By: Alexander A. Miuccio Thomas H. Welby Published: November 2009

Court Allows Contractor's Work Claim Against Architect

An architect acts as the owner’s agent in some situations. The general conditions of a construction contract will determine in what areas the owner has designated the architect as his representative. In areas of shop drawings approval, construction schedules, material samples, and the like, an architect is typically considered the agent for the owner. 

But can a contractor make a valid extra work claim directly against an architect for nonpayment? This issue was raised in the recent case of Pulver Roofing Company, Inc. v. SBLM Architect’s P.C. 

Background 

Pulver Roofing Company, Inc. entered into a contract with the Rome City School District to install a roof on a school. The roof was to be installed in accordance with plans provided by SBLM Architects, P.C. According to the contractor, the architect requested that the contractor perform extra work, which was outside the scope of work originally agreed to. The contractor also claimed that the architect promised the contractor that it would be paid for the extra work. When the architect refused to pay the contractor for the extra work performed, the contractor sued the architect for the reasonable value of the extra work. 

The architect defended on the grounds that that the contractor’s agreement was with the School District, that the extra work was performed for the benefit of the School District, that the architect was simply acting as an agent for the School District, and that the architect was not responsible for ensuring that the contractor was paid. 

The architect moved to dismiss the claim by the contractor. The trial court ruled in favor of the architect, holding that the work was in fact rendered for the benefit of the School District rather than the architect. The contractor appealed. 

Decision

The appellate court reversed the decision of the trial court. In so doing, the appellate court relied upon the elements necessary to state a claim for recovery in quantum meruit.

The legal theory of “quantum meruit” is available where there is no express contract, but rather a legal obligation is imposed in order to prevent a party’s unjust enrichment. The elements of a quantum meruit claim are: (1) the performance of services in good faith; (2) the acceptance of the services by the party for whom they were rendered; (3) the expectation of compensation for those services; and (4) a statement of the reasonable value of the services. While the appellate court agreed that the work was in fact rendered for the benefit of the School District, the court pointed out that the contractor is not required to establish that the architect received a benefit in order to recover in quantum meruit. 

According to the appellate court, the contractor performed the work at the architect’s request, pursuant to an express promise that it would be paid, and the contractor was accordingly entitled to recover the reasonable value of its work, regardless of whether or not the architect in any economic sense benefitted from the work. 

Where a contract covering a specified subject matter exists, recovery in quantum meruit is not permitted. Here however, because the work was extra work, beyond the scope of the contractor’s agreement with the School District, the appellate court permitted the quantum meruit claim. The case proceeded to trial because there is a dispute whether the additional work was outside the scope of the work originally agreed to.

Comment 

This case is unique in that a contractor traditionally has not been permitted to maintain a direct claim for nonpayment against an architect. The prudent contractor will require extra work approvals to be in writing before the work begins to help ensure that it will be paid for that work. 

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