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Riley Woodworks LLC v. Bond

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 8, 2016

RILEY WOODWORKS LLC Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant,


Lance E. Walker, Justice.

This matter came before the court during the course of a jury-waived trial. The parties filed post-trial briefs on January 26, 2016. The court has carefully considered the evidence presented by the parties and adjudges as follows.


The parties' dispute involves competing allegations of a breach of contract. The parties consummated two contracts.[1] One contract involved the promise by Plaintiff to perform certain renovations, improvements and alterations to a structure owned by Defendants Bond and Sebago Rowing, located in Standish, Maine. During the trial, this property was commonly referred to by the parties as the "Sebago Project." The second contract involved renovation work to be performed on a condominium owned by Christopher Bond, located in South Portland, Maine and to which the parties have referred as the "Harborplace Project." For purposes of analytical clarity, the court examines the two contracts in chronological succession.

Riley submitted several iterations of estimates, outlining time and material to complete certain renovations on the Sebago property. Riley estimated the Sebago cost at $26, 781.19; the sum of labor ($16, 327) and materials ($10, 454.19). Riley and Bond signed the Sebago contract on November 28, 2012. Bond inserted the total estimate figure in handwriting on the contract and scribbled through the provision that reduced the figure into separate estimated time and materials. Bond also attempted to delete the merger clause and attached the revised estimate as part of the contract, which itself reflected the estimated time and materials.

The Sebago project involved an older building that was in exceptionally poor repair. Riley testified that this is precisely the type of project that requires a baseline estimate but that often involve unforeseen difficulties, such that require the scope of work to change. Such was in fact the case with the Sebago property. Riley disclosed to Bond the issues presented by the old structure, such as rotted floor joists and subfloor and outdated electrical systems. Bond agreed to have Riley address those issues with the attendant increased cost to do so. Riley continued the work on the Sebago project.

In January 2012, Bond asked Riley to renovate Harborplace. Riley and Bond signed the contract, which consisted of a host of handwritten estimates. Bond placed some urgency on the Harborplace project and as such, asked Riley to make it a priority. As with the Sebago project, Bond requested a number of changes and extras to the Harborplace project that delayed its completion.

Riley had substantially completed the work to Harborplace by March 27, 2013. Riley requested final payment of $6, 674, plus payment for the extra work he performed. Bond conceded at trial that he owed Riley this sum, but refused payment because the remaining extra work required an additional day to complete. This refusal was the catalyst, along with a general pastiche of conflicting personality types, to Bond's letter of March 28, 2013 to Riley, instructing Riley to stop work on both projects. Riley complied, leaving both job sites. A final demand from Riley to Bond for payment related to the Sebago project was memorialized in a letter dated May 23 2013. Bond refused payment of any kind, nature and amount for both projects. Riley recorded liens on both properties and this action ensued.

The material facts were not generally in dispute and are not particularly complex, despite the parties' consuming efforts to characterize these facts. This is not entirely unique in such small construction contract disputes, but perhaps more overwrought here than typically is the case.

Plaintiffs Exhibits 15-17 support actual costs of the Sebago and Harborplace projects, including the amount paid by Bond. Riley testified and the court finds that the labor costs were reasonable, necessary and customary. Mr. Bond did not at trial dispute the labor costs related to Harborplace. As for Sebago, Mr. Bond challenges those labor costs that exceeded the estimated cost pointing out for what evidentiary value it has, that Mr. Bond did not memorialize the labor increases. The labor costs in dispute are for demolition, foundation, roofing, electrical, plumbing and painting. The tally of these above-estimate costs is $8, 908.00. Mr. Bond disputes these costs as being presented through a final invoice after the unhappy dissolution of the business relationship between the parties. As such, Mr. Bond urges the court to discredit the accuracy of these costs as reflecting nothing more than inflated charges that were motivated by Mr. Riley's anger toward Mr. Bond. The court declines to adopt that characterization and finds the above-estimated costs for work actually performed by Mr. Riley to be supported by the balance of the record, to include Plaintiffs Exhibit 15 and testimony by Mr. Riley and supporting time cards.

Defendants assert counterclaims for breach of contract in the form of faulty workmanship and untimely completion, violations of the Home Construction Contract Act, and Unfair Trade Practices Act.


In order to prevail on the contract claims, the parties must prove (1) breach of a material contract term; (2) causation; and (3) damages. See Me. Energy Recovery Co. v. United Steel Structures, Inc., 1999 ME 31, P 7, 724 A.2d 1248. A material breach of contract "is a non-performance of a duty that is so material and important as to justify the injured party in regarding the whole transaction as at an end." Jenkins, Inc. v. Walsh Bros., Inc., 2001 ME 98, P 13, 776 A.2d 1229, 1234 (quotation marks omitted); see also Forrest Assocs. v. Passamaquoddy Tribe, 2000 ME 195, P 9, 760 A.2d 1041, 1044 (stating that "whether a breach has occurred ... [is a] question[] of fact").

The ineluctable conclusion is that Mr. Bond's failure to pay any amount toward the Harborplace invoice constituted a material breach of contract. Mr. Bond's argument that he did not yet owe the balance because work remained at Harborplace, estimated to have constituted one day, is of no moment to the legal analysis. Riley's testimony that all contractual work was completed is credible and that ...

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