Jordan Tank obtains jury verdict in favor of client in commercial eviction/business dispute.April 22, 2019
Plaintiff Beverly Materials, LLC sought eviction of its tenant, Defendant Midwest Material Management, LLC. Midwest alleged that Beverly sought eviction to retaliate against it and to shut down its business because it was competing with another business that an owner of Beverly started operating next to it just six weeks before Beverly filed suit.
Midwest has leased the property at issue from Beverly since 1996. One of its business operations on the property is a yard waste transfer site, which is an EPA-approved recycling facility where customers pay Midwest to offload large quantities of yard waste for disposal. The customers pay Midwest to accept the yard waste, and then Midwest finds environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of it.
In early 2012, representatives of Midwest began working with representatives of Beverly to start a compost facility next to Midwest. Compost facilities are also paid to accept large quantities of yard waste, but in addition to that, they compost the yard waste and then sell it.
Beverly and Midwest agreed to work together to develop and construct the compost facility. They further agreed that once it opened, Midwest would relocate its current business operations to the compost facility, operate it, and pay Beverly royalties off the revenue it generated. Their agreement was memorialized in a lease signed October 1, 2013.
After signing the October 2013 lease, representatives of Midwest helped obtain regulatory approval for the compost site and worked with an engineering company to design it. However, Beverly’s owner, Dan Plote, decided he would rather have Midwest remain where it is currently located and pay Beverly rent, while he started another company that operated the compost facility and received the revenue it generated. The company that currently operates the compost facility is called Green Soils Management, LLC.
Internal correspondence and documents created by Plote and his agents showed that they knew Midwest had a right under the October 2013 lease to relocate its business and operate the compost facility. That led Plote to send an internal email in August 2015 stating that they needed to “control” Midwest so it didn’t “go rogue” against them.
A second email stated that their plan for controlling Midwest was to put it “effectively out of business at the end of 2016” by offering it work at the compost facility as a contractor in exchange for: (1) signing an amended lease that took away its right to relocate its business and operate the compost facility; and (2) signing another agreement with a non-compete provision that limited its right to operate its yard waste transfer business. One of Midwest’s owners testified that it would have gone out of business if it had signed the agreements.
At an in-person meeting during the negotiations, Dan Plote told Midwest’s owners that there would be trouble and things would get ugly for Midwest if it held him to the promises Beverly made in the October 2013 lease. Internal meeting agendas, handwritten notes, and memoranda prepared by Plote’s agents during the negotiations discussed threatening Midwest with eviction if it did not sign the amended lease and contractor agreement with the non-compete provision.
Midwest refused to sign the agreements. When the compost facility started operating in the fall of 2016, Midwest sent correspondence to Beverly stated that it had breached the lease by not letting Midwest relocate its business and operate the compost facility, among other things. Nine days later, Beverly sent Midwest a letter stating that it had breached the lease, and one month after that Beverly filed its lawsuit seeking eviction.
Plote testified that Beverly’s letter was a direct response to Midwest letter. He further testified that he wanted Midwest’s customers for the compost facility; that it would benefit the compost facility if Midwest was out of business; and that he personally would make more money if the compost facility’s revenue increased, even if Beverly’s revenue decreased.
Other evidence presented at trial showed that the eviction lawsuit was one part of a larger common design against Midwest to put it out of business. When Midwest tried to purchase property in the Village of Gilberts for its business, one of Beverly’s agents, a former President of Gilberts, told one of Midwest’s employees that they were going to stop Midwest from getting regulatory approval to operate its business there. During the application process with the Village, its Plan Commission voted to recommend Midwest’s proposed business, but the Board of Trustees inexplicably voted it down one month later.
Additionally, Green Soils workers have parked their vehicles in front of Midwest’s business and redirected its customers into the compost facility. Plote testified that he “chuckled” when he heard that his tenant’s business operations were being interfered with. Beverly also forced Midwest to take down signs advertising its business, even though the signs had been up for over a decade before the compost facility started operating next to it.