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WestPoint Marine, Inc. v. Prange

June 30, 2004


[6] Appeal from Circuit Court of Calhoun County. No. 99CH4. Honorable Richard D. Greenlief, Judge Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

[8]  In September 1999, plaintiff, WestPoint Marine, Inc., was leasing 500 feet of riverfront property from defendant Mary A. Prange, pursuant to a lease agreement that contained a provision granting WestPoint Marine an option to buy the property should Prange decide to sell it. The leased riverfront property was part of Prange's farm. On September 25, 1999, Prange entered into a contract to sell the Prange farm (including the riverfront property leased by WestPoint Marine) to defendant Pool 24 Tug Service, Inc.

[9]  In November 1999, WestPoint Marine filed a complaint seeking specific performance of the option-to-buy provision of its lease agreement with Prange. Following an October 2002 bench trial, the trial court denied WestPoint Marine's complaint for specific performance.

[10]   WestPoint Marine appeals, arguing that the trial court's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree and affirm.


[12]   In December 1993, Prange and her husband, William Prange (who is now deceased), entered into a lease with Grantz's Marine Service, Inc. The lease provided that (1) Grantz's Marine would "lease with an option to buy approximately five hundred (500) feet of river frontage" for 25 years, for the purpose of fleeting barges; and (2) the river frontage "is located in Calhoun County, on the right descending bank of the Illinois River, just below Hardin, IL. (approximately mile 20)." In February 1996, Grantz's Marine assigned the lease to WestPoint Marine.

[13]   The lease also provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

[14]   "In the event [the Pranges] desire to sell or otherwise dispose of all or any portion of the river frontage below Hardin[,] IL., and have received a bona fide offer for the same, [s]ellers shall notify Steven F. Grantz in writing, and thereafter Steven F. Grantz shall have fifteen (15) days within which to purchase the river frontage at the price, terms, and conditions as is offered by the proposed purchaser."

[15]   In a September 27, 1999, letter, Prange's realtor, Jean Hagen, notified WestPoint Marine's president, Kevin Jennings, that the entire Prange farm was going to be sold to Pool 24 Tug Service, pursuant to the terms of a sales contract, a copy of which was attached. On October 12, 1999, Jennings replied to Hagen via facsimile. The cover page of the facsimile transmission stated, in pertinent part, "Please accept this as my meeting my comittment [sic] to express my intent to purchase before your deadline. I am looking forward to reaching final terms and conditions as soon as possible in order to assist Ms. Prange in reaching her goals and time requirements." The two pages that followed were in the form of a letter from Jennings to Prange and Hagen, and set forth various conditions of Jennings' proposed purchase. The section entitled "Description of Property," stated, in pertinent part, as follows: "The property to be sold is located at Hardin, Illinois[,] and is described as the Mary Jo Prange property, just south of Hardin, Illinois." In the section entitled "Price" the letter stated, "[t]he proposed purchase price shall be negotiated in good faith based upon appraisal by an independent third party."

[16]   At the October 2002 bench trial, the trial court admitted in evidence Prange's deposition. Prange stated that she owned approximately 1,000 feet of riverfront property. When asked if she knew the distance or the size of the area leased to WestPoint Marine, she replied as follows:

[17]   "It covered the 500 feet. Our property at that time was marked in lots on the river frontage, each was 50 foot and it began in the middle of lot 16 and 17. And they were further south from that by probably four lots. Then from that point, you could mark the 500 and they were just about at the same location each time."

[18]   She acknowledged that at times, WestPoint Marine used more than 500 feet of riverfront property, and no one took umbrage at it.

[19]   Jennings testified at trial that when he sent Hagen the facsimile expressing his intent to exercise the option to buy, he was not certain whether he would be buying just the riverfront property or the whole Prange farm. When asked whether he "wanted to exercise [his] option to purchase the property that [h]e had leased," Jennings responded, "yes." Jennings estimated that between 30 and 45 days during any given year, WestPoint Marine used more than 500 feet of Prange's riverfront property. Jennings also explained that WestPoint Marine's floating buoys were tied off to trees on the riverfront property. Jennings estimated that it used up to 200 feet inland, depending on water levels.

[20]   Jennings identified WestPoint Marine's exhibit No. 5 as a map showing the location of the 500 feet of riverfront property that WestPoint Marine was leasing. The trial court admitted the exhibit for demonstrative purposes only, after sustaining ...

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