The Supreme Court of Queens County recently heard the case of Silone v. Doric Construction Corporation. This case involved a great many of the issues we have discussed previously in the construction contract sphere and provides an educational look at the types of issues and defenses that may arise together in the same fact pattern. Both parties seem to have very experienced and knowledgeable attorneys, making this case far from a slam dunk for either side.
Background of the Case
The plaintiff, Silone, had a fire damage her home. She hired the defendant, Doric, owned by one Michael Trachanis, to both repair the fire damage and remodel her kitchen. In August 2009, Silone and Trachanis agreed that Doric would do the fire repair work for approximately $9000. Defendant gave Ms. Silone a written proposal setting forth the amount and the type of work to be done as well as the cost, and the proposal was signed by Trachanis. Silone paid for the work by writing two checks, one to Trachanis for $1500 and one to Doric for $8000.
A month later, plaintiff also requested defendant do kitchen remodeling work in the same house. Defendant would do everything but purchase new appliances, cabinets, and countertops, which would be left up to the plaintiff. They agreed to a price of $11,000 for this work – however there was no written contract, plaintiff asserts this contract was oral. The defendant did provide her with a written proposal, but this document was signed by neither party.
Things started to deteriorate around this point. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant stopped showing up to work, leaving the kitchen in a state of disrepair. The defendant, it is also alleged, did not provide her with ‘credit’ for purchasing the new appliances, counters, and cabinets (it is unclear from the opinion what this actually means, but it was part of the alleged contract). Finally, plaintiff contends she was forced to hire another contractor to finish the work. This 3rd party contractor, Adrien Pera, stated in his affidavit that the majority of the work done by Doric was improperly done, or not done at all. Pera stated that he charged the plaintiff about $5000 for both labor and supplies to finish the work.
The plaintiff then sued the defendant, as well as Trachanis, and the defendant filed a counterclaim for money it claimed was never paid.
The court dismissed the counterclaim immediately, saying that Doric was an unlicensed contractor! Remember that in much of New York, unlicensed contractors have absolutely no recourse to recover for unpaid work.
The court then assessed plaintiff’s claim for summary judgment on the breach of contract by defendant for both the fire repair and the kitchen work. Plaintiff’s attorney contended she had met the high burden for a summary judgment motion because of affidavits from Pera, photographs, and the written proposals. Defendant’s attorney argued that the written documents defined the scope of the work. He also argued that the work was properly performed, but that because it was plaintiff’s responsibility to install the counters, cabinets and appliances in the kitchen, work could not proceed until plaintiff had done so, which she neglected to do. Defendant also raised questions as to which actual documents were the agreements entered into.
The court focused on the fact that the plaintiff had not signed any of the documents she relied upon as agreements. Thus, although both sides agreed that agreements had been entered into, the exact nature and scope was difficult to determine. The court characterized the agreements as oral contracts – which you may recall, allows for the introduction of extrinsic evidence, unlike satisfactory written contracts which are subject to the Parol Evidence Rule.
The court said that to grant plaintiff victory via summary judgment would be premature. There were significant factual issues, not the least of which was the weighing of credibility between the testimony of plaintiff, defendant, and Adrien Pera as to the quality and quantity of the work done, that necessitated the use of a finder of fact, e.g., a jury.
Real world contract cases can often be complex and implicate many different contractual issues. Retaining experienced counsel is very important, as demonstrated by the ability of both sides in this case to identify and raise issues and defenses that would help their claims. Please don’t hesitate to contact our office for a consultation about contractual matters.