Appeals panel: Lawyer who defended Wheatland Bank officers can't force bank's insurer to pay $113K in fees

By Angela Underwood | Jan 23, 2018

CHICAGO — A state appeals court has again turned aside an attempt by an attorney who represented two top officers at a failed bank to stick the bank's insurance company with a six-figure legal services bill, saying a trial judge was correct to side with the insurer, who argued the stiffed lawyer should have been suing the bank officers he represented.

On Dec. 29, in an unpublished order, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Court of Appeals ruled against attorney Arnold Landis, who had claimed breach of contract and misrepresentation against insurance company OneBeacon Midwest.

The order was authored by Judge Sara Ellis on Dec. 29, with judges Eileen O'Neill Burke and Margaret McBride concurring. The order was filed under Supreme Court Rule 23, which limits its use as precedent. 

Landis brought his case against OneBeacon in Cook County Circuit Court in 2014 to recover fees for legal services he allegedly performed for Michael Sykes and Leonard Eichas, respectively, president and chief lending officer at Wheatland Bank, of Naperville, who were sued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 2010.  

The bank's policy with OneBeacon provided for "the advancement of defense costs, including attorney fees, at the insured’s request, but with the caveat that ‘defense costs shall be part of, and not in addition to, the applicable limit of liability’ and ‘defense costs shall reduce and may exhaust such limit(s) of liability,’” according to the decision.

After an initial reimbursement, OneBeacon ceased to pay Landis, who continued to represent the two officers, which he claimed resulted in more than $113,000 in unpaid attorney's fees.

When Landis attempted to sue OneBeacon for unpaid fees under breach of contract, the insurance firm argued Landis should sue the two bank officers for unpaid fees and the trial court concurred. In an amended complaint, Landis tried again to sue OneBeacon, claiming two counts of misrepresentation over the amount stated. The trial court dismissed the the amended complaint with prejudice.

In the appeal analysis, Ellis noted Landis' appeal suffered from some format errors, such as including a copy of the court transcript in the appendix attached to its brief, which was not the correct process of adding to the record.

“We agree with [the] defendant that [the] plaintiff has forfeited the issue because its brief ‘fails to articulate an organized and cohesive legal argument for the court's consideration,’” Ellis wrote in the decision. “... In fact, if anything, the record shows the opposite to be true. As [the] defendant notes, [the] plaintiff did not even attempt to articulate specific facts to be included in any second amended complaint - because it never proffered a second amended complaint."

After addressing the botched documentation process, Ellis focused on Landis' argument that OneBeacon did not deny that it owed him the amounts that he allegedly had forwarded the company.

“[T]he plaintiff claimed that this purported acquiescence on the part of defendant created an account stated,” Ellis wrote in the decision.

Ellis, however, held that Landis’s argument would not suffice.

“This allegation falls well short of the specificity required for a claim of fraudulent misrepresentation,” Ellis wrote in the appeal. “We agree with the trial court that the amended complaint failed to adequately plead a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation.”

According to Cook County court records, OneBeacon has been represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Wilson Elser, of Chicago. 

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Organizations in this Story

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Illinois First District Appellate Court Law Offices of Arnold Landis P.C. OneBeacon Midwest Insurance Company Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman and Dicker LLP

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