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Chicago Title Land Trust Co., As Trustee Under Trust Agreement v. Fifth Third Bank

December 5, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:


Chicago Title Land Trust Co. has sued Fifth Third Bank, asserting a state law breach of contract claim. The Court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. Fifth Third has moved for partial summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion.


In 1983, Frank's Nursery and Crafts, Inc. entered into a commercial lease with Dempster Plaza State Bank. Under the terms of the lease, Frank's leased land on which it agreed to "build a typical first-class sprinklered and air conditioned Frank's Nursery and Crafts building" of a certain size. Def. Ex. 2 at 15. Dempster Plaza agreed to pay Frank's $425,000 as reimbursement for construction costs. The initial term of the lease was twenty-five years, but Frank's had a number of five-year extension options so that the total term of the lease could have been as long as seventy years.

The lease provided that improvements on the leased land, including the building that Frank's built, would become the property of Dempster Plaza. The lease also contained a paragraph addressing repairs, which stated:

30. REPAIRS AND ALTERATIONS - Landlord shall not be required to make any improvements or repairs of any kind to the Demised Premises and appurtenances, and the Demised Premises and appurtenances shall at all times be kept in good order, condition, replacement and repair by Tenant and shall also be kept in a clean, sanitary and safe condition in accordance with the laws of the State of Illinois and in accordance with the directions, rules, and regulations of the health officer, fire marshal, building inspector or other proper officers of governmental agencies having jurisdiction, at the sole cost and expense of Tenant, and Tenant shall comply with all requirements of law, ordinance and otherwise touching the Demised Premises. Tenant shall permit no waste, damage, or injury to the Demised Premises, and Tenant shall, at its own cost and expense, replace any glass windows and doors in the Demised Premises which may be broken. At the expiration of the tenancy created hereunder, Tenant shall surrender the Demised Premises in good condition, reasonable wear and tear, loss by fire or other unavoidable casualty excepted.

Def. Ex. 2 at 32--33.

Chicago Title succeeded to the land that had previously been owned by Dempster Plaza and became the landlord under the lease. Frank's filed for bankruptcy, and Fifth Third assumed Frank's lease by order of the bankruptcy court in 2004. Fifth Third intended to make part of the building a bank and sublease the rest, but it never used the building. Before the lease ended on December 31, 2009, Chicago Title sent Fifth Third two letters in which it claimed that Fifth Third was not properly maintaining the building and was breaching the lease. The second letter was accompanied by an inspection report from an engineering firm detailing the repairs that needed to be made on the building and estimating that they would cost $466,175.

Fifth Third denied that it was responsible for any of the maintenance, but it did eventually perform some repairs as part of an effort to avoid litigation. Chicago Title nevertheless sued in state court, stating that it had been forced to make repairs totaling $361,042. Chicago Title claimed that it had repaired the roof, including replacing the drainage system and flashings, replaced the asphalt parking lot, and replaced the heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC) units. Fifth Third removed the case to federal court.


On a motion for summary judgment, the Court "view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Trinity Homes LLC v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 629 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "The interpretation of an unambiguous contract is a question of law, and therefore a dispute over the terms of an unambiguous contract is suited to disposition on summary judgment." Util. Audit, Inc. v. Horace Mann Serv. Corp., 383 F.3d 683, 687 (7th Cir. 2004).

Fifth Third argues that it is not responsible for some of the damages claimed by Chicago Title because the lease did not require that Fifth Third make certain repairs and replacements. In particular, Fifth Third contends that it had no duty to repair or replace structural items like the roof of the building and that it had no duty to replace HVAC units that were merely old and not damaged.

1. Roof repair

Fifth Third concedes that the lease contains "a general covenant of the tenant to repair." Def. Br. at 4. It contends, however, that it is not responsible for repairing or replacing the roof because roof repairs are structural and even a lease that requires a tenant to make repairs does not require the tenant "to make repairs involving structural changes." Sandelman v. Buckeye Realty, Inc., 216 Ill. App. 3d 226, 230, 576 N.E.2d 1038, 1040 (1991). Rather, a tenant is required to make structural repairs only if that duty is "plainly discoverable" in the lease. Id.; see Expert Corp. v. LaSalle Nat'l Bank, 145 Ill. App. 3d 665, 668, 496 N.E.2d 3, 5 (1986) (finding that tenant had no duty to fix an unsafe load-bearing wall when the lease did not contain the word "structure"). Fifth Third argues that it cannot be responsible for repairing the roof because the repair provision in its lease did not specifically mention roof work or structural repairs. See Kallman v. Radioshack Corp., 315 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2002) (tenant had duty to repair and replace roof and HVAC units when lease stated "Lessee shall be liable for repair to the roof and for any ...

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