In July 2017, Latrice Merritt entered a residential lease with Doran 610 Apartments, LLC. Under the terms


In July 2017, Latrice Merritt entered a residential lease with Doran 610 Apartments, LLC. Under the terms of the lease agreement, Merritt was prohibited from installing a private security system in her apartment. On July 18, 2017, a maintenance worker triggered a private security system Merritt installed while responding to a maintenance request. Doran informed Merritt that her private security system was in breach of the lease and that she must remove it as soon as possible. In the following days, two false alarms occurred in which police arrived at Merritt’s apartment. Both times, Merritt was not home and Doran was unable to deactivate the alarm.
On July 31, Merritt and Doran signed an addendum to the lease that permitted Merritt to keep her security system as long as she provided Doran with a disarm code and allowed Doran employees to enter Merritt’s apartment to respond to false alarms. Despite her agreement, Merritt was not forthcoming with the disarm code. Doran advised Merritt that her refusal to provide the code was a breach of the lease addendum. Merritt responded by stating that she would not provide the access code and instead provided an “emergency password.” A Doran employee went to Merritt’s apartment to see if the “emergency password”
would disarm the system. It did not.
Doran sued Merritt for breach of the lease addendum. The district court concluded that Merritt had materially breached the lease by failing to provide the access code. Merritt appealed.
JUDGE BJORKMAN Eviction proceedings are summary in nature, limited in scope to the question of who has a present possessory right to real property. A landlord’s right to evict a tenant is complete upon the tenant’s violation of a material provision of a lease agreement. We review a district court’s findings of fact in an eviction case for clear error. A factual finding is clearly erroneous if there is a “clear demonstration that it is without substantial evidentiary support or that it was induced by an erroneous view of the law.” We review a district court’s legal conclusions de novo.
First, Merritt challenges the district court’s factual determination that she did not provide Doran with the access code. She argues that “[n]o witness called to testify against the defendant ha[d] personal knowledge of the fact in controversy,” and she asserts that Doran’s maintenance worker did not actually test the “emergency password” because the security system was not armed at the time he conducted the test. The record evidence defeats both assertions.
On cross-examination, the maintenance worker who used the “emergency password” testified as follows:
Q: So when did you go in to test the emergency code?
A: I believe last week….
Q: Were you able to use that code—
A: No.
Q: —to disarm the [security system]—
A: No.
Q: —on that day?
A: No, the [security system] was not set at that time. But the code that I was given did nothing.
Documentary evidence Doran submitted at trial establishes that use of the access code Doran requested—and Merritt was obligated to provide—would have itself armed the security system. And documents from Merritt’s security company indicate that there are at least two different types of secondary security codes that would have met the lease addendum’s requirement. Merritt implicitly acknowledged this in an August 24th email in which, after being told that she was still in breach, she tried to renegotiate the lease addendum by stating, “I will not give you the code access to my alarm and that is my right as a [t]enant … [but] I will [give] you the emergency call code.” On this record, we discern no clear error by the district court in finding that Merritt breached her lease by failing to provide Doran with the access code.
Second, Merritt contests the district court’s finding that her breach was material. The materiality of a breach is a question of fact. A breach is material when “one of the primary purposes” of a contract is violated. Landlords are obligated to provide tenants with a safe and habitable living environment. When a tenant’s breach of a lease provision interferes with her landlord’s ability to perform this duty, the breach is material.
Merritt argues that “[l]andlords do not have the authority to determine a material breach through a lease that conveniently includes the term material breach for self-serving purposes.” This argument mischaracterizes the record and is unpersuasive. The district court did not base its materiality finding on the lease terms. Rather, the court found Merritt’s breach was material because it prevented Doran from entering her apartment when maintenance was needed and in emergency situations. According to the district court, “the issue is one for safety.” The record evidence supports this finding. Two of Doran’s witnesses testified that Doran needs access to individual apartments to perform repairs and to respond to emergencies. Merritt’s private security system failed, causing two false alarms, on two occasions. Doran’s maintenance supervisor testified that false alarms are disruptive and can compromise the safety of staff members who may be inside an apartment when police arrive. In sum, the record demonstrates Merritt’s breach implicated the safety and security of building residents—concerns that landlords are required to address. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court’s finding that Merritt’s breach was material is not clearly erroneous.
What kind of evidence would have persuaded the appellate court that Merritt had not materially breached the contract?
How would the universalization principle have aided Merritt in understanding why the court sided with the plaintiff and not with her?

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Dynamic Business Law

ISBN: 9781260733976

6th Edition

Authors: Nancy Kubasek, M. Neil Browne, Daniel Herron, Lucien Dhooge, Linda Barkacs

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