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Ceres Illinois v. Ill. Scrap Processing





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Albert S. Porter, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied March 13, 1985.

Plaintiff, Ceres Illinois, Inc., brought this action seeking injunctive relief and money damages arising from the refusal of defendant, Illinois Scrap Processing, Inc., to vacate property used by defendant pursuant to an oral agreement. After a trial, the trial court denied the relief sought by plaintiff. The court found that there was an oral 15-year agreement between plaintiff's predecessor and defendant, and the court further held that plaintiff was estopped from raising the Statute of Frauds as a defense. Plaintiff appeals.

The Chicago Regional Port District owns property located at the mouth of the Calumet River known as Iroquois Landing Lakefront Terminus. In 1980, plaintiff's predecessor, International Great Lakes Shipping Company (INGLA), obtained a written license from the Port District which gave INGLA the exclusive right to use the western portion of Iroquois Landing. INGLA developed this 45-acre area as a port facility for Great Lakes and overseas. Plaintiff's parent company, Ceres Terminals, Inc., operates the eastern half of Iroquois Landing.

Defendant operates a scrap processing facility west of Iroquois Landing and adjacent to INGLA's facility. In early 1982, Seymour Pielet, defendant's president, discussed with Robert Palaima, INGLA's general manager, the possibility of defendant's using 6.7 acres of INGLA's Iroquois Landing facility for the storage of scrap. Pielet stated that defendant would pay INGLA $42,000 per year for either 15 years or an initial five-year term with two five-year options. Both parties anticipated that written documents would be prepared by their lawyers to effectuate a final agreement.

After preliminary negotiations, INGLA and defendant sought the approval of the Port District. Attorneys for both parties exchanged drafts of agreements and learned that the Port District would require one-half of the $42,000. On June 25, 1982, defendant's attorney sent a draft letter to Palaima suggesting that he inform the Port District of INGLA's intent to lease 6.7 acres to defendant. The draft letter recited that the parties "have presently negotiated a tentative sublease." Palaima thereafter sent a letter to the Port District supporting defendant's application for a license to use the property. On July 26, 1982, defendant's attorney noted in his file that he told plaintiff's attorney that the lease proposal was not binding and that he would not allow his client to be bound before being assured that the railroad would allow access to the property. On August 6, 1982, the parties presented the proposal for defendant's use of a portion of Iroquois Landing to the Port District.

While negotiations for a written license agreement continued, Pielet asked Palaima if defendant could move scrap onto INGLA's property because of an overflow situation. After receiving approval from superiors in Philadelphia, Palaima told Pielet that defendant could come onto INGLA's property, pending the execution of a final agreement. Defendant agreed to pay $2,666.67 per month or $32,000 per year. That fee was derived from the present state of negotiations between INGLA, defendant, and the Port District.

On June 30, 1982, Palaima sent a letter to Pielet which confirmed the terms of the oral agreement between defendant and INGLA. The letter stated:

"As per our recent discussions and as per agreement, the following will apply to the storage of your material on approximately six acres on the western end of our Iroquois Terminal. Commencing July 1, 1982, we offer 30 days free storage. Thereafter the fee will be $2,666.67 per 30 day period or fraction thereof.

It is anticipated that prior to the end of July, the legal arrangements for your use of the above mentioned property will have been worked out among our Companies and the Chicago Regional Port District. It is understood that those arrangements and agreements, when mutually approved, will take precedence over this one."

Palaima testified that the storage arrangement between INGLA and defendant was on an interim basis. He stated that he agreed to allow defendant onto the property as a favor to alleviate the overflow situation because of his friendship with Pielet. Palaima further testified that he did not wish to bind INGLA to any long-term arrangement until the lawyers completed the terms of the agreement dealing with easements, insurance, right to rail cars and berths, and indemnity and escalation clauses.

Pielet testified that the oral and written agreements were one and the same — that defendant would conduct a scrap operation on a portion of INGLA's property for 15 years at a cost of $2,666.67 per month. However, Pielet also testified that he expected the lawyers to draft documents setting out the terms of the license agreement and that the June 30, 1982, letter from Palaima accurately reflected the oral agreement by which defendant moved onto INGLA's property. Pielet further testified that the oral agreement was for an indefinite time period.

Pursuant to that oral agreement, defendant moved onto INGLA's property in June or July 1982, and in August began paying INGLA the monthly fee. In September 1982 defendant also began paying a monthly fee to the Port District. Around that time, defendant obtained INGLA's permission to build a foundation for a 70-ton Harris press that had been delivered to defendant in May. The concrete foundation was 30 feet long and six feet deep and took 45 days to construct. INGLA charged defendant for stevedoring and crane services used during the installation of the press. Defendant also obtained a certificate of insurance as requested by INGLA.

From the summer of 1982 to the spring of 1983, attorneys for INGLA, defendant and the Port District exchanged drafts of documents pertaining to defendant's use of Iroquois Landing. On February 19, 1983, defendant and the Port District signed a license agreement that was dated September 17, 1982. This agreement recited that defendant's right to use the real property was subject to the consent of INGLA. The term of the license was from November 1, 1982, to March 31, 1983, ...

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