Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 92-SC-2670. Honorable James K. Booras, Judge, Presiding.
Released for Publication May 18, 1994.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bowman
JUSTICE BOWMAN delivered the opinion of the court:
After a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of defendant, John E. Marshall III. Plaintiff, Kirsten Fletcher, appeals, claiming that the trial court erroneously found that defendant was not liable for rent that plaintiff paid on defendant's behalf because defendant was a minor when he signed the lease and therefore was not bound by the lease. We reverse and remand.
Plaintiff's small claims complaint alleged that "defendant is indebted to plaintiff in the sum of $2,500 plus court costs for contribution toward rent." Plaintiff attached to the complaint a copy of a lease dated April 29, 1991, and signed by plaintiff and defendant. The lease states that plaintiff and defendant agreed to rent an apartment in Mundelein for $525 per month. The lease term was July 1, 1991, to June 30, 1992. At the trial, plaintiff testified that, early in 1991, she and defendant were in high school and were dating. Defendant's parent's ejected him from their home shortly after defendant completed high school, and defendant moved in with plaintiff and her parents. Plaintiff and defendant decided to rent an apartment and share the expenses. Plaintiff testified that she and defendant paid an additional one-half month's rent and moved into the apartment before the commencement of the lease term. Although plaintiff paid her half of the rent, plaintiff's mother paid some of the bills and purchased groceries for plaintiff and defendant on occasions when plaintiff and defendant could not afford to do so on their own.
Defendant took advantage of an opportunity to attend college and moved out of the apartment after "a couple of months." Plaintiff continued to live in the apartment and paid the entire rent amount for the remaining 10 months of the lease term.
Defendant testified that he signed the lease on April 29, 1991, and that he was 17 years old on that date. Plaintiff claimed that, although the apartment complex manager typed the lease on April 29, defendant did not sign the lease until June 30, 1991, after defendant's eighteenth birthday.
Plaintiff's mother (Mrs. Fletcher) explained that the lease remained in her possession, unsigned, until June 30, 1992, one day prior to the commencement of the lease term. She also explained that she opened a bank account in her name. The parties deposited their paychecks into this account, and Mrs. Fletcher made the rent payments on their behalf. Mrs. Fletcher testified that defendant moved out of the apartment on August 15, 1991, while defendant claimed he moved out on August 2.
Defendant testified that he made rent payments. He also paid at least part of the security deposit, although the record does not reveal the date of this payment. He moved out of the apartment because he and plaintiff were not getting along and because he had an opportunity to attend college. Defendant's father testified that defendant turned 18 on May 30, 1991.
The trial court ruled in favor of defendant, finding that defendant signed the lease before his eighteenth birthday. Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the ruling, arguing that defendant could not disaffirm the lease because the lease was a contract for necessaries and, alternatively, that defendant ratified the contract after he turned 18. The trial court denied the motion, stating that it considered the issue of ratification at trial. This timely appeal followed.
Plaintiff's sole argument on appeal is that, although defendant was a minor when he signed the lease, he ratified the lease after attaining majority by taking possession of the premises and paying rent. Plaintiff sought recovery under a contribution theory. A right to common-law contribution arises from the compulsory payment by a joint obligor of more than his share of a common obligation. ( Ruggio v. Ditkowsky (1986), 147 Ill. App. 3d 638, 642, 101 Ill. Dec. 423, 498 N.E.2d 747.) Defendant prevailed at trial because the trial court found that defendant was a minor when he signed the lease and was not, therefore, a joint obligor under the lease.
A contract of a minor is not void ab initio, but merely voidable at the election of the minor upon his attaining majority. ( Dixon National Bank v. Neal (1955), 5 Ill. 2d 328, 336, 125 N.E.2d 463; Terrace Co. v Calhoun (1976), 37 Ill. App. 3d 757, 761, 347 N.E.2d 315.) After attaining majority, a person may either disaffirm or ratify a contract that he entered into while he was still a minor. Dixon, 5 Ill. 2d at 336.
A contract of a minor is deemed ratified if the minor fails to disaffirm it within a reasonable time after attaining majority. ( Dixon, 5 Ill. 2d at 336; Perry v. Saleda (1975), 34 Ill. App. 3d 729, 735, 340 N.E.2d 314.) Also, a minor ratifies a contract if, after becoming of age, he "does any distinct and decisive act clearly showing an intention to affirm [the contract]." ( Shepherd v. Shepherd (1951), 408 Ill. 364, 375, 97 N.E.2d 273.) Once ...