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International Memory Products of Illinois

November 20, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Sophia H. Hall, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice South


This appeal arises from an order of the circuit court granting defendant Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority's (MPEA) motion for summary judgment. On January 7, 1999, International Memory Products (IMP) filed a second amended complaint against Graphic Arts Show Company, Inc., MPEA and The Freeman Companies (Freeman). IMP alleged that on or about August 30, 1997, IMP began constructing a booth at the "Print 97" show. IMP used the services of Graphic Arts and Freeman, which agreed to move the necessary materials in and out of the McCormick Place showroom. As part of the agreement, IMP paid Graphic Arts $11,200 for a one-week rental of its booth space.

Between September 3 and September 10, 1997, "Print 97," a trade show for businesses engaged in graphic arts, took place at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. McCormick Place is owned and operated by MPEA. IMP, an Illinois corporation engaged in the business of providing high-end custom solutions and system integrations in the computer industry, contracted to participate in the "Print 97" show. Graphic Arts, a corporation engaged in the promotion of trade shows for graphic arts businesses, leased a large portion of exhibit space from MPEA for the "Print 97" trade show. Freeman, a contractor, entered into an agreement with Graphic Arts to manage the "Print 97" show.

IMP leased a booth at the "Print 97" show to display its product, the Silicon Graphic Octane Computer System, to the print industry. It prepared its booth for the exhibit on Sunday, August 31, 1997, and on Tuesday, September 2, 1997. The booth was set up near one of the "emergency exit doors" on the east end of McCormick Place. During that period of time, the emergency exit doors were kept open so as to permit equipment for the show to be brought into the showroom.

In its negligence complaint, IMP alleged that during the show MPEA retained ultimate control of the opening and closing of the massive emergency exit doors which permitted ingress and egress for all the exhibitors to transport their products, and that as a lessor of space from MPEA's tenant, Graphic Arts, IMP was a business invitee to which MPEA owed a duty to protect its property from heavy winds entering through the emergency doors located near its booth. The complaint further alleges that heavy winds damaged its exhibit to the extent that it could not be displayed in the trade show and destroyed a third of its booth. IMP argues that MPEA knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the propensity of heavy winds to enter through these emergency doors and that, as a result, MPEA was negligent for failing to protect IMP's property from the heavy winds coming through the emergency exit doors because it had actual knowledge of the potentially dangerous condition of heavy winds entering into the show due to prior incidents as a result of communications between MPEA employees and Freeman employees. IMP asserts that MPEA's employees had been directly informed by IMP and Freeman employees that wind had blown down a portion of its booth prior to the start of the show but that MPEA employees refused to close the doors.

During the course of discovery, nine depositions were taken.

Drew Massa, the manager of Freeman's risk management department, testified that Freeman is a trade show and convention contractor and was the drayage contractor for the "Print 1997" show. As a risk manager, Massa is typically on site for the major shows such as "Print 97," and he would set up a temporary office on the show floor. While working at McCormick Place, Massa has received complaints about damage to property due to the wind. He testified that when he has walked around the site, he has seen booths blown down. However, he could not recall whether he received any complaints on September 2, 1997, regarding wind damage, nor could he recall whether he spoke to Earl McGee of IMP concerning damage to his booth during the 1997 print show. He did not know whether anyone at MPEA was aware of heavy winds entering McCormick Place on September 2, 1997, or of the damage to IMP's booth. He never contacted anyone at MPEA regarding wind damage and was not aware of any requests to close the doors due to heavy winds.

Massa further testified that the shows hire their own security during the move-in and move-out phases and during the shows on the show floor. Freeman hired teamsters to work the shows. The electricians, however, were employed by MPEA, and the exhibitors would order them at an MPEA desk located on the show floor. The show decides who the service contractors will be. However, Massa did not believe there were any contracts between MPEA and Freeman.

Lonell Fletcher, a security officer for MPEA working in the control room, was present at McCormick Place on September 2, 1997. His shift was from 10 p.m. on September 2 to 6 a.m. on September 3, and he was responsible for dispatching calls coming in on the telephone lines and for monitoring the security cameras and the computer security system. He did not know about the damage to plaintiff's booth until his supervisor informed him about having his discovery deposition taken.

