In a victory for Levin Ginsburg’s client Nano Gas Technologies, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s interpretation of an arbitration award, holding that the defendant could not “wait until he dies” to pay a portion of a damage award. In Nano Gas Technologies, Inc. v. Roe, Case Nos. 21-1809; 1822 (7th Cir., Apr. 25, 2022) the Seventh Circuit ruled that the district court had misinterpreted an arbitration award in concluding that the defendant could satisfy a $500,000 judgment “in such manner as Roe chooses.” In refusing to allow Nano Gas to immediately enforce the underlying arbitration award, the district court interpreted the arbitrator’s “in such manner as [defendant] chooses” language as allowing the defendant to choose when to satisfy the arbitration award, if ever, including by whatever assets he had left at the time of his death. Nano Gas appealed from the district court’s judgment.
Agreeing with Nano Gas, the Appellate Court concluded that, although Mr. Roe “invited ambiguity” through an alternative reading of “in such manner as Roe chooses,” his reading was unreasonable. The Appellate Court recognized that Roe could not “refuse to turn over his only identifiable asset, choose hypothetical forms of payment that may never come to fruition, or require Nano Gas to wait until he dies.” The court agreed with Nano Gas that both the language of the arbitrator’s opinion and common sense resolved this issue. Finally, recognizing that although in certain cases district courts may send a case back to the arbitrator to clarify an award, the Seventh Circuit rejected that procedure in this case because the award’s language compelled only one conclusion.
The panel reversed the district court’s findings regarding Roe’s discretion to satisfy the $500,000 award and remanded to allow Nano Gas to resume enforcing the entire judgment without delay. Levin Ginsburg Shareholder and Chair of Litigation Department, Howard L. Teplinsky, authored the appellate briefs and argued the case on appeal.
Insurance is a key part of managing risk and protecting against unexpected financial losses. Individuals and businesses alike can benefit from the right coverage, whether it be your personal auto policy, commercial general liability policy, or property damage coverage. But don’t assume that just because you have a policy you are fully covered. Insurance policies are often full of exclusions and fine print. Even with the most reputable insurers, policies are rarely “one size fits all.”
A recent Illinois appellate court decision is a prime example. In Farmers Insurance Exchange v. Cheekati, et al., 2022 IL App (4th) 210023, the insureds were homeowners who, while unable to sell their property, rented it to a tenant. That tenant was injured when a defective staircase at the home collapsed. The insureds made a claim under their homeowner’s policy with Farmers, undoubtedly expecting they would be covered for the injury occurring in their home. They were not—Farmers denied coverage based on two policy exclusions: the first preluded coverage for bodily injury to any insured or any “resident of the residence premises;” the second precluded coverage for bodily injury “in connection with the rental or holding for rental” of the premises. Based on those exclusions, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of Farmers, declaring that it had no duty to defend or provide coverage to its insureds.
The lesson here: review your policy documents carefully and make sure you are getting the coverage you think you are paying for. For more information regarding these or similar issues, please contact Mark L. Evans at email@example.com or (312) 368-0100.
Assume that your business is sued for multiple claims including negligence, defamation, and fraud arising out of the same event. Most likely, your business has a commercial general liability policy of insurance that provides coverage for negligence claims, but not intentional torts. What protections does that policy actually provide?
Although intentional acts are typically excluded from insurance policies, your business’s insurer would have a “duty to defend” your business from the negligent and intentional acts in this hypothetical. This means that the insurance company must appoint an attorney for your business at the insurer’s expense (less any applicable deductible) to defend the suit. Although a duty to defend may exist, the insurer ultimately might not be required to pay (indemnify) your business if the plaintiff were to recover a money judgment against the business for those claims based on the intentional acts. This is because Illinois law is clear that an insurer’s duty to defend its insured is broader than the duty to indemnify the insured.
As for the duty to defend, if the facts alleged in the underlying complaint fall within, or potentially within, the policy’s coverage, the insurer’s duty to defend is triggered. The insurer’s duty to defend is triggered even if the allegations in the complaint are groundless, false, or fraudulent, and even if only one of several of the plaintiff’s theories is within the potential coverage of the policy. In the hypothetical lawsuit, even if some of the claims alleged against your business ultimately are not covered, the insurer likely has a duty to defend against both the covered and uncovered claims. However, the duty to indemnify only arises if the insured has a judgment against it on an underlying claim and that the insured’s activity is covered by the policy. Thus, if judgment is entered against the business on an uncovered claim, the insurer will not have a duty to pay that judgment entered against your business even though its appointed attorney defended the claim.
Having an experienced attorney evaluate your business’s insurance policy for coverage is critical. For more information regarding these or similar issues, please contact Roenan Patt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 368-0100.
