Friday, March 31, 2017

As Much As He (She) Deserves-Quantum Meruit Recovery

I am representing a client seeking payment for extra work, with both breach of contract and quantum meruit claims.  The defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the case should be dismissed because my client did not have documents needed to support its claim.  I couldn't figure out how a motion for judgment on the pleadings would be a proper vehicle to ask for relief in this situation.  But, I also addressed the substance of the motion.

My thought going in:  the law should not require particular documentation in order to state a claim.  A Georgia case supported my belief.  In Hamler v. Wood, an interior designer, Wood, sought to recover for work performed under theories of breach of contract and quantum meruit.

On the quantum meruit claim, the owner, Hamler, moved for a directed verdict, arguing that Wood failed to provide sufficient evidence of the reasonable value of her services. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.  The Court of Appeals found that Wood's oral testimony was sufficient proof:

With respect to value, Wood offered evidence of the master invoice, which detailed the cost of work approved by Hamler, as well as testimony regarding the hours she spent on the project and their agreed-upon hourly rate. She explained the balance due on Hamler's account. Moreover, she asserted that Hamler never questioned the time she billed to the project, did not raise most of his complaints about the workmanship until "[y]ears later," asked her to continue working for him, and promised to pay her. Because such evidence authorized the jury to value the benefit of Wood's services, the trial court properly denied Hamler's motion for directed verdict as to quantum meruit.

Wood sufficiently proved "what she deserved" -- by her testimony.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Construction Law Update 2016

I am pleased to announce that at the request of my friend Neal Sweeney, I contributed a chapter on surety law for the2017 edition of  Construction Law Update, a Wolters Klewer publication. This will be published in May.  Pictured is the 2016 update to which I contributed.  Neal has edited this publication annually since 1992.  I have contributed for the last few years.  For several years I have authored a chapter discussing recent developments in surety law .  Back in 2014, I wrote a chapter on no damage for delay clauses.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Waiver danger

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision (Bibler Masonry Contractors, Inc. v. J.T.Turner Construction Co., 2017 Ga. App. LEXIS 86 (A16A2094 March 6, 2017), demonstrates the perils of signing a lien waiver then failing to take action under the mechanic's lien statute.  The statute deems payment to a party signing a lien waiver to be conclusive unless the signer takes specific action, including filing an Affidavit of Nonpayment in the property records within 60 days after the date of the waiver.

Aside:  I once had a case involving a subcontract that required payment in 60 days.  Subcontractors waited the 60 days, and payment was not made. The contractor argued that the lien waiver barred the subcontractors' lien and bond claims, because the subcontractor failed to file the affidavit of nonpayment.  Not good.

In the recent case, the subcontractor, Bibler, performed masonry work for J.T. Turner Construction for the Savannah Law School.  Bibler signed a Waiver and Release Upon Final Payment, and the document bore a date of December 22, 2014.  The Waiver was forwarded to Turner on February 17, 2015, and after Turner failed to make payment, Bibler filed an Affidavit of Nonpayment on February 27, 2015.

In Bibler's lien action, the trial court granted the owner's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the Affidavit of Nonpayment was untimely--it was recorded more than 60 days after the date of the waiver, back on December 22.

Bibler argued that it backdated the lien waiver at the request of Turner, and that the 60 days should run from February 17, when it signed the waiver and forwarded it to Turner.  Quoting those dreaded words that the lien statute is in derogation of common law (ouch) and that the law must be construed against the claimant, the Court of Appeals disagreed.  The court noted that the lien waiver form provides that the claimant is conclusively deemed to have been paid in full, even if it has not been paid, 60 days "after the date stated above".

Interestingly, the court explained that its decision was "undergirded" by O.C.G.A. §44-14-366(f)(1), which provides that the amount is conclusively deemed to have been paid "sixty days after the date of execution of the waiver and release..."  That section would seem to support Bibler's argument that the date of execution has relevance.  Nevertheless, the court rejected Bibler's argument that an ambiguity existed, and held that the 60 days runs from the date shown on the document, regardless of when it was signed and submitted.   The court found that unambiguously, date of execution=date of document.