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Vee See Constr. v. Jensen & Halstead

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 27, 1979.

VEE SEE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

JENSEN AND HALSTEAD, LIMITED, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MYRON GOMBERG, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This appeal arises out of an action for libel per se brought by a general contractor, Vee See Construction Company, against a supervising architectural firm, Jensen and Halstead, Limited, and its employee, Guy H. Van Swearingen III, for statements in a letter directing the contractor to comply with certain contract painting specifications on a Chicago board of education rehabilitation project. The circuit court of Cook County dismissed the amended complaint, finding that the letter written by Van Swearingen could be innocently construed and was qualifiedly privileged.

Plaintiff appeals, contending: (1) the letter is also susceptible of a defamatory meaning, thus raising a question of fact for the jury; and (2) the letter is not qualifiedly privileged.

We affirm the dismissal of the amended complaint.

In May 1978, Vee See Construction Company was engaged by the Chicago board of education as a general contractor for rehabilitation and construction work at the Simeon Vocational High School. The contract between Vee See and the board called for painting both new and existing surfaces and specified the number and types of coats of paint to be applied to each surface.

The Board also engaged Jensen and Halstead, Limited, as architects and engineers to supervise the rehabilitation work and to see that the work complied with the contract plans and specifications which Jensen and Halstead had prepared.

On May 1, 1978, Guy H. Van Swearingen III, an employee of Jensen and Halstead, sent a letter to Vergil C. Herter, president of Vee See, directing Vee See to comply with certain contract specifications. The letter read as follows:

"May 1, 1978 Mr. Vergil C. Herter, President Vee See Construction Company 4100 West 105th Street Oak Lawn, Illinois 60453

Re: Simeon Vocational High School (Our Job No. 3609F) Painting

Dear Mr. Herter:

It has come to my attention that your painting contractor, acting on your instructions according to him, has been applying only two (2) coats of paint on the walls of the above job. The Specifications are very clear on both the number of coats of paint to be applied, to wit, three (3) and that each coat be inspected by our Field Observer, Mr. Ligtvoet. He has failed to notify us, either through you or directly, of each coat as is required by the Specifications (9F10.C) before applying each succeeding coat of paint.

You are, therefore, directed, with the full knowledge and consent of the Owner, to apply a coat of paint, color as called for, to all areas already painted which were supposed to receive three (3) coats of paint so that Mr. Ligtvoet may inspect and verify that you have done so. You are further directed to comply with the Specifications requirements for painting for the remainder of the work.

Very truly yours,

Guy H. Van Swearingen, III ...


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