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07/07/87 Trula A. Mrotzek, v. Ted N. Gitcho

July 7, 1987





510 N.E.2d 1253, 158 Ill. App. 3d 15, 110 Ill. Dec. 222 1987.IL.964

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Christian County; the Hon. Rolland F. Tipsword, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court. KASSERMAN and WELCH, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Trula Mrotzek, filed suit in the circuit court of Christian County to obtain rescission of a contract for the purchase of a bowling alley. As grounds for rescission, plaintiff alleged fraud by the seller, Ted Gitcho, in that he had expressly represented to plaintiff that he had no knowledge of any pending investigations affecting the property, when in fact he knew that the county health department was conducting an ongoing investigation of deficiencies in the bowling alley's sewage disposal system. Following a bench trial, the circuit court concluded that "there was a misrepresentation and failure to disclose a serious latent defect in the property amounting to fraud." The court nevertheless held that plaintiff was not entitled to rescission because of laches. Judgment was therefore entered in favor of Gitcho. Plaintiff now appeals. We affirm.

Plaintiff does not dispute that laches is a valid defense to a suit for rescission. She argues, however, that Gitcho did not properly allege the element of laches in his pleadings. This argument comes too late. The record discloses that laches was clearly an issue before the trial court, yet plaintiff made no objection there to the form or substance of the pleadings by which Gitcho attempted to raise the defense. As provided by section 2-612(c) of our Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-612(c)), "[all] defects in pleadings, either in form or substance, not objected to in the trial court are waived."

Plaintiff asserts, in the alternative, that the trial court's finding of laches is against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree. As a general rule, laches is applied where there is "such neglect or omission to assert a right, taken in conjunction with a lapse of time of more or less duration and other circumstances causing prejudice to an adverse party, as will operate to bar relief in equity." (Weaver v. Watson (1984), 130 Ill. App. 3d 563, 568, 474 N.E.2d 759, 763.) Plaintiff correctly observes that laches will not be found merely because of lapse of time. (130 Ill. App. 3d 563, 568, 474 N.E.2d 759, 763.) Nevertheless, where, as here, a case is based on fraud:

"far greater emphasis is placed on the delay in asserting the claim than on a change of circumstances, for an unreasonable lapse of time between discovering the supposed fraud and bringing the suit is of itself prejudicial to the party charged with fraud. The very nature of the charge calls for prompt action. An unexplained delay raises an immediate doubt as to a plaintiff's right to ask the intervention of a court of equity which is an appeal to Justice and good conscience. One who requests the help of a court of equity must be of good faith and must be diligent in prosecuting his claim. The natural reaction of a person who has been defrauded is to cry out in protest and to move with alacrity in seeking redress. When he does neither, his claim and his motives are suspect." Schoenbrod v. Rosenthal (1962), 36 Ill. App. 2d 112, 120, 183 N.E.2d 188, 192.

Consistent with this view, our supreme court has stated that where a party desires to rescind for fraud:

"he must, upon the discovery of the facts, at once announce his purpose and adhere to that decision. A party seeking equitable relief against fraud should commence proceedings for relief as soon as reasonably possible. Acquiescence, consisting of unnecessary delay after such knowledge, will defeat the equitable relief." Halla v. Chicago Title & Trust Company (1952), 412 Ill. 39, 48-49, 104 N.E.2d 790, 795.

Plaintiff failed to heed these requirements. The evidence established that the sale of the property in question was closed in June of 1982. During August of 1982, plaintiff was informed of the problem with the sewage disposal system by the county health department. She thereupon telephoned Gitcho, but made no demands upon him. On direct examination by her attorney at trial, plaintiff related the following:

"ATTORNEY: And what was your conversation with Mr. Gitcho at that time?

PLAINTIFF: I told Ted the Health Department or the Health Inspector had been there and what he told us about the sewage system not working right. And he told us that he had done some ...

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