A Frustrating Exercise: Federal District Court in Iowa Declines to Grant Summary Judgment on Frustration of Purpose Doctrine in a Breach of Contract Case

Rembrandt Enters., Inc. v. Dahmes Stainless, Inc., No. C15-4248-LTS, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144636 (N.D. Iowa Sept. 7, 2017)

On September 7, 2017, the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Iowa denied a motion for summary judgment by Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc. (“Rembrandt”).  In the motion, Rembrandt asked the court to grant declaratory relief and excuse the company from its breach of a contract with Dahmes Stainless, Inc. (“Dahmes”) under the doctrine of frustration of purpose.

Beginning in approximately 2014, Rembrandt, a large-scale producer of eggs and egg products, sought to expand its business.  As part of these expansion efforts, Rembrandt planned to construct an entirely new egg processing plant in Thompson, Iowa.  After reaching agreements with multiple contractors to build the new facility, on November 20, 2014, Rembrandt entered into an agreement with Dahmes for the manufacture and installation of an $8.5 million egg dryer at the new processing facility.  During the course of the new facility’s construction, however, the Midwestern United States was impacted by the Avian Flu virus which caused Rembrandt to eliminate over a million of its birds in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, cutting Rembrandt’s production capacity by approximately 50 percent.  As a result of the loss in production capacity, Rembrandt decided to scuttle the construction of the new processing facility and subsequently breached its agreement with Dahmes. Continue reading

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In Dismissing Homebuyer’s Defective Construction Suit Against Contractor for Lack of Privity, Supreme Court of Utah Cautions Future Homebuyers to Obtain Express Assignment of All Available Warranties at Time of Acquiring Home

Tomlinson v. Douglas Knight Constr., Inc., 2017 Utah Lexis 132 (August 29, 2017)

This case arises out of the construction of a residential property.  Lot 84 Deer Crossing (“Lot 84”) purchased the property and contracted with Douglas Knight Construction, Inc. (“DKC”) to build a house on it.  The parties’ contract included a one-year construction warranty.  Lot 84 then assigned to Outpost Development, Inc. (“Outpost”) all of its rights in the property and the construction agreement.  As the home neared completion, Outpost noticed defects in its construction and, pursuant to the warranty, directed DKC to fix the deficiencies.  Despite DKC’s efforts, the defects remained.  Outpost then sold the home to Joseph Tomlinson, but did not assign to Tomlinson its interests in the DKC construction agreement.  Tomlinson subsequently noticed defects in the home and filed suit against Outpost and DKC.

Shortly thereafter, Outpost declared bankruptcy and was dismissed from the case.  During the bankruptcy proceedings, Tomlinson was assigned an interest in any claims that Outpost had asserted or may assert against DKC.  Tomlinson maintained that this assignment encompassed claims for breach of the DKC construction agreement and amended his complaint to include claims for breach of express and implied warranties.  Tomlinson sought to assert these claims as an assignee of rights of parties in privity with DKC: first, through the assignment made when Outpost purchased the property from Lot 84, and second, through the assignment in Outpost’s bankruptcy proceedings.  The district court rejected these theories and dismissed Tomlinson’s claims, holding that they were barred because Tomlinson had never acquired a direct interest in the DKC construction agreement. Continue reading

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Michigan Court of Appeals Holds That Contractor Who Failed to Timely Seek a Time Extension Is Barred From Contesting Liquidated Damages

Abhe & Svboda, Inc. v. State of Michigan Department of Transportation, 2017 Mich. App. Lexis 1387 (August 29, 2017)

Contractor Abhe & Svboda, Inc. (“A&B”) entered into a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (“MDOT”) to clean and paint a portion of the Mackinac Bridge, with a contract completion date of October 30, 2009.  A&B missed the completion date by 644 days.  MDOT, therefore, imposed liquidated damages in the amount of $3,000 per day for each day by which completion was delayed.

In the trial court, A&B argued that MDOT’s assessment of liquidated damages was improper because a portion of the delay was caused by MDOT’s failure to approve a prerequisite to the work (scaffolding) and because site conditions were substantially worse than reasonably anticipated. Continue reading

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Bankruptcy Court Holds That “Economic Waste” Doctrine, as Adopted in Wisconsin, Prevented Owner From Recovering Costs to Repair Defectively Designed Digester and Awards No Damages, Even Though the Digester Was Not Designed to the Applicable Code

WTE-S&S AG Enters., LLC v. GHD, Inc., 2017 Bankr. LEXIS 2343 (Bankr. N. D. Ill. August 18, 2017) 

This breach of contract dispute arises out of a contract to design and build a cow-manure digester on a farm in Wisconsin.  The digester vessel designed and constructed by Defendant, DVO, Inc. (formerly known as GHD, Inc.), consisted of a 300-foot long tank with two side-by-side chambers which were each 35 feet wide.  A thick concrete cover sat atop the vessel to prevent “free oxygen” from entering the digester.  A center wall ran the length of the vessel, separating the two chambers and also serving as the interior load-bearing wall.

The Debtor/owner commenced this action against DVO, contending, among other things, that the interior center wall footing of the vessel was defectively designed in that it was undersized and not compliant with the applicable code for waste-storage facilities.  Debtor’s expert testified that the undersized and overstressed wall footings could lead to settlement of the vessel and cracks in the foundation, which would compromise its structural integrity.  Debtor’s expert further testified that to properly support the vessel weight, the currently constructed three-foot wall footing needed to be three-and-a-half to four foot wide.

The court agreed that DVO’s design was defective and constituted a breach of the contract because it failed to comply with the applicable code.  However, applying the “economic waste” doctrine, the court denied Debtor’s request for damages of $988,475 to replace the entire vessel or, in the alternative, $655,000 to shut down and clean out the vessel to check for cracks or settlement issues.  Continue reading

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Federal Court Holds That Under Louisiana Law, Actual Notice of Cause of Delay Satisfies Contractual Notice Requirement Despite Failure to Strictly Comply With the Notice Provision

Parkcrest Builders, LLC v. Hous. Auth. of New Orleans, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125012 (E.D. La. August 8, 2017)

The Housing Authority of New Orleans (“the Authority”) contracted with Parkcrest Builders, LLC (“Parkcrest”) to construct a public housing project.  The Project was delayed and the Authority terminated Parkcrest prior to completion, and entered into a Takeover Agreement with Parkcrest’s Surety.  The Surety retained Parkcrest to complete the work, and later notified the Authority that it had achieved substantial completion.  The Authority asserted deficient and incomplete items remained on the project, which the Surety refused to complete.  The Authority then solicited bids for the remaining work, and awarded the work to a replacement contractor.

Parkcrest sued the Authority for breach of contract and also asserted that any delays on the Project were excusable and, therefore, not subject to liquidated damages.  The Authority counterclaimed against Parkcrest for added costs to complete the project.  The Surety intervened, also seeking a ruling that all delays were excusable.  The Authority then counterclaimed against the Surety for completion costs. Continue reading

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