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Lessons Learned from a Boarding Stable Payment Dispute

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 Case

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”). 

The case was: Grason v. Lovegove, 2014 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 2578 (11/20/2014).

This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Boarding, Contracts

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is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. She has successfully tried equine cases before juries in four states. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, four books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.

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Fershtman’s Equine Law Book Receives Second National Award

Julie Fershtman’s book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, published by the American Bar Association, has been selected to receive a 2020 NYC Big Book Award in the category of “Reference” books.

The NYC Big Book Awards draws nominations world-wide. This is the third award for Fershtman’s book since its publication last year. Here is a link for more information, and to see the list of winners: https://www.nycbigbookaward.com/2020winners

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Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:

"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee

"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council

"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership

"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council

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Representing and advising insurers on  coverage and policy language as well as litigation;

Advising equine industry clubs and associations regarding management, rules, bylaws, disputes, and regulations.

Representing some of the equine industry's top trainers, competitors, stables, and associations.

Counseling industry professionals, stable managers, and individual horse owners. 

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