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Hutchinson & Co. v. E.w. Lancaster

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 21, 1983.

C. HUTCHINSON & COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLANT,

v.

E.W. LANCASTER, INC., DEFENDANT-COUNTERPLAINTIFF-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Lawrence P. Hickey, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE MCGLOON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, C. Hutchinson & Company (Hutchinson), brought a breach of contract action against defendant E.W. Lancaster, Inc. (Lancaster). Defendant filed a counterclaim alleging nonpayment of contract. Following a bench trial, judgment was entered in favor of defendant on the complaint. Judgment was also entered in favor of defendant on its counterclaim in the amount of $16,787.50.

On appeal, plaintiff contends that (1) the trial court's finding that the design of a pretying machine was the joint responsibility of the parties was against the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) the trial court's finding that defendant performed all conditions required under the contract was against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (3) the trial court's award of damages to defendant was erroneous as a matter of law.

We affirm, as modified.

In 1976, plaintiff was in the business of pretying sausage casings for meatpackers. Plaintiff's customers would send sausage casings to plaintiff. Plaintiff would, in turn, tie the end of the casings and return them to the meatpackers for filling. In an attempt to obtain a machine that would tie casings at a greater speed with lower labor costs, plaintiff contacted defendant, a custom-equipment builder.

In early 1977, representatives of the parties met to discuss the feasibility of designing and building a prototype of a machine that would meet plaintiff's needs. Those present at the meetings were Jack Lancaster (president of E.W. Lancaster, Inc.), Bogdan Wezio (superintendent of E.W. Lancaster), and Jack Hutchinson (president of C. Hutchinson & Company). Wezio presented sketches to Hutchinson which demonstrated how a machine could be built that would complete the following functions: (1) picking up a casing; (2) pleating or gathering the casing's end; and (3) tying or clipping the casing. Wezio testified that it was his understanding that defendant agreed to build a machine that would be capable of performing these functions. He further testified that Mr. Hutchinson had subsequently decided to purchase a premade clipping device which could be adapted to the machine instead of having defendant design the clipping aspect of the machine. In April 1977, Hutchinson recommended a Practo clipping machine to accomplish the clipping function. The Practo clipper was subsequently purchased by Hutchinson at his expense.

Later, in June 1977, a proposal drafted by defendant's attorney was submitted to plaintiff. The proposal, as set forth below, outlined the agreement of the parties and was attached to plaintiff's verified complaint:

"We, E.W. Lancaster, Inc. agree to develop an automated machine that will take casings from a hopper, transfer to a pleating device, then to a crimping operation. The machine will be built to provide above functions at a rate of 1,500/Hr. to 5,000/Hr. under normal operating conditions.

The machine will be developed with the approval and consent of Hutchinson prior to any manufacturing of parts. Lancaster will keep Hutchinson fully informed of any new ideas or changes and Hutchinson will be available for approval or disapproval.

The design of this machine shall be the joint responsibility of Hutchinson and Lancaster. Hutchinson shall signify acceptance of the design and development of this machine on a monthly basis.

The machine will be built for $18.00 per hour plus 115% of material cost. All patent rights will be property of Hutchinson. Expected cost of this machine to be $35,000 to $50,000, to be invoiced bi-monthly, based on time and material expended.

Lancaster guarantees material and workmanship for the period of one year.

Expected delivery to be September 30, 1977 ...


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