Experience Matters: Words Have Meanings (And An Insurance Pointer)

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Last week, we wrote about the need for competence when it comes to crafting deal documents such as a lease. Among the over 400 Ruminations prior blog postings are more than a dozen dealing with insurance. This week, we get to combine the two subjects thanks to a December 5, 2018 unpublished ruling from a New Jersey appeals court resolving an insurance dispute. The facts are mundane, but provide a roadmap for us today.

A tenant’s employee “injured himself using a freight elevator inside the leased premises.” He sued the landlord for negligence. [The workers compensation law barred him from suing his employer, the tenant.] Relying on the lease’s indemnification provision, the landlord claimed back against the tenant. It also demanded that the tenant’s insurer honor the landlord’s status as an additional insured under the tenant’s liability policy. As will be seen, the appellate court made the landlord unhappy. To understand why we’ll start with the lease’s indemnification clause. It read as follows: [Read more…]

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Don’t Know How To Do It? Then, Don’t!

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Some concepts are so simple that we never think that we’d have to point them out. But, today, one of those concepts occurred to us, and we’d like to share it with our readers. Here it is:

If you are going to craft documents, be they leases, purchase agreements or ‘whatever,’ you should know what you are doing.

Experience can be a good teacher, if your experience is good. Bad experiences could be a good teacher as well if you learn (quickly and correctly) and especially if they were someone else’s bad experiences.

Today’s blog posting was triggered by a nearly year-old Maryland court decision. The particular problem pointed out by the court, however, is something we’ve seen played out more than several times over the years. In this version, it involved a right and option provision amended into an existing lease. The relevant text read as follows: [Read more…]

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How Humpty Dumpty Interprets The Words We Use

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New York State has a law, New York General Business Law Section 518. It deals with how a merchant may post a pricing sign when there are two prices for the same goods – one if paying with cash, and one when paying with a credit (debit) card. This law raised a First Amendment issue, one that worked its way up to the United States Supreme Court and back to New York State courts. So, why will it be discussed on a real property blog site? It is because Ruminations is fascinated, some might say obsessed, with how a literal reading of text doesn’t always turn out to be its applicable meaning. So, it doesn’t matter whether the issue comes up in a contract or a law. Courts don’t have two sets of rules. Yes, some rules may not apply when looking at one category or the other, such as the use of “legislative history” when looking at a law. But, the analogous rule for interpreting words in an agreement is the parties’ “course of conduct” or “negotiation history.” In every case, the goal is the same: find the intent behind the text. [Read more…]

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Time And Deals – Of Mice And Men – Shake A Leg

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Today’s blog posting will reflect that not much thought has gone into writing it. That’s because we realized that it wasn’t going to get measurably better if we picked through it, questioning every phrase, discussing each element with friends and family, and then, after hearing everyone’s “free” advice,” starting all over again. You see, we’ve seen too many others do that with letters of intent (aka: deal sheets).

A lot has been written about whether a letter of intent should be detailed or just cover economic points. Ruminations has added to that body of literature. So, we won’t repeat what we’ve written. That can be seen by clicking: HERE or HERE. A lot has been written about whether (or how) a letter of intent can become an enforceable agreement. Ruminations has added to that body of literature. So, we won’t repeat what we’ve written. That can be seen by clicking: HERE or HERE. [Read more…]

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Negotiating Exclusive Use Clauses (With Sample)

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It is the rare retail project that is unencumbered by exclusive use rights granted by a landlord to one or more tenants.  While that may not have been as true in the distant past, this is now the “rule of the game.”  What is more, this concept has begun to spill over into the office leasing environment.

