Home > business, business law, litigation, personal guaranty, Real Estate > Recent Court Case Provides Good Lessons For Real Estate Investors.

Recent Court Case Provides Good Lessons For Real Estate Investors.

Its Wednesday and I wanted to share a court of appeals case that came out on September 15th.

Case: Key Bank v Lake Villa Oxford Assoc, et. al.

Lesson: be careful when drafting “personal guarantees”

I’ve written in the past about personal guarantees.

This particular case involved a real estate development gone bad.

Defendant, developer, Lake Villa and its principal Burnham apparently needed additional funding for the project.

Christopher Investment loaned Lake Villa Rochester $4.45 million, the loan was secured by a second mortgage on the subject property and Burnham, personally guaranteed the loan.

(Note – If I was an investor, and I knew that my mortgage was going to only be a 2nd mortgage, a personal guarantee from the borrower’s owner(s) is definitely a good idea.)

As it turned out, Lake Villa defaulted on its primary loan to KeyBank. KeyBank foreclosed on its mortgage.

Christopher assigned the mortgage and guarantee to Homestead Properties.

When Burnham and Lake Villa defaulted on its loan to Christopher, Homestead declared a default and sought to collect.

Problems arose in litigation.

Burnham claimed the guarantee was not assignable because the specific language in the personal guarantee provided “This Agreement shall be binding and inure to the benefit of the parties and…permitted assigns.” (emphasis mine). Burhman argued – “I never granted permission!”

Keep in mind, that there was no real argument that Burnham defaulted on his repayment obligation. The only relevant question was whether or not Homestead could enforce its rights as an assignee under the personal guarantee.

The trial court agreed!

The case went to a Jury Trial, where a jury returned a verdict in favor of Burnham individually, claiming that the assignment did not intend to benefit Homestead!

However the Court of Appeals did not agree with the Jury or with the trial court.

The Court of Appeals cited the following long standing rules of contract law:

  1. The parties are free to contract as they see fit. Citing Coates v Bastian Bros, Inc, 276 Mich App 498, 503 (2007).
  2. “Under general contract law, rights can be assigned unless the assignment is clearly restricted.” (emphasis added) Citing Burkhardt v Bailey, 260 Mich App 636, 652 (2004).
  3. The Court cited 3 Restatement Contract 2d for the notion that “contractual rights are assignable so long as the assignment is not ‘validly precluded by contract'”. KeyBank, pg 4.
  4. Michigan Courts have “striven to uphold freedom of assignability.” citing Detroit Greyhound Employees Fed Cred Union v Aetna Life Ins Co, 381 Mich 683, 689 (1969).

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals found that given the legal authority in favor of freedom of assignability, unless clearly restricted, the language “permitted assigns” did not rise to the level that would forbid the assignment.

Burnham was therefore on the hook for the repayment of the debt under the personal guarantee.

Lesson:

Real estate investors: make sure the contractual language in your loan and security documents is clear. Particularly when executing personal guarantees. Courts have recognized that personal guarantees must be “strictly interpreted”.  Bandit Indus, Inc v Hobbs Int’l, Inc 463 Mich 504 (2001).

Here, the language was not clear. The result – undoubtedly significant attorney fees expended in pursuing a jury trial and an appeal.

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

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