It's only a matter of time before a boarding stable encounters a legal dispute over payment of fees. In a recent Illinois lawsuit, both the boarder and the stable sued each other, but the stable won at the trial court level and later when the case was appealed.
The non-paying boarder sued the stable alleging that it breached the boarding contract by depriving his four horses of proper care and attention. The stable, which had been trying to sell off the horses under the Illinois Innkeepers Lien Act, due to non-payment, counterclaimed for recovery of unpaid boarding fees plus late payment fees, attorney fees, and costs.
At the trial court level, the stable won. Ruling in the stable’s favor, the court ordered the boarder to pay past-due board fees, late fees, costs, and attorney fees under the Illinois Innkeepers Lien Act. On the boarder’s claims against the stable, the court awarded nothing.
The boarder appealed but lost. Among the arguments he raised that were rejected on appeal were the following:
- Argument: The boarder argued that the Illinois Equine Activity Liability Act prevents a boarding stable from recovering unpaid board fees.
Court Response: Wrong. The Court found that the Illinois Equine Activity Liability Act was not applicable because it said nothing about money owed to a stable for boarding fees. To the contrary, "boarding an equine is not included within the definition of ‘engages in an equine activity" found in the law.”
- Argument: The boarder also argued that the Illinois Innkeepers Lien Act only allows stables to recover attorney fees when they complete all enforcement mechanisms, such as selling off a horse. In this case, no lien sale ever occurred because the court allowed the boarder to remove his horses on a specified date.
Court Response: Wrong. The court found that this statute allows a stable to recover fees incurred while attempting to enforce the lien, regardless of whether the stable concludes a sale of the horses for non-payment.
LESSONS LEARNED - AVOIDING DISPUTES
In this case, the boarder challenged the quality of care his horses received, but the stable disagreed and insisted on payment. While contracts cannot prevent all disputes from occurring, they can potentially narrow them. For example:
Boarders who want to confirm details about the stable’s care (such as number of times the horse will be fed and watered each day, amount of feed, amount of pasture turnout, individual or group pasture, how emergencies will be handled, and more) can insist that the boarding contract include these details. Boarders might also want the contract to address how the arrangement can be terminated.
Stables can describe in their boarding contracts the services they will provide for the boarder’s horse. As to payment, the contract can cover due dates, late payment fees (where allowed by law), interest on unpaid balances, and recovery of attorney fees.
Boarders and stables would be wise to examine the applicable state law regarding stablemen’s liens (sometimes called “agister’s liens”). Here’s a link to an article on stablemen’s liens that Julie Fershtman wrote a few years ago. Also, here’s a link to a website that lists several of these statutes.
The case was: Grason v. Lovegove, 2014 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 2578 (11/20/2014).