Large space tenants have the bargaining power to demand protection against competition within the project.  Conceptually, such protection is not unreasonable.  Think about it.  A large (often specialty) retailer draws customers to its store by dint of its reputation and expensive advertising.  Uncurbed, competing businesses would locate “next door” and draw business away just as a parasite would feed on a host.  In the office context, there are tenants who don’t want employees and invitees of competing businesses to be present in the lobbies, elevators, and lunchrooms. [Read more…]

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Maybe A Word Doesn’t Mean What It Unambiguously Means

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Let’s get out in the world. Let’s leave our silos. Let’s break through the real estate bubble. What is Ruminations babbling about? Real property law is not an island unto itself. It is part of the entire body of law. Yet, even those few of us who search for “real” law don’t often look at what courts say in other areas. There are things that can be learned by leaving the real estate tent to see how the rest of the (law) world lives. Today’s blog posting could show why we need to take such strolls. It describes a court decision about how to interpret a seemingly unambiguous trust document. There’s a story behind it and here it is.

As part of her estate plan, a grandmother left her estate’s assets to a trust that paid its income to her surviving husband. She specified that whatever was left upon his death was to go to her surviving grandchildren. Biologically, she had six. Two of her three children insisted that when she wrote “grandchildren,” she only considered four of those six as such. The woman suffered from no mental deficiencies. She was fully competent right up until her death. She could count. She could name all six. Yet, a court agreed that when she said the trust’s assets were to go to her grandchildren, she might have meant only four of them. [It didn’t reach that conclusion. It ordered a lower court to hold a trial to determine what the word “grandchildren” meant to her – what was her “personal” definition.] [Read more…]

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Writing That One Must Arbitrate May Not Be Enough To Require Arbitration

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We’ve written about arbitration a few times and made reference to this alternate dispute resolution process in several blog postings over the years. [For example, click: HERE or HERE.] Those who read our Ruminations may remember that we are somewhat ambivalent about its general use and a little more inclined toward its use for specific, discrete disputes, such as battles over operating expenses.

Today, for the benefit of those who like the concept and who use provisions such as: “All disputes hereunder will be resolved by arbitration,” we have a new warning. [Perhaps, we should write, “alert.”] When we first heard about an Appellate Division ruling from a New Jersey Court, one that threw out a contract’s “must arbitrate” that read as follows:

Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s] employment, the termination thereof, or otherwise arising between [plaintiff] and [defendant] shall, in lieu of a jury or other civil trial, be settled by final and binding arbitration. This agreement to arbitrate includes all claims whether arising in tort or contract and whether arising under statute or common law including, but not limited to, any claim of breach of contract, discrimination or harassment of any kind.

we said (to ourselves), “That must be wrong.” After all, doesn’t the quoted provision clearly and unequivocally say that any and all claims have to be arbitrated? But, after reading the decision itself, we switched sides. That’s not to say that New Jersey’s Supreme Court won’t reverse the ruling, because it might. After all, courts just seem to “love” arbitration and seem to bend over backward to validate every agreement to arbitrate. On the side agreeing with the Appellate Division, however, is a (previously unknown to us) 2009 Mississippi Supreme Court decision eerily similar to this month’s New Jersey decision. [Read more…]

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My Tenant Ruined Its Premises, How Much Does It Owe Me?

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So, the tenant, without the required permission, made significant changes to its space and failed to properly maintain the property as it was required to do. Further, as readers might expect, at the end of the lease’s term, it didn’t return the space to its landlord it the same condition as it was when the lease started. What damages might be available to the landlord?

For one, it can’t recover more than it lost. The underlying principle is that the landlord is entitled to the amount of money that would put it in the same position it would have been had its tenant not “misbehaved.” But, it isn’t open season on the tenant. The losses claimed must be shown to flow from the tenant’s breaches. And, in making that determination, courts look through the eyes of a “reasonable person” viewing proven facts.

There are two approaches to quantifying what a tenant should pay to put its landlord in the same financial position it would have been. They are either the amount by which the fair market value of the damaged property falls below the value of the same property without the damage caused by the tenant. The other is the amount it would take to repair or otherwise restore the property to the condition in which it should have been. [Read more…]

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