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Quinlan v. Stouffe

February 7, 2005

CAROLYN QUINLAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MARY ALICE STOUFFE, DON STOUFFE, AND LINDA FRIEND, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County. No. 03SC2538. Honorable Charles Gramlich, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Myerscough

In May 2003, plaintiff, Carolyn Quinlan, filed a complaint against defendants, Mary Alice Stouffe, Don Stouffe, and Linda Friend, seeking reimbursement for work done on a gravel driveway that is used by all parties. In August 2003, the parties attended a settlement conference to resolve the dispute. In September 2003, plaintiff informed defendants that "there will be no [a]greement." In October 2003, defendants filed a counter-claim, arguing that the parties had reached an agreement at the August 2003 meeting and plaintiff breached that agreement. In December 2003, the trial court conducted a bench trial. In January 2004, the court entered an order, finding that "an agreement may have been reached on August 4, 2003, that all parties attempt[ed] to modify that agreement and effectively withdrew from that agreement." The court then found defendants had a duty to reimburse plaintiff and ordered defendants to pay their pro rata share of the repairs. In February 2004, the court considered and denied defendants' motion to reconsider and to modify and vacate judgment. Defendants appealed, arguing that the parties had reached a binding agreement and plaintiff later breached that contract. We affirm.

[9]     I. BACKGROUND

The parties own tracts of land on a four-tract plat in Springfield, Illinois. Plaintiff Quinlan owns tract 4, commonly known as 1633 Tozer Road. Defendants Mary Alice Stouffe and Don Stouffe own tract 5, commonly known as 1563 Tozer Road, and defendant Linda Friend owns tracts 6 and 7, commonly known as 1563 Tozer Road. The parties share an easement in the form of a gravel driveway, which is in the shape of a "T". The parties use the easement to reach their respective residences and utilities. The driveway traverses the Stouffes' and Friend's properties before it reaches plaintiff's residence.

Between 2000 and 2003, the driveway's condition deteriorated as a result of both normal traffic and additional traffic during construction of plaintiff's garage and the Stouffes' house. By January 2003, the driveway had become almost impassable, with mud and clay on the road. Plaintiff contacted Donley, a professional contractor, for advice on repair. Donley made recommendations on the repairs needed. According to plaintiff, Donley told her that the last third of the road that enters her residence needed to have new gravel poured to prevent the mud from that portion of the road from ruining the beginning two-thirds of the road. On March 18, 2003, in the presence of plaintiff's husband, Ed Quinlan, Donley repaired the road by hauling and laying new gravel on the entire road. Ed Quinlan stated that the whole process took approximately 4 1/2 hours and the repairs substantially improved the road. Ed Quinlan also stated that on March 17, 2003, the day before Donley's repair, he and a neighbor had spent over four hours grading the road. After the repair, plaintiff paid Donley $1,327.51 for his work.

On March 18, 2003, plaintiff sent letters to defendants, requesting a third share of the repair bill. Specifically, the letter stated, in pertinent part, as follows:

"Our entrance road is 827 feet. From the Quinlan's drive south to Tozer Road is 522 feet, which represents 67% of the total length of the road. Therefore, the first 2/3 on the south portion of our entrance road would be divided by all three homeowners.

The north 275 feet, or the distance from the Quinlan's [sic] drive north to the Stouffe-Friend turnoff[,] represents 33% of the total entrance road, and that is divided equally between Linda and the Stouffes.

There were 30.34 tons of 2-inch crushed rock laid down first to provide a relatively smooth base over the old potholes. The cost for the 2-inch stone at $12.00 per ton came to a total of $364.08. Then the entrance road was resurfaced with #6 crushed stone and 87.13 tons was spread over the entire length of the road, with one footnote. Seven tons of the #6 was spread on the Quinlan's driveway at a cost of $577.00, which is not included in the remaining proportioning of the expenses.

The total cost paid for both the #6 and the 2-inch was $1,322.51. $77.00 of that is the Quinlan's [sic] expense for their driveway. Therefore, 67% of the remaining $1,244.51, which is $833.86, should be divided between all three families equally. This comes to $277.95 per family.

Continuing, the north third of the road[] (33% of $1,244.51) comes to a total of $410.68, which should be divided evenly between Linda and the Stouffes, and comes to $205.34. Therefore, Linda and the Stouffes each owe a total of $483.29. I would appreciate it if each of you could reimburse me sometime within the next 90 days."

On April 25, 2003, plaintiff's counsel sent letters to defendants, informing them that plaintiff would file a complaint to "recoup the costs of the repairs" and "also seek damages relating to the costs of the suit" if defendants persist in not reimbursing plaintiff for the repairs. Both defendants replied, stating in their letter that plaintiff repaired the road unilaterally despite the fact that defendants "never refused to commit to the repairs of the driveway." Defendant Don Stouffe also stated in his letter that prior to plaintiff's unilateral repair, defendants had indicated to plaintiff that "all parties should discuss reasonable accommodations that were fiscally compatible to all parties as this has been the mode of operation for the past seven years." In addition, defendants' letters stated that they did not believe that plaintiff, as a non-owner of an easement, can "dictate to the property owner the treatment of property" because "the owner or [sic] the dominant easement has the responsibility for maintain [sic] that easement."

On May 14, 2003, plaintiff filed the underlying lawsuit in small claims court, requesting defendants Stouffes and Friend each pay $483.29 for their respective shares of the driveway repairs. The court set the matter for trial on August 5, 2003. On August 4, 2003, the parties and their respective counsels met to settle the dispute. Following the meeting, plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to defendants' counsel, which included the following language: "[c]onsistent with this morning's settlement agreement, the trial in the above referenced matter has been rescheduled from August 5, 2003, at 1:30 p.m., until Wednesday, September 10, 2003, at 9:00 a.m."

On August 15, 2003, plaintiff's counsel faxed a draft "Settlement Agreement" to defendant's counsel. The draft included the payment of $278 each from the Stouffes and Friend to plaintiff and plaintiff's dismissal of the lawsuit. The draft also established a scheme for the parties to work together to discuss any future necessary repairs and a dispute-resolution mechanism.

On September 2, 2003, defendants' counsel sent a letter to plaintiff's counsel, stating, in pertinent part, as follows:

"My clients have reviewed the proposed settlement agreement, and we hereby tender the attached counterproposal, which we feel is more in tune with what we agreed to at our meeting at your office on August 4. Most of the agreement is ...


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