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04/27/87 Embassy/Main Auto Leasing v. C.A.R. Leasing

April 27, 1987





508 N.E.2d 331, 155 Ill. App. 3d 427, 108 Ill. Dec. 170 1987.IL.543

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Richard L. Curry, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the court. QUINLAN, P.J., and CAMPBELL, J., concur.


Defendant, Jerry Sklar (Sklar), appeals from an award of punitive damages against him and an award of attorney fees and expenses to plaintiff, Embassy/Main Auto Leasing Company, under section 2-611 of the Civil Practice Law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-611). He does not appeal from the judgments against him for misappropriation of trade secrets and tortious interference with prospective business relations.

Sklar contends that (1) the award of punitive damages was inappropriate and excessive, and (2) the award of section 2 -- 611 fees and expenses was inappropriate. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Mike Bass (Bass) formed Embassy Auto Leasing (Embassy), a long-term automobile leasing business, in about 1965 or 1966. In approximately 1968, Bass moved the business to 6449 North Lincoln Avenue, Lincolnwood, Illinois. An adjacent building housed Redwood Cleaners, which Sklar operated. Marvin Field owned both buildings, but Sklar acted as landlord for the Embassy building. Over the years, Sklar and Bass became acquaintances.

In 1980, Bass computerized Embassy. The computer system, which was used to generate business documents, stored amortization charts which listed customers' names and addresses and confidential information concerning Embassy's leases. Each amortization chart run off had Embassy's name printed in the upper left hand corner of the document. The charts were the only lists of customers that Embassy stored on computer. The sole people with access to the computer were Florence Baran, who was Embassy's office manager, Mike Bass, and Cheryl Bass, Mike's daughter. Ms. Baran kept a binder of current amortization charts in her desk drawer during the day and locked the binder in a file cabinet at night. Old charts were kept in a file cabinet in a back room.

In November 1981, Main Auto Leasing Company (Main) acquired the assets of Embassy and became Embassy/Main Auto Leasing Company (Embassy/Main). The purchase price was in excess of $2 million, of which $500,000 was allocated to Embassy's 300 or more current leases. Main was part of the Airway Transportation Group and Company (Airway), a group of automotive companies, including auto rental, auto leasing, and limousine service companies. Most of the Airway companies were owned by Ridgeview Motors, Inc., which was owned by David Zaransky (Zaransky) and members of his family. Airway had an O'Hare facility for storage of noncurrent business records of its companies and for disposal of outdated business records.

Embassy/Main stayed at the Lincoln Avenue address until May 1982, when it moved to Dempster Street in Skokie. At that time, Sklar informed his friend, defendant Sonny Fox (Fox), of the available space on Lincoln Avenue. Zaransky, however, had already arranged for someone else to lease the empty space.

Fox was part owner of defendant C.A.R. Leasing , a long-term automobile leasing business. C.A.R. was located three blocks north of the former Embassy/Main building on Lincoln.

Embassy/Main stored old records and unused furniture at the Lincoln Avenue building until August 1982, when the remainder of its items were moved to Dempster Street. After Embassy/Main moved, Sklar arranged to have a large fluorescent sign removed from on top of the old Embassy/Main building and placed on top of Redwood Cleaners. However, Zaransky asked Sklar to return the sign, which he did.

In August 1982, Sklar somehow obtained a computer-printed list of names and cars. How Sklar obtained the list is still in dispute because the trial court made no findings as to this fact. At trial Sklar testified that one day when he went to the washroom in back of Redwood Cleaners, he looked out of the open bathroom window and saw extra garbage, not his, in his dumpster. He went outside and saw file drawers full of papers in the dumpster. He then took a ...

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