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Aox, Inc. v. Lake County Trust Co.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 23, 2019

AOX, Inc. and Brian Piunti, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
Lake County Trust Company, Trust 4210 and Trust 5061, and Alex Emmanoilidis, Appellees-Defendants

          Appeal from the Lake Superior Court No. 45D01-1301-PL-5. The Honorable John M. Sedia, Judge.

          Attorneys for Appellant F. Joseph Jaskowiak Lauren K. Kroeger Hoeppner Wagner & Evans LLP Merrillville, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Patrick P. Devine John R. Terpstra Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP Schererville, Indiana

          VAIDIK, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] AOX, Inc. and Brian Piunti (collectively, "AOX") appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake County Trust Company, Trust 4210 and Trust 5061, and Alex Emmanoilidis (collectively, "the Landlords") on AOX's claims of breach of contract and malicious prosecution. We affirm as to the breach-of-contract claim but reverse as to the malicious-prosecution claim.

         Facts and Procedural History [¶2] We set forth the following facts in a previous appeal involving these parties:

In August 1998, AOX, Inc., entered into a ten-year lease with Trust Number 4210 ("the Trust") for property in Portage, Indiana, so that AOX could open a preventative automotive maintenance center. Under the lease, the Trust was to complete construction on the property and obtain an occupancy permit by the beginning of the lease term. The lease was signed by Alex Emmanoilidis, as beneficiary of the Trust; Lake County Trust Company, as trustee of the Trust ("the Trustee"); and Brian Piunti, as president of AOX.
The lease term was supposed to start in November 1998, but AOX was unable to take possession of the property because the building was not certified for occupancy until January 15, 1999. This delay resulted in the lease term beginning February 1, 1999. However, on January 8, 1999, the Trust threatened to evict AOX for failure to pay the first rental installment, even though it was not yet due. Ten days later, Emmanoilidis directed the Trustee to convey the leased property from Trust Number 4210 to Trust Number 5061, with no notice to Piunti. About two months after that, the Trust demanded payment for utility bills and for repairs made to damaged water pipes, again under the threat of eviction, even though those expenses occurred prior to AOX's occupancy.
Piunti noticed numerous defects in the property and deviations from the plans and specifications as provided in the lease. He informed Emmanoilidis of these issues as early as January 28, 1999, and onward through 2008. Emmanoilidis did not correct any of these defects and even stated at one point that he was "not going to fix shit." Instead, he subjected Piunti and AOX to several lawsuits over the years, for example:
In March 1999, Emmanoilidis and his wife alleged Piunti had stolen windows, doors, and other building materials stored on the leased property and requested over $25, 000 in damages. More than ten years later, the trial court dismissed the case on Piunti's motion, noting that Emmanoilidis failed to respond to discovery requests and had not taken any action since filing the complaint.
In May 2000, Emmanoilidis directed the Trust to seek eviction, damages, and attorney's fees from Piunti and AOX for allegedly defaulting on the lease. Along with the complaint, Emmanoilidis's son Arte Emmanoilidis filed an affidavit stating that Piunti and AOX had failed to pay real estate taxes and rent. The parties later stipulated that AOX was current in rent payments. In October 2001, the trial court found that the real estate taxes the Trust demanded included taxes on land that was not part of the leased property and thus declined to evict AOX. The parties could not agree on the amount of taxes due, so the case proceeded to a bench trial. In December 2002, the court found AOX owed precisely the amount Piunti had calculated and offered to pay before trial. It thus withheld judgment to give AOX time to pay. AOX paid the same day, and the court never entered a final judgment.
In October 2004, Emmanoilidis again directed the Trust to sue Piunti and AOX. This time, the Trust accused AOX and its employees of criminal mischief for allegedly spraying soap and water on the parking lot while the asphalt was being sealed and sought damages and attorney's fees of $6000. The case went to trial in December 2007, and after no more than an hour of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict for Piunti and AOX.
In the beginning of 2008, nearing the end of the ten-year lease term, Piunti asked Emmanoilidis whether he would extend the lease to a new owner if Piunti decided to sell his business. Emmanoilidis said no. Piunti notified Emmanoilidis in February 2008 that AOX was ...

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