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Bartelli v. O'Brien

September 29, 1999

VINCENT BARTELLI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
EDWARD O'BRIEN, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County. No. 97--L--3 Honorable Gerald F. Grubb, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Galasso

JUSTICE GALASSO delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Vincent Bartelli, appeals from the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant, Edward O'Brien. On February 6, l997, plaintiff filed a one-count complaint against defendant, alleging that defendant was negligent in failing to prevent a fire, which originated on defendant's property, from causing damage to plaintiff's adjacent property. Subsequently, plaintiff filed an amended complaint nearly identical to the original complaint. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he owed no duty to plaintiff and that there was no proximate causation attributable to defendant's actions. After briefing and arguments, the trial court entered an order granting the motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied by the trial court. This timely appeal followed.

Before this court, plaintiff argues (1) that the trial court's orders are insufficient as a matter of law; (2) that the trial court erred in finding that defendant had no duty to plaintiff; and (3) that defendant's actions were the proximate cause of the fire that damaged plaintiff's property.

Plaintiff's amended complaint made the following allegations. Plaintiff owned a "saloon" (Saloon) in Belvidere, Illinois. Defendant's hotel (Hotel) "was located adjacent and next to the 'Saloon.'" The amended complaint further alleged that defendant had a duty to exercise ordinary care at all times to prevent the spread of fire from the Hotel to the Saloon and other adjacent properties. The amended complaint averred that this duty included installing and maintaining in the Hotel an automatic sprinkler system, a fire warning system, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers. On December 1, l994, a fire was started in a room in the Hotel. The fire quickly grew, and Hotel customers attempted to extinguish the fire but were unable to do so "with faulty and non-serviceable fire extinguisher(s)." The plaintiff further alleged the fire department did not receive notice until the fire was out of control.

Despite his alleged duties, defendant was "then and there guilty of committing one or more of the following careless and negligent acts or omissions:

(a) carelessly and negligently failed to install and maintain an automatic sprinkler system at the 'Hotel' pursuant to Section F- 503.0 of the [Building Officials and Code Administrators][(]BOCA[)] National Fire Prevention Code of 1993, as adopted and enforced by the City of Belvidere at the time of the alleged incident;

(b) carelessly and negligently failed to place fire extinguisher[s] in easy [sic] accessible areas;

(c) carelessly and negligently failed to maintain fire extinguisher[s] in proper working condition pursuant to Section F- 509.0 of the BOCA National Fire Prevention Code of l993, as adopted and enforced by the City of Belvidere at the time of the alleged incident;

(d) carelessly and negligently failed to install smoke detectors in each guest room pursuant to Section F-503.4 of the BOCA National Fire Prevention Code of l993, as adopted and enforced by the City of Belvidere at the time of the alleged incident;

(e) carelessly and negligently failed to keep existing smoke detectors in proper working condition pursuant to Section F-513.7 of the BOCA National Fire Prevention Code of l993, as adopted and enforced by the City of Belvidere at the time of the alleged incident;

(f) was otherwise careless and negligent in his conduct."

The amended complaint further alleged that, as a direct and proximate result of these negligent acts, the Hotel was completely destroyed and the Saloon was extensively damaged. As a further direct and proximate result of defendant's negligence, plaintiff was unable to operate his Saloon for at least seven months and incurred loss of revenue and "other injuries of a pecuniary nature."

In his motion for summary judgment, defendant initially argued (l) that at common law a landowner has no duty to provide fire detection or prevention equipment on his premises where no statute indicates otherwise; (2) that plaintiff does not fall within the class of persons protected by the BOCA National Fire Prevention Code of 1993; and (3) that, accordingly, defendant owed no duty to plaintiff as alleged in the amended complaint.

As to proximate cause, the motion for summary judgment contended that plaintiff had failed to establish that the alleged acts and omissions were reasonably connected to his damages. Further, defendant maintained that the proximate cause of the subject fire was the intentional action of Pam Spittler, a tenant at the Hotel, not the alleged negligent actions or omissions of defendant. Defendant attached documents regarding Spittler's being charged with and convicted of felony murder for committing arson at the Hotel that resulted in the death of Jeffrey Lawton.

Subsequently, the trial court granted defendant's motions for summary judgment and later denied plaintiff's motion to reconsider. The trial court did not elaborate in either order on the reason(s) for its determinations.

We will first address the defendant's argument that, because plaintiff's motion for reconsideration failed to comply with the requirements for a valid motion for reconsideration, it did not toll the time within which plaintiff had to file a notice of appeal. Defendant then points out that plaintiff's notice of appeal was not filed within 30 days of the entry of the order granting summary judgment. He argues that this appeal must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. We do not agree with defendant's assessment of the motion for reconsideration. The subject motion clearly contends that the trial court erred in applying the law, which is one of the bases for a valid motion for reconsideration. Continental Casualty Co. v. Security Insurance Co. of Hartford, 279 Ill. App. 3d 815, 821 (l996). As a result, we do not find defendant's argument persuasive.

We will next address the plaintiff's argument that the trial court's orders are insufficient as a matter of law. Plaintiff maintains that the trial court has an obligation to put the parties on notice as to the basis of its ruling and that the subject orders give no indication as to the bases of its decisions. It is noteworthy that plaintiff cites no authority to support this contention. Nor did plaintiff ask the trial court to set out its findings of fact and determinations of law. Moreover, it is apparent that the trial court agreed with the principal argument made by defendant, namely, that he owed no duty to plaintiff and that, as a matter of law, he was entitled to summary judgment. While the trial court's failure to state its reasons for ...


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