Fletcher testified that there was a procedure to be followed before opening or closing an emergency door. The emergency door would be raised up if a teamster called the control room and requested that the door be raised so that the exhibitors could move their materials in and out of the showroom. Fletcher would then dispatch one of the MPEA security officers to go down to the floor. Once the security officer went down to the show floor, he would go to the door that needed to be opened and check with the show security to let security know that they had received a request from a teamster that an emergency door needed to be opened. The show security are hired by show management, not the MPEA, and they run the show floor. Show security can actually request that MPEA security not come onto the show floor for any reason, and MPEA security do not maintain a post on the floor. Once the show security approve, the MPEA security can then come onto the show floor and put a key into the door and electronically open it. If for any reason show security say that the door should not be opened, the request to open it will not be honored. Only MPEA can actually insert the key to open and close the door. Show security and the teamsters work in tandem. If show security make a call to have a door closed, they have to check with the teamsters to make sure that they do not need to bring freight through that door. If the teamsters make a call to open the door, they must check with show security so that security can man the door for security purposes. Fletcher testified that there was always at least one request per show that the doors be closed due to the wind.

After reviewing the daily activity log for September 2, 1997, Fletcher stated that as of 7 a.m. all of the perimeter doors were opened, but there was no indication that they were ever closed during the duration of the day.

Fletcher testified that in his experience over the 10 years he has been working as a security officer there has never been a request made by a teamster to open or close the doors that was not honored. There have been requests from nonteamsters that were not honored but could have been had the requests been made through the proper channels. There are an average of approximately five calls per show from nonteamsters to open or close the doors. The reasons for the requests are due primarily to the weather being too cold or too hot. Fletcher did not recall ever receiving a direct call from an exhibitor requesting that the doors be closed due to a heavy wind. In his 10 years of experience, he has never opened or closed the doors without a request from a teamster or show security except on the last day of the move-out at midnight when the floor is being cleared.

Thomas O'Keefe, an MPEA electrician, testified that on September 2 he was responsible for installing electrical power for the booths at "Print 97." He discussed the wind entering through the emergency doors with many of the exhibitors on that day. He did recall, however, a booth being knocked over sometime between 9 p.m. and midnight. He heard a loud noise and went into the booth and unplugged the lights so that they would not start a fire. There was no one in the booth when he entered it. The emergency door near the IMP booth had been opened, but he did not open or close the emergency door because it was keyed by security personnel only and that was not his job.

Earl McGhee, a sales associate with IMP, assembled the booth on September 2. He was also in charge of making connectivity and software installations to the system, as well as manning the booth. He first noticed the drafts of wind coming toward the IMP booth during his first day of setup, which was August 31, 1997. The back wall to the booth blew over on that day. He informed an electrician named "Lou," who had on a uniform, that it was "awfully windy" and asked him if he could close the door. Both John Duffy and Ray Cortesi, other IMP sales associates, were present at the time. McGhee testified that the electrician just ignored him. He did not ask him again on that day. Duffy also went over and talked with the manager of the electricians on that day about the wind, but McGhee was not present during this conversation.

On September 2, McGhee noticed the wind when he arrived at McCormick Place and that the door closest to his booth was open. The first thing he noticed was that the IMP booth wall had blown over again. He spoke with "Lou" again about the wind in Duffy's presence at approximately 10 a.m., but Lou did not respond to him. He spoke with him again at approximately 12 noon, and this time "Lou" told him that he needed to talk to someone in the trade show office. McGhee never pursued the matter any further because his primary responsibility was to set up the booth. He never mentioned the wind problems to anyone at the security booth.

McGhee left McCormick Place on that day at about 3 or 4 p.m. and returned that evening at about 9:30 p.m. When he came back to the IMP booth, the back wall of the booth was not perpendicular but on an angle. As he began fixing the back wall to make it perpendicular again, a tower located on the eastern side of the booth blew over with an SGI octane, speakers and monitors attached to it. The door directly adjacent to the eastern portion of the booth was open. He does not remember any equipment being brought in or out of the door at that time.

McGhee testified further that he went to the booth where he spoke to "Lou" earlier that day and told him that "the booth just blew over." "Lou" said that he wanted to take pictures and disconnect the electricity. McGhee wrapped up the damaged parts in bubble plastic, and security took the parts to storage until the show was over. During the show, the doors adjacent to the booth were closed. There was also a booth east of the IMP booth that had been blown down that afternoon as well, and its exhibitors were yelling and screaming at "Lou."

McGhee testified that the person named "Lou" really could have been Drew Massa, since that name did seem very familiar. He could not remember if the person he spoke to really was named "Lou."

John Duffy, an IMP sales representative, testified that he was present during the "Print 97" show setup but was not present at the time of the incident. He was responsible for where the booths were going to be located. IMP contracted with Freeman to move in its booth and all of the products that would be a part of its booth. Duffy contracted with Graphic Arts for the space. Duffy initially had no problems with the location of the IMP booth. However, on Saturday, August 30, when they were setting up the booth, the carpenters had problems setting up the booth due to the wind. On Sunday, August 31, the wind was blowing against the ...

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