The Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien’s order granting dismissal and summary judgment in a leased farmland dispute.
Justice S. Gene Schwarm delivered the Rule 23 decision on Aug. 30. Justices Richard Goldenhersh and Bruce Stewart concurred.
The appellate court held that the circuit court’s ruling acts as the law of the case because the appellants failed to appeal LeChien’s first order in favor of the appellee. Instead, they waited to appeal until after the circuit court granted the appellant’s motion to dismiss and for summary judgment.
Appellee Marcella Tiemann purchased 32 acres of farmland near Mascoutah sometime prior to 2009.
She made a verbal lease with appellants Mark and Cheryl Lautenschlaegers, which allowed them to farm the land on a crop share basis.
On June 24, 2009, Tiemann purchased 42 more acres of farmland from the Lautenschlaegers on Zink Road in St. Clair County. She again entered into an agreement to allow them to farm the land on a crop share basis.
Tiemann argues that it was a verbal lease only, while the Lautenschlaegers argue that they also entered into a written lease allowing them to farm the land “with no ending date.”
Then on Aug. 24, 2013, the parties entered into a cash farm lease for the acreage, which was to run from Jan. 1, 2014, to Jan. 1, 2015, “at which time the appellants as lessees were to surrender possession if a written extension had not been executed.
The Lautenschlaegers argue that the 2013 lease did not require an extension and was merely intended to continue the purported 2009 lease as a cash farm lease rather than on a crop share basis. They further argue that the lease was written in such a way as to automatically renew it annually.
However, on Sept. 9, 2013, Tiemann sent the Lautenschlaegers a notice of nonrenewal of the lease.
Then on April 10, 2015, Tiemann sent the Lautenschlaegers a notice of no trespassing, stating that they were “hereby forbidden to enter upon/trespass upon” the farmland.
“The appellants have produced no evidence showing that they had taken any action on the 74 acres of farmland to prepare to farm the land for the coming season prior to receiving this notice,” Schwarm wrote.
The Lautenschlaegers filed a verified complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on May 8, 2015. They sought a declaration that they were the rightful tenants to the farmland “for the year 2015 and future years.”
On June 2, 2015, the circuit court ruled that the purported 2009 lease “would have been superseded by the  written lease.”
The circuit court also found that the 2013 lease did not automatically renew, that it had expired and that the Lautenschlaegers could not continue farming the land outside the lease “unless the evidence establishes that they have held-over so that by operation of law their possession is converted to a year-to-year lease.”
The Lautenschlaegers filed an amended complaint, and Tiemann filed a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment.
The circuit court granted dismissal and summary judgment on Nov. 20.
The Lautenschlaegers appealed on Dec. 18.
The appellate court held that because the Lautenschlaegers failed to appeal LeChien’s prior ruling, but instead appealed LeChien’s order granting dismissal and summary judgment.
As a result, his ruling that the 2013 lease superseded the 2009 lease, that the lease had expired and that the appellants did not hold over acts as the law of the case.
Therefore, “there is no legal basis to grant declaratory judgment.”