Undisclosed-Ghost Defense Asserted in Lease Case

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Deploying what appears to be a unique defense to a lawsuit over breach of a lease, owners of a restaurant in Orlando, Florida, say the breach was justified because they were not told that the building they leased was haunted.

Christopher and Yoko Chung, who own Amura Japanese Restaurant, had leased space at Church Street Station in Orlando but refused to move their business into the space after they learned it was already occupied by ghosts. The Chungs’ attorney, Lynn Franklin, wrote the building’s owner to complain.

“There have been several documented reports from subcontractors and others of having seen ghosts or apparitions in the restaurant at night,” Franklin wrote. “These reports, all independently provided, are strikingly similar in content. Apparently, these types of sightings are well-known to some of your employees but were not made known to Mr. Chung.” The letter said that the Chungs asserted a religious defense as well as non-disclosure: “As a Jehovah’s Witness, Mr. Chung has deeply held beliefs regarding spirits and demons. These beliefs require him to avoid encountering or having any association with spirits or demons.”

Well, that seems reasonable, at least where demons are concerned—associations with them never seem to turn out well. But what about “spirits”? The landlord’s attorney zeroed in on the ambiguity in that term. “I asked them if these are good ghosts or bad ghosts, and if they were good ghosts why it was a problem,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. He said the building owners had offered to bring in an exorcist, in case the ghosts were bad ghosts, but the Chungs refused that offer. Franklin claimed that the offer was not serious but another report said that the Chungs refused because the exorcist was a Roman Catholic, not a Witness.

The Sentinel was able to reach a local expert, Emilio San Martin, head of Orlando Ghost Tours and “a self-described researcher in parapsychology.” San Martin opined that the stories of hauntings are nothing new and that his company in fact begins its tours in front of the building. None of the stories he related were “bad-ghost” stories—mostly the heard-a-piano-playin-but-we-don’t-got-a-piano kind of stories that would probably not keep the sushi customers away.

The owners’ lawsuit arguably asks the court to decide whether ghosts do inhabit the property and if so, whether they would pose a problem. “There is no evidence,” says the complaint, “that there are ghosts or apparitions in the premises or, if there are, that the ghosts or apparitions interfere with the defendants’ quiet enjoyment and use of the premises.”

A Westlaw search (“lease and breach and ghost and not ‘Holy Ghost'”) turned up no reported cases of the we-got-ghosts defense. Most mentions of ghosts in legal opinions tend to be literary references (irritating cases tend to return like “Marley’s ghost” or “the ghost of Banquo”), although I did find one case finding that a property was not zoned to permit a “ghost tour” business. I also found this: “The ghost of Swift v. Tyson (16 Pet. 1, 41 U.S. 1, 10 L. Ed. 865) tunes again his lyre,” a sentence by which the Third Circuit should still be haunted.