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Chicken Restaurant Case Serves Up A Bucket of Sound Contract Principles for Commercial Leases

In Tufail v. Midwest Hospitality LLC, 2013 WI 62, the Wisconsin Supreme Court highlighted the importance of including precise language in commercial leases, especially if the lease includes an integration clause. The court confirmed that when dealing with a fully integrated lease, it is guided by the terms of the lease as written rather than by extrinsic evidence or unwritten understandings between the parties. While this may seem obvious, this case serves as a good reminder for those who negotiate commercial leases to always include all specific business and legal terms.

Tufail ("Landlord") and Midwest Hospitality LLC ("Tenant") entered into a lease for commercial property that was then being used by Landlord as a "New York Chicken" restaurant. Tenant leased this property with the intent of operating a "Church's Chicken" restaurant. However, during build-out, Tenant discovered that a special use permit would be required to operate its fast food restaurant with a drive-through. While Tenant was able to obtain the permit it needed, the permit was conditioned upon the restaurant being closed by 9 p.m. (as opposed to the 4 a.m. close time allowed for the prior restaurant).

Tenant terminated the Lease and notified Landlord that it would stop paying rent due to the adverse effect the earlier closing time would have on its profitability. Tenant argued that the permit requirement was contrary to Landlord's representation that Tenant would not be prevented from using the premises for the permitted uses set forth in the lease. The lease contained the following use clause: "[t]enant may use and occupy the Premises for any lawful purposes, including, but not limited to, the retail sales, consumption, and delivery of food and beverages which shall include, but not be limited to, Chicken products, Fish products, bread products, salads, sandwiches, dessert items, promotional items, and any other items sold by any Church's Chicken store."

After reviewing the lease's integration clause and finding it to be complete, the court rejected Tenant's argument that the general reference to "Church's Chicken" in the use clause required that a fast food restaurant with a drive-through be allowed because the understanding between the parties was that Church's Chicken restaurants were in fact drive-through fast food restaurants. The court concluded that the lease did not include a false representation and also limited its review to the specific language used in the use and representation clauses of the lease due to its conclusion that the lease was fully integrated.

The court also concluded that the terms of the representation clause as written required simply that Tenant not be prevented from using the property for the purposes set forth in the use clause. The court stated that there was nothing that prevented Tenant from specifically addressing hours of operation, the requirement that a drive-through be allowed, or other specific requirements it considered to be vital to the successful operation of its restaurant in the lease. However, the court was bound to interpret only the contract to which the parties actually agreed, and these requirements were not included therein.

While this is a misrepresentation case on its face, the case ultimately turned on basic contract principles and is an important reminder of the effects of integration clauses. Not only can these "boilerplate" clauses intensify the scrutiny of the specific language chosen by the parties, but, as shown in this case, they can be used to support the theory that even the smallest of deal points should have been included in the agreement if they were important to the parties. This case demonstrates that it is extremely important to include precise, unambiguous language in leases and to double check that even the seemingly minor deal points are included in the lease if they are necessary to make the deal viable.

©2019 von Briesen & Roper, s.c

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Chris A. Jenny, von Briesen Roper Law Firm, Madison, Corporate, Real Estate and Family Estate Law Attorney

Chris A. Jenny is a Shareholder in the Madison office of von Briesen & Roper, s.c. He focuses his practice on representing business owners in a wide variety of niche markets to become more profitable while minimizing their risk and expenses. Chris’s practice has a heavy concentration in the real estate, construction, and information technology industries. This practical experience is a tremendous benefit to the contractors, suppliers, landlords, tenants and real estate developers he represents. Chris’s construction...

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William West, von Briesen Roper Law Firm, Milwaukee, Corporate and Real Estate Law Attorney

Bill West is a Shareholder. He Chairs the Firm’s Business Section and the Firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions Section.

Bill is a trusted advisor to his clients and they rely on his ability to achieve desired outcomes in a practical, timely and cost-effective manner – in other words, he gets things done. He has over 30 years of experience in corporate and business related transactions including:

  • Mergers and acquisitions

  • Complex corporate and commercial transactions

  • Corporate governance and business counseling

  • Business formation, strategy and structure

  • Business succession planning

  • Commercial real estate

Bill’s clients are involved in a range of industries, and include public and privately held businesses engaged in a wide variety of domestic and international transactions including asset and equity acquisitions, mergers, reorganizations, divestitures and restructurings.

Bill is also co-chair of the firm’s Retail Real Estate section. He represents clients nationwide in the purchase and sale of commercial real estate. Bill has a national practice handling the retail real estate leasing needs of both tenants and landlords.

Bill is a member of the American Bar Association (member of the Business Law, Real Estate and Taxation sections), and the State Bar of Wisconsin. He is also a co-author of LLCs and LLPs: A Wisconsin Handbook, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Editions, published by the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Bill is recognized by The Best Lawyers in America® as “Lawyer of the Year” for Closely Held Companies and Family Businesses Law in Milwaukee (2017). He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America® for Business Organizations (including LLCs and Partnerships) (2015-2018) as well as Closely Held Companies and Family Businesses Law (2014-2018).

Bill served as Chair and a member of the Board of Directors of Catholic Memorial High School.

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Megan Jerabek, von Briesen Roper Law Firm, Madison and Milwaukee Corporate, Real Estate and Family Estate Law Attorney

Megan Jerabek is the co-chair of the Trusts and Estates Section and a Shareholder in the Business Practice Group. Her practice focuses on the following areas:

  • Estate Planning;

  • Trust Administration;

  • Business Formation;

  • Business Transactions;

  • Real Estate and Commercial Leasing; and

  • Business Succession Planning.

Megan...

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