The board of directors made the decision to acquire a company for $100 million. The negotiations and the due diligence process were difficult, but the board finally approved the acquisition and the transaction closed. After closing, the acquirer determined that the value of the acquired company’s assets were greatly overstated and the acquiring company took a loss on its books. The shareholders of the acquiring company have met to determine whether to file litigation against the directors.
In Illinois, courts have ruled that the “business judgment rules acts to shield directors who have been diligent and careful in performing their duties from liability for honest errors or mistakes of judgment”. Absent “bad faith, fraud, illegality or gross overreaching, the courts are not at liberty to interfere with the exercise of business judgment by corporate directors”. Thus, just because a board made the “wrong” business decision, does not mean that the directors are liable to the shareholders.
While the courts are reluctant to make business judgments for companies, this does not always prevent shareholders from “second guessing” decisions of the board. Illinois law provides that a corporation may indemnify its directors and officers from any liability if such director or officer “acted in good faith and in a manner he or she believed to be in, or not opposed to, the best interests of the corporation”. Since the law is permissive, in order for a corporation to attract quality persons to serve as an officer or director, it may wish to agree to indemnify such person in such situations. It is important from the corporation’s perspective to draft such an agreement, in a manner that, while protecting the “well-intended” officer or director, also protects the company. If you have any questions about directors’ and officers’ liability to the corporation, or would like to discuss your company’s legal concerns, please feel free to contact the business lawyers at Levin Ginsburg.
For more information, please contact:
Morris R. Saunders at: (312) 368-0100 or email@example.com
Answer: In a consumer transaction, no.¹ In a commercial transaction, it depends.
A typical “confession of judgment” provision in a commercial contract (e.g., a promissory note) authorizes the creditor upon a default under the agreement to obtain a judgment for the amount owed without notice to the debtor(s) or guarantor(s), and allows the creditor to immediately execute on the judgment. The clause will most likely contain a “warrant of attorney” authorizing the appointment of an attorney to appear for the debtor, to waive personal jurisdiction and service, and to consent to an amount due and owing by the creditor. Thus, a party in default under an agreement containing a confession of judgment provision often first learns about the lawsuit against him after collection efforts have begun, when his bank accounts have been frozen or a lien has been recorded against his property. Courts will permit this judicial “shortcut” only if (a) the contractual provision is enforceable in the first place, and (b) the creditor takes the right steps to obtain the judgment after a default.
On the first point, a judgment by confession is void where it requires extrinsic evidence to prove the underlying debt. The Illinois Supreme Court in Grundy County Nat. Bank v. Westfall, 49 Ill.2d 498, 500–01 (1971) has held: “Judgments by confession are circumspectly viewed. … ‘The power to confess a judgment must be clearly given and strictly pursued, and a departure from the authority conferred will render the confessed judgment void.’ The extent of the liability undertaken must be ascertainable from the face of the instrument in which the warrant is granted. … ‘A judgment by confession must be for a fixed and definite sum, and not in confession of a fact that can only be established by testimony outside of the written documents, required by the statute to be filed in order to enter up a judgment by confession.” See also Ninow v. Loughnane, 103 Ill.App.3d 833, 836 (1st Dist. 1981); State National Bank v. Epsteen, 59 Ill.App.3d 233 (1st Dist. 1978). Numerous other courts have likewise held that a guaranty or underlying instrument purporting to grant power to confession judgment that is all-encompassing—for example, one that refers to “any and all debts, liabilities and obligations of every nature or form of the debtor,” including future debts, is so broad as to be void. Thus, if your confession of judgment clause is broad-sweeping or does not clearly describe the extent of the debtor’s liability, or if proving the amount owed requires reference to other documents extraneous to the instrument itself, the confession of judgment clause – and any judgment later obtained thereon – is void. While it is certainly advisable for clients finding themselves on the defensive end of this situation to act quickly, Illinois law permits a void judgment to be attacked at any time.
As to the second point, because the confession of judgment remedy is a creature of an Illinois statute, it must be strictly construed. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1301(c). Voidness issues aside, that section requires the creditor to file a confession judgment suit only in the county in which (1) the note or obligation containing the confession of judgment clause was executed, (2) one or more of the defendants reside, or (3) in which any real or personal property owned by any of the defendants is located.
Because Illinois courts view judgments by confession with some skepticism, the law affords various remedies and means of challenging them not covered by this article. For further information on how to defend a judgment by confession case or to use such a provision offensively, contact:
(312) 368-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
¹ A “consumer transaction” is defined as the “sale, lease, assignment, loan, or other disposition of an item of goods, a consumer service, or an intangible to an individual for purposes that are primarily personal, family, or household.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1301(c). If the instrument authorizing the judgment by confession in a consumer transactions was executed prior to September 24, 1979, however, it is still enforceable. Id.