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In Re Estate of Flowers





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Greene County; the Hon. L. KEITH HUBBARD, Judge, presiding.


This appeal raises a question as to the nature of the relationship between an owner of farm land and the person doing the actual cultivation of it. Is that relationship one of landlord-tenant or is it a contract for personal services? Such a determination is one of fact, but we find the record in this case inadequate for such a finding and hence reverse.

James Flowers cultivated 125 acres belonging to respondent Robert Mehrhoff. Flowers died on April 29, 1980. His personal representative petitioned the circuit court of Greene County for leave to complete the cultivation and harvest of the 125 acres. It appeared that about one-half of the acreage was to be planted in soybeans and the other one-half had been planted in corn at the time of Flowers' death. While the corn had been planted, only the preliminary disking had been done for the soybeans.

The trial court entered an order permitting Flowers' personal representative to complete work on the corn crop, but gave respondent immediate possession of the soybean portion. The court further ordered respondent to pay the estate the value of the disking. Petitioner, Flowers' personal representative, appeals that part of the order concerning the soybeans. Her contention is that the arrangement was one of landlord-tenant and that Flowers' leasehold could be terminated only by giving the statutorily required four months' notice. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 80, par. 5.1.) Respondent argues that no landlord-tenant relationship existed, calling it a "crop-share arrangement," which, as we understand his argument, equates with a personal service contract which terminated on Flowers' death. The petitioner argues further that even if the relationship be construed as a personal service contract, the four months' notice provision of the statute applies to it in the same manner as to a landlord-tenant.

Section 5.1 of "An act to revise the law in relation to landlord and tenant" reads:

"In order to terminate tenancies from year to year on farm lands, occupied on a crop share, livestock share, cash rent or other rental basis, 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." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 80, par. 5.1.)

It is admitted that no such notice was ever served in this case until May 1980, following Flowers' death.

• 1 Illinois has long recognized that crop-share arrangements do not necessarily create landlord-tenant relationships. The supreme court so stated in the early case of Alwood v. Ruckman (1859), 21 Ill. 200, stating that the intention of the parties controls and that the agreement may create either a landlord-tenant relationship or a tenancy in common in the crop. In Alwood the court appeared impressed with the fact of possession. When the farmer lived on the premises, the assumption was that of tenant; when the owner lived on the premises but had another cultivate the crop, the assumption was that of employee. Compare Chase v. McDonnell (1860), 24 Ill. 237; Dixon v. Niccolls (1866), 39 Ill. 372.

In Wheeler v. Sanitary District (1915), 270 Ill. 461, 469-70, 110 N.E. 605, the court said:

"Where one leases land to another for the purpose of raising a single crop, of which the land owner is to have one part for his rent and the cultivator the remaining part for his pay, the question whether the relation of landlord and tenant exists or the two are tenants in common depends on the intention of the parties, which is usually to be inferred from the circumstances, of which the possession is, in general, determining. Where it is doubtful whether the possession and control are exclusive in the tenant or joint in the owner and cultivator, and whether the right of entry continues for the year or only until the crop is removed, the inclination is to find in favor of the latter conclusion. (Alwood.)"

Other courts> have recognized the same principles expressed by the Illinois cases.

"It is possible, of course, for a land owner and a farm operator to enter into any type of contract they choose. The contract can create a landlord-tenant relationship, an employer-employee relationship, a partnership or a joint venture." United States v. Myra Foundation (8th Cir. 1967), 382 F.2d 107, 110.

In Dopheide v. Schoeppner (Iowa 1968), 163 N.W.2d 360, the court said that intent is often implied rather than expressed. It listed the following elements to consider in assessing intent: (1) Who lives on the premises, (2) who controls the buildings, (3) who has the right to possession, (4) who furnishes supplies, (5) who divides the crop, (6) the length of the agreement, (7) the extent of the land owner's control over the operation, and (8) the words used in the agreement, if written. 163 N.W.2d 360, 362-63.

• 2 In the instant case if the relationship was that of landlord-tenant, the leasehold continued since no notice was served under the statute and the estate must be permitted to continue as tenant until the end of the term. On the other hand, if the intention of the parties was to create one of employment, or partnership, or joint venture (Myra), then the critical question becomes whether others, such as Flowers' personal representative, will be able to carry out the required duties. To state the matter another way, the question is whether the performance required pertains to matters of skill which another person could not carry out. (Corbin, Contracts § 1335 (1952).) We find nothing which would lead us to believe that the statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 80, par. 5.1) applies to such relationships in the absence ...

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