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Sweet v. Breivogel

Supreme Court of Maine

January 29, 2019

JOHN SWEET II
v.
CARL E. BREIVOGEL et al.

          Argued: December 11, 2018

          Christopher E. Pazar, Esq. (orally), and William J. Kennedy, Esq., Drummond & Drummond, LLP, Portland, for appellants Carl E. and Elizabeth A. Breivogel

          Daniel A. Pileggi, Esq. (orally), Acadia Law Group LLC, Ellsworth, for appellee John Sweet II Hancock County Superior Court docket number CV-2014-52 For Clerk Reference Only

          SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] In this appeal involving a dispute over payment for the construction of a traditional timber frame home, we consider the connection between the Home Construction Contracts Act (HCCA) and the Unfair Trade Practice Act (UTPA), take this opportunity to underscore the significance of the statutory requirement that construction contracts be formalized in writing, and affirm the judgment. See 5 M.R.S. § 213(1), (2) (2017); 10 M.R.S. §§ 1487, 1490 (2017).

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are drawn from the court's judgment and are supported by competent evidence in the record. See Gravison v. Fisher, 2016 ME 35, ¶ 3, 134 A.3d 857.

         [¶3] John Sweet II is a sole proprietor who specializes in the construction of traditional timber frame homes, which involve a high level of labor, time, and craftmanship. In February 2013, Carl E. and Elizabeth A. Breivogel contacted Sweet through his construction-business website and inquired about building "an enclosed, [weathertight] frame home" on land they own on Mount Desert Island.

         [¶4] In March 2013, the Breivogels traveled to Maine and met with Sweet at his self-constructed timber frame home. During that visit, the Breivogels viewed Sweet's workshops as well as two other timber frame homes that Sweet had constructed. While the parties did not reach any agreements that day, Sweet did provide the Breivogels with some information about the relative costs of the homes they visited. Specifically, he told the Breivogels that it would cost approximately $500, 000 to build a 28' x 30' completed home like his and $400, 000 to construct the 32' x 32' home they visited that was little more than a "dried shell" or "weathertight" home.[1]

         [¶5] After that meeting, the parties continued to communicate via email. In one exchange dated March 26, 2013, the parties began to discuss the costs associated with building a saltbox style[2] timber frame home. The Breivogels asked Sweet whether it would be possible to build a home of this style for $275, 000, not including the septic system for which the Breivogels would make other arrangements. Sweet responded that it was possible, but difficult to be certain at that early stage of the discussion because "the devil [']s in the details."

         [¶6] From that point forward, the parties did not share the same understanding of the scope and cost of the work Sweet was to perform. Sweet believed that the Breivogels wanted him to construct an enclosed, weathertight timber frame home-including only a frame, walls, roof, insulation, doors, windows, chimney, and exterior shingles. In contrast, the Breivogels believed that they had requested a fully completed home, ready for occupancy, costing no more than $275, 000.

         [¶7] In April 2013, the Breivogels authorized Sweet to begin construction; however, the parties never signed a contract. When the Breivogels inquired when the parties would formalize the terms of the project, Sweet insisted that he had never signed a written contract in over thirty years of business. The parties did, however, arrange that the Breivogels would be billed biweekly and pay for all materials and any labor at $32 an hour.

         [¶8] Sweet and his team began construction of a dried shell structure in the summer of 2013 and completed the work in December of that year. Throughout the project, Sweet sent numerous emails to the Breivogels containing photographs depicting the progress on their home. He also provided biweekly invoices; despite these frequent ...


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