Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County,
the Hon. Albert S. Porter, Judge, presiding.
CHIEF JUSTICE CLARK DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Plaintiff, Chicago Investment Corporation (CIC), brought this action to obtain specific performance as assignee of a purported real estate sales contract (the document) made between its assignor, James F. Graves (Graves), and the defendants, Louis and Max Dolins (the Dolins). The Dolins filed a motion to strike the complaint and dismiss the suit, alleging that there was no enforceable contract in existence. The circuit court of Cook County granted the Dolins' motion. The plaintiff appealed this decision.
The appellate court held that it was improper for the circuit court to resolve the issue of whether the document "unambiguously indicate[d] that the parties did not intend to be bound." (Emphasis in original.) (93 Ill. App.3d 971, 975.) The appellate court went on to note that parol evidence should have been admitted in order to ascertain whether the parties intended to be bound by the document. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the dismissal and remanded the cause for trial.
The case proceeded to trial on the issues raised by the pleadings. At the conclusion of a lengthy bench trial, the trial judge requested that the parties submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing both parties' proposed, detailed findings, the trial judge adopted the proposal which the Dolins submitted. CIC appealed once again.
The appellate court held that the judgment entered by the circuit court was against the manifest weight of the evidence. (126 Ill. App.3d 1152.) In a Rule 23 order (87 Ill.2d R. 23) the appellate court reversed the circuit court's judgment and remanded the cause with directions that the the circuit court enter a judgment in favor of CIC for "specific performance *** and for such other action as may be appropriate." We granted the Dolins' petition for leave to appeal (87 Ill.2d R. 315).
The principal issue in this case is whether the appellate court erred by holding that the circuit court's findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence. In Illinois, the law is well established that the trial judge, sitting without a jury, has the obligation of weighing the evidence and making findings of fact. (See Johnson v. Lane (1938), 369 Ill. 135; Nofftz v. Nofftz (1919), 290 Ill. 36.) In close cases, where findings of fact must necessarily be determined from the credibility of the witnesses (such as the case at bar), it is particularly true that an appellate court will defer to the findings of the circuit court unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. People v. Cheek (1982), 93 Ill.2d 82, 94; Dooley v. James A. Dooley Associates Employees Retirement Plan (1982), 92 Ill.2d 476, 489.
In the instant case, the appellate court correctly noted that the issue is largely based upon the expressed manifestations of intent of the parties to the document in question. In W.T. Grant Co. v. Jaeger (1922), 224 Ill. App. 538, the court enumerated some of the factors which are deemed persuasive in resolving the question which the court has considered in deciding the question at bar:
"Circumstances which have been suggested as being helpful in determining the intention of the parties are whether the contract is one usually put in writing; whether there are few or many details; whether the amount involved is large or small; whether it requires a formal writing for a full expression of the covenants and premises; and whether the negotiations themselves indicate that a written draft is contemplated as the final conclusion of the negotiations." 224 Ill. App. 538, 546.
Since the appellate court set forth the basic facts in its first opinion (93 Ill. App.3d 971), except to the extent necessary, they will not be repeated here.
The relationship between the Dolins and Graves, sole stockholder of CIC, commenced in July of 1977 when Graves was introduced to the Dolins as an agent for Lewis University Endowment Fund, Inc. After the initial meeting in 1977, the parties negotiated for the sale of a "package of hotels" owned by the Dolins. The negotiations lasted into the summer of 1979.
Following a series of discussions concerning the purchase of the package of hotels, a letter dated September 6, 1977, was prepared and signed by Graves on behalf of the endowment fund and by the Dolins. The letter mentioned five hotel properties by name and address, a purchase price, general terms of sale and financing, and the seller's responsibility for the brokerage commissions, as well as other matters.
Paragraph 5 of that letter stated:
"You understand that the final contract for sale will contain standard provisions relating to title, prorations, the mechanics of closing and obligations of ...