The team of Paul Hybel, Tony Carballo, and Catherine Miller recently won an Illinois Appellate Court victory for Roger Bickel's client, James Clarage. Mr. Clarage is a developer who attempted to build a combination golf course and resort in the Starved Rock Area. The defendants are a trustee of the Deer Park Township board, the board's attorney, and her law firm. In 1996, our client sought and obtained the approval of the township board for the project. However, in 1999, the township board and its attorney commenced upon a pattern of conduct to interfere with the project and our client's relationships with several parties including Sheraton Hotels, which had signed a letter of intent to be involved in the project, and the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority (UIRVDA), the bonding authority. The defendants eventually induced Sheraton Hotels to write a letter claiming that they were not involved in the project, and accusing our client of misrepresenting to governmental agencies that Sheraton was involved in the project. The defendants, who knew Sheraton was involved and that the letter was false, published it to newspapers, UIRVDA, and several governmental agencies. As a result, UIRVDA withdrew its support for bonding, and our clients' project thereby ended.
Defendants managed to have the matter transferred to LaSalle County, and the trial judge dismissed the complaint outright. The court found that the letter was not defamatory as a matter of law, and that the defendants were protected by qualified immunity. The team appealed to the Third District appellate court. Last week, the appellate court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for trial.