APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. NATHAN
ENGELSTEIN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Plaintiff, Paul Makis, instituted a libel action in the circuit court of Cook County against defendants, Area Publications Corp., d/b/a Suburban Tribune, Sue Treiman and William Guist. The trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted.
The issue presented by plaintiff's appeal from the dismissal of his complaint is whether the allegedly libelous article published in the Suburban Tribune is susceptible of an innocent construction. We find that it is and affirm the trial court.
On October 25, 1976, the Suburban Tribune published an article entitled "Flight School Vanishes Into Thin Air." The article, in general, concerned the involvement of plaintiff and others in the operation of a sky sailing school. The complaint alleged that defendants maliciously and wrongfully published the article, that it was totally false with regard to plaintiff, and that as a result plaintiff lost his job as the manager of a sporting goods store and suffered injury to his reputation and credit.
The complaint did not specify the particular language in the article claimed to be libelous. In its entirety, the article states:
"Flight School Vanishes Into Thin Air
It could have been an accident, an argument, or just plain crime that prompted the owners of a sky sailing school in Mt. Prospect to take flight this summer.
Whatever the reasons, though, the three who owned and managed the Four Winds Sports School, 109 W. Prospect Av., left a number of people in the lurch when they shut down the storefront school and disappeared.
They borrowed $500 from a butcher down the street, ran up bills at the printing shop next door, and accepted hundreds of dollars from would-be sky sailors who paid their money thinking they'd get sky sailing lessons and never did. They also sold sky sailing equipment. The Mt. Prospect clerk's office is investigating the store, which officials say never applied for a village business license despite repeated warning letters. And a local resident, who paid $50 for hang gliding lessons she never received, has turned a complaint over to the Illinois attorney general's consumer protection bureau.
At least six persons, who paid $50 for the lessons, have lodged complaints with the village chamber of commerce, which in turn is working with the city clerk's office in tracking down the owners.
But nobody knows where the owners are. Three theories have been advanced to explain their sudden disappearance shortly after July 4.
Of the three co-owners of the shop, only one, Steven Naffziger, of 6-a Dundee Quarter in unincorporated Cook County near Palatine, still maintains a working phone number. Paul Makis of Hoffman Estates has had his phone disconnected. David Snook, of 120 Boardwalk, Elk Grove Village, has a `malfunctioning phone,' according to Illinois Bell.
At the Sound Post Ltd., 101 W. Prospect, the manager said she thought the three shut down their business after one of them suffered a serious sky sailing accident. `All I know is that one of the men was badly injured in an accident,' the store's manager said Friday. Snook reportedly suffered a broken neck in a 1974 skysailing crash.
William `Bud' Barthel, owner of the People's Choice Meat Market, 105 W. Prospect, said the business was shut down because the owners had quarreled among themselves.
`The partnership was dissolved. They had a fight and quit,' Barthel said. Barthel made a $500 personal loan to the business, but he says he's not worried about getting the money back.
`I have faith in human nature,' Barthel said. He added that he has directed complaints about the operation since then to the Mt. Prospect Chamber of Commerce.
But Kevin O'Donnell, deputy village clerk and an assistant village manager in Mt. Prospect, has a different theory.
"They could have planned a short-term tenure in the building, built up a business, and then left with ...