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Miller v. Knight





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. MATTHEW A. JURCZAK, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Robert Miller, is landlord and trustee over approximately 212 acres of land that comprised the John Miller trust farm. The farm is located in Vermilion County near the town of Sidell. Miller brought an action to recover possession of the land against defendant, Marshall Knight. Russell Puzey, who agreed to lease the farm for the 1979 crop year, joined Miller in bringing the action. After a bench trial, the court found in favor of plaintiffs and awarded possession of the farm to them.

The first issue to be resolved on appeal is whether the trial court's determination that prior to November 1, 1978, defendant informed plaintiff Miller that he would not be farming the land for the 1979 crop year is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Section 5.1 of the landlord and tenant act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 80, par. 5.1) provides in part:

"In order to terminate tenancies from year to year of farm lands, * * * the notice to quit shall be given in writing not less than 4 months prior to the end of the year of letting. Such notice may not be waived in a verbal lease."

It is undisputed here that defendant's tenancy commenced with the 1979 crop year and was a year-to-year tenancy which was based on an oral lease. The oral lease did not specify when the term would begin and end. The original leasing occurred in the fall of 1970. In September 1978, plaintiff Miller presented defendant with a written lease that contained provisions that were different from those in the oral agreement. Instead of a 50-50 crop-share basis, the tenant, under the terms of the written lease, would be required to assume more of the expenses. It also is undisputed that Miller leased the farm to Puzey around the middle of October 1978 for the 1979 crop year and that Miller did not give defendant a notice to quit.

Plaintiffs contend, however, that Miller was not required to give notice to defendant to quit possession of the farm since defendant, by his words and actions, surrendered possession of the farm lease for 1979.

Defendant contends that plaintiff Miller had an absolute duty to give notice and that defendant's words and actions are not sufficient to estop him from claiming the protection afforded by the notice requirement.

The testimony that was elicited at trial concerning what defendant said to plaintiffs and other individuals about giving up the farm for the 1979 crop year is controverted almost entirely.

For example, defendant testified that during a conversation between defendant and Miller that occurred outside the Sidell restaurant on October 15, 1978, he never told Miller that he was not going to farm the land. Defendant testified that he told plaintiff that he would farm it again "just like I've been farming it." Plaintiff Miller, on the other hand, testified that the meeting outside the Sidell restaurant occurred on October 2 or 3. Plaintiff testified that he asked defendant whether he was giving up the farm for 1979, and defendant responded, "That's right." Defendant handed Miller the lease at that time. Although plaintiff Miller and defendant disagree on dates and the substance of the conversation, they both agree that the meeting outside the Sidell restaurant was the last time that they discussed the written lease.

Defendant testified further that he never told Clifford Puzey or Gerald McGee, during a conversation at the Sidell restaurant, that he was not going to farm the Miller farm. However, Clifford Puzey, father of plaintiff Puzey, testified that defendant said that he gave up the Miller farm. While McGee testified that defendant, in reference to the Miller farm, stated that he, defendant, would have less ground to farm next year.

Plaintiff Puzey testified that after he had leased the land from Miller for the 1979 crop year, he went to the farm on October 19, 1978, to begin spreading fertilizer. He asked defendant if he could do some fall work, and defendant responded, "So, it's you that's going to be farming the farm * * * you can go ahead and do what you want." Defendant testified that he never told plaintiff Puzey that he was going to give up the farm; that Puzey never asked if he could spread fertilizer; and that neither plaintiff told him that he was going to do work on the farm. However, defendant did testify that plaintiff Puzey told him that he, Puzey, was going to try to farm the land.

Whether defendant gave up his lease for the 1979 crop year was a question of fact to be determined by the trial court. A reviewing court may not disturb the trial court's factual determination, unless it is manifestly without support. (Solomon v. Geller (1964), 48 Ill. App.2d 15, 198 N.E.2d 210.) In the case of conflicting evidence, an appellate court may not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court's as to who are the more credible witnesses. (Rhodes v. Sigler (1975), 27 Ill. App.3d 1, 325 N.E.2d 381.) Unless an opposite conclusion is clearly evident from the record, the trial court's findings should not be disturbed. Rhodes.

• 1 Because there was no agreement between defendant and plaintiff Miller regarding the term of the oral farm lease, the trial court could have found correctly that it ran from March 1 to February 28, as the evidence indicated was customary in central Illinois. Thus, November 1 ...

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