mutual mistake of fact did occur and what the original agreement of the parties was. In other words, they contend that the trial court's factual determinations were erroneous. After consideration, we find that the trial court did not err in this respect. Before stating our reasoning, however, we will address two other contentions of the city.

Broadly speaking, the city argues that even if the easement should have been reformed as ordered by the court, error was committed when the court allowed Gordon and Violet Parrish to add an additional party plaintiff to the suit, a partnership in which they were two of the partners, and entered an order that allowed the partnership to benefit from a convenient which was not assignable to it.

More specifically, the city asserts that the addition of the partnership as a plaintiff was error since it came subsequent to final judgment in violation of section 46(1) of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110, par. 46(1)). Although recognizing that the written judgment was not entered until June 6, 1977, the city feels that an order of June 2, 1977, adding the partnership came subsequent to "final judgment" since such date was subsequent to March 9, 1977, when the trial judge sent a letter to the attorneys concerning what decision he had reached in the case.

On February 4, 1977, three days prior to the hearing in this cause, the city filed a motion to amend its countercomplaint to add Carbondale Mobile Homes, a partnership comprised of Gordon, Violet, Gregory and Danny Parrish, as a party defendant in its belief that the real estate involved in the countercomplaint was owned by the partnership. Testimony at the hearing revealed that Gordon and Violet did convey the property on February 11, 1972, to a partnership, Gordon A. Parrish Enterprises, with the four individuals mentioned above as its partners. Although both parties on appeal assume that this motion was granted, and several record notations, particularly the March 9, 1977, letter of the trial judge, seem to support such a belief, the fact of the matter is there is no clear indication in the record that the motion ever was granted.

An order was entered, however, on February 7, 1977, purportedly on plaintiffs' motion, which amended the Parrishes' complaint "by adding as Parties Plaintiff Gregory M. Parrish, Danny L. Parrish, Gordon A. Parrish, Sr., and Violet Parrish, partners doing business as Gordon A. Parrish Enterprises, a Partnership." In addition, the record contains a motion made in April to accomplish what appears to have been done by the February order. As already mentioned, an order adding the partnership as a plaintiff was entered on June 2, 1977.

• 1 Section 46(1) of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110, par. 46(1)) provides that at any time prior to final judgment amendments may be allowed introducing any party who ought to have been joined as a plaintiff or defendant. If the February 7 order is taken at face value, it is abundantly clear that the partnership was added as a party prior to final judgment. Moreover, even if only the June 2 order is considered, we would find the amendment to be timely. Supreme Court Rule 272 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110A, par. 272) provides that if at the time of announcing the final judgment the judge requires the submission of a form of written judgment to be signed by him, the judgment becomes final only when the signed judgment is filed. In this instance, the letter memorandum of the judge clearly required the plaintiffs' attorney to prepare an appropriate judgment. That order was entered on June 6, 1977. There is no reason to treat a letter announcement differently than an oral announcement especially where it indicates it is preliminary to and contains instructions for the content of the formal judgment which is to follow. Accordingly, the instant judgment was not final until June 6, and the court's allowance of the motion on June 2 was proper under section 46(1).

The city next contends that the easement as reformed was not a covenant running with the land but merely a personal covenant for the benefit of Gordon and Violet Parrish and that therefore the court erred in reforming the easement in favor of the partnership of the elder ...

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