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Geddes v. Mill Creek Country Club

May 24, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

Docket No. 89269-Agenda 17-January 2001.

Plaintiffs, Larry and Choh-Ying Geddes, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Kane County against defendants, Mill Creek Country Club, Inc., and American Golf Corporation. The complaint contained actions for intentional trespass and intentional private nuisance based on errant golf balls hit onto their property from defendants' adjacent golf course. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants. The appellate court affirmed. No. 2-99-0370 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). We allowed plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). We now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.


Plaintiffs' complaint, as amended, alleged as follows. Plaintiffs own approximately 16 acres of land in Kane County. They reside on the property and use it for their gradually developing agricultural and landscaping business.

Mill Creek Country Club constructed and owns a golf course known as Mill Creek Golf Club. The course is leased to American Golf Corporation, which performs daily tasks such as collecting greens fees and maintaining the course.

Defendants caused and allowed golf balls to continually invade plaintiffs' property. Plaintiffs' business is seasonal and coincides with the golf season."[D]ue to the constant stream of uninvited, wayward golf balls," plaintiffs have not been able to use significant portions of their property. Defendants' intentional acts constituted both an intentional trespass and a private nuisance. Plaintiffs sought an injunction against defendants, i.e., plaintiffs asked the trial court to "enjoin the Defendants from causing and allowing the continual trespass of golf balls to occur." Plaintiffs also sought compensatory and punitive damages.

In their answer, defendants denied all material allegations and pled the affirmative defense of estoppel. Defendants alleged that plaintiffs were estopped from bringing their claims by virtue of plaintiffs' conduct, memorialized in a prior agreement.

Prior to trial, the court: denied plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order; entered an agreed order dismissing plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction; denied defendants' motion to dismiss (see 735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 1998)); and denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (see 735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 1998)). The cause proceeded to a bench trial.

The evidence at trial included the testimony of plaintiffs; Kent Shodeen, president of Sho-Deen, Inc.; and David Patzelt, vice-president of Sho-Deen. The parties presented the following pertinent evidence. In 1986, plaintiffs bought 16.5 acres in Kane County. The property is rectangular in shape, with the north-south dimension slightly larger than the east-west dimension.

In the same area, Sho-Deen was developing approximately 1,450 acres as a planned unit development. A planned unit development is a land use control device that often combines subdivision regulations and zoning for the unified development of a large geographic area. Rather than seeking piecemeal variances or rezoning, a coordinated plan is drawn up and approved as a special use for the entire proposed area. See 9 Real Property Service: Illinois §49:1, at 8 (1989); accord 2 K. Young, Anderson's American Law of Zoning §11:12 et seq. (1989). The concept of this development, known as the Mill Creek Development, was to combine open space with residential areas. A golf course was to constitute part of that open space. The development surrounds plaintiffs' property. A public road, Bartelt Road, adjoins the east side of the property. The land adjoining plaintiffs' western boundary was formerly a cornfield.

In 1986 and 1987, Shodeen interviewed golf course architects. He also began work with government agencies and adjoining neighbors of the development, including plaintiffs, to obtain approval and authority for planning the development. The neighbors had the right to contest the development by objecting to those government agencies.

In 1991, the Mill Creek Country Club, Inc., was created as a subsidiary to Sho-Deen, with Shodeen as the country club's sole shareholder. Its purpose was to design and build a golf course.

In April 1992, Shodeen invited plaintiffs and other neighbors to review the concept plan for the development. For the next two years, plaintiffs and Shodeen negotiated. However, they now disagree as to the subject of their negotiations and the result thereof.

According to defendants, Shodeen negotiated with plaintiffs so that the development would impact them as little as possible. The original concept plan provided for the rear lawns of single-family residences to adjoin plaintiffs' western boundary. Facing these residences would be a golf course fairway. The fairway would have residences facing it on the east and the west. In other words, the residences facing the fairway on the east would stand between it and plaintiffs' western boundary.

Plaintiffs told Shodeen that they did not want housing adjoining their property. Shodeen then permitted plaintiffs to choose between the housing, a bicycle path, or the fairway. Plaintiffs chose the fairway to abut their property's western boundary and made other requests that he granted. Accordingly, Shodeen changed the development plan by removing the housing on the east side of the fairway and relocating the fairway to adjoin plaintiffs' western boundary.

According to Shodeen, Larry Geddes not only negotiated an agreement with Shodeen, but also publicly endorsed it. In June or July 1993, Geddes spoke at a county development planning committee meeting. Geddes said that "he had worked quite a bit with Mr. Shodeen in order to get things where they are, and he didn't want the board to mess around with it." By that time, Shodeen and Geddes had agreed on placing the golf course adjacent to the western boundary of plaintiffs' property.

However, according to plaintiffs, they did not negotiate any specific land use of defendants' property. Rather, plaintiffs only wanted assurances from defendants that the use of their property would not impact plaintiffs' property use. Plaintiffs never requested that a golf course-especially a golf course fairway-be located adjacent to their property.

On June 3, 1994, plaintiffs and Sho-Deen signed an agreement, which stated in pertinent part:

"Sho-Deen, Inc., will provide and install at its expense an eight foot (8') high chain link fence with two (2) fourteen foot (14') entrance gates on Bartelt Road along the complete common border of the Mill Creek Development with the Geddes' property. The fence and gates will be installed when the golf course fairway that borders the Geddes' western property line is constructed ***." (Emphasis added.)

The agreement further provides as follows. Sho-Deen would plant a landscape border along the Mill Creek side of the fence. Sho-Deen would not plan a bicycle path along any border of plaintiffs' property, or construct any houses within 100 feet of the south and west boundaries thereof. Sho-Deen would provide for a 40-foot "green area and landscape easement" along the south boundary of plaintiffs' property. The agreement made several references to a "golf course." The agreement concludes that plaintiffs agree not to protest the development as long as Sho-Deen complies with the agreement.

Sho-Deen received county approval for the Mill Creek development. None of the neighboring property owners or relevant government agencies objected. The development has received an award for design ...

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