• December 23, 2014

HourglassSome years ago, waiting my turn for my motion to be heard, I sat in a courtroom and listened to a young lawyer argue a non-meritorious motion to dismiss in a case unrelated to mine. I had no connection with this case. I had not recently done legal research on the issue  raised. Even so, the issue seemed straightforward to me. The novice’s argument, to my mind, bordered on frivolous.

The judge was extremely patient and deferential, however, as the young lawyer strained to make her case. I am sure the young lawyer appreciated the court’s patience and I bet the opposing lawyer did not begrudge the court’s indulgence. But when the young lawyer was done with her argument, and the opposing lawyer had eviscerated the movant’s position in response, I fully expected a quick, decisive, ruling from the bench against the moving party’s weak arguments. It was not to be. To my consternation, the court ruled against the weak argument about six months later. The case was a personal injury case. The plaintiff was an injured person. The defendant had managed to derail resolution of the case for six months with a toss-off simulacrum of a genuine legal argument.

In contrast, how refreshing to note a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson (D. Minn.) where she simply ruled on a motion to dismiss (denying it) at the hearing this past week. I am sorry that we don’t see more of this. I know that courts are understaffed and overwhelmed but it is great to see courts cut to the chase and advance cases efficiently.

image00015-250x166In the matter before Judge Nelson, a commercial landlord-tenant dispute, tenant ITT leased part of an office building in Edina, Minnesota (pictured at left), gutted the HVAC and installed an alternative system because ITT planned to use the space for class rooms rather than offices. The different uses have different heating needs. (Thirty or so students side by side, each in front of a computer, generate more heat than 3-4 people in separate offices.)

ITT left the space but now refuses to take any responsibility for the landlord’s significant expense in the restoration of the HVAC to make the space suitable, again, for offices. ITT argued that the lease expressly provided that ITT MIGHT remove any HVAC set-up that it installed. ITT took the position that this meant that it did not have to pay if it trashed the existing HVAC and chose to abandon its alternative HVAC set-up.

Landlord, Pentagon South, disagreed. A lease provision providing that a tenant has the option of hauling off its HVAC set-up at the termination of the lease does not mean that the tenant has no responsibility when it guts the HVAC and swaps it out for a different set-up (which is incompatible with the building’s primary use, incidentally).

Again, this does not seem all that complicated a question. It is great to see it answered relatively quickly and resoundingly rather than causing litigants to wait in limbo for a straight-forward answer. Congratulations on the win to plaintiff’s counsel and, even heartier, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to his client, Pentagon South, LLC, for the gift of fast and decisive action by the court.



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