The Illinois Second District Appellate Court has ruled a Chicago area horse trainer should not pony up as much money to a New York attorney and harness racing enthusiast as a DuPage County jury had said he should, finishing the latest leg of a lawsuit that arose from business dealings that went lame.
Thomas Harmer has been a professional horse trainer since 1969 in Illinois and elsewhere. Michael Polansky is a New York lawyer with an interest in harness racing. He bought horses in 2003 in Illinois for at least $1.8 million and hired Harmer to train them in Illinois and Florida. In 2004, the two men also became partners in Evolution Racing, a business that sold harness racing bikes, or sulkys – the wheeled vehicles in which the driver rides.
However, their business dealings soured. In June 2010, Polansky sued Harmer in DuPage County Circuit Court, saying Harmer cheated him in connection with Evolution Racing. Harmer fired back in March 2011, claiming Polansky owed him more than $100,000 for horse-related services between January 2010 and March 2011.
In June 2011, Polansky countersued, alleging Harmer submitted false and overstated charges for his services as a trainer, defrauded him in connection with horse sales and did not hand over Polansky’s share of purse winnings for horses Polansky owned or co-owned.
The suits were consolidated and a three-day jury trial took place in March 2014 before DuPage County Judge John T. Elsner. The results were mixed. The jury ruled Polansky owed Harmer for Harmer’s services, awarding Harmer $79,000. The jury also ruled in Harmer’s favor when it came to Polansky’s claims Harmer unjustly enriched himself at Polansky’s expense and Harmer did not make misrepresentations regarding sales of horses or fraud in connection with horse purchases.
On the other hand, the jury decided Harmer breached his fiduciary duty to Polansky, thereby harming Polansky. For this harm, the jury said Harmer should pay Polansky $400,000. The jury further said Harmer should pay an additional $100,000 for breaching an agreement with Polansky to put money into Evolution Racing. Finally, the jury also found Harmer defrauded Polansky of $265,000 in false training bills.
Overall, the jury said Harmer should receive $79,000 from Polansky and Polansky should receive $765,000 from Harmer.
In the wake of the trial, Harmer and Polansky sought recourse in Illinois Second District Appellate Court for what they each didn’t like about the verdicts and awards. The appellate body issued an unpublished order June 30 upholding the verdicts, but taking issue with portions of the awards.
Justices vacated the $400,000 award to Polansky for Harmer’s breach of fiduciary duty, because it “bore no reasonable relationship to the loss Polansky suffered.” Justices referred the matter of these damages back to the trial court for recalculation. The appellate panel also reduced the $100,000 award to Polansky for Harmon’s breach of the Evolution Racing agreement to $76,000, saying the original $100,000 award was “against the manifest weight of the evidence.” Justices noted that Polansky’s request for a setoff of damages may be considered by the trial court when the case is remanded there.
Appellate Justice Robert B. Spence delivered the appellate ruling, with justices Susan F. Hutchinson and Michael J. Burke concurring.