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First Moves


First Moves

Schulansky Goes to Court

The Drafting Request


TO: David E. Howard

FROM: Phyllis Slater

RE: Schulansky construction dispute, Our file No. 11-1248

DATE: November 21, 2011


Deborah Schulansky, a client of ours, has consulted me concerning a dispute that has arisen between her and a contractor who recently built an addition to her vacation home. It appears that this problem cannot be resolved without filing suit. I would like you to help me with the case.

Although Schulansky lives here in Plymouth, Massachusetts, she also owns an antique colonial home in Alton,New Hampshire, which she uses as a vacation home. The house dates from 1782 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Last spring, Ms. Schulansky met Richard Ronan, a New Hampshire contractor, while he was restoring a house in Plymouth. After some negotiations at her home in Plymouth, the parties agreed that Ronan would build an addition on the back of the Alton house. Ronan mailed a “Proposal and Estimate” to Schulansky in Plymouth, and she signed and returned it. I have attached a copy of the Proposal and Estimate for the job, signed by both parties. [See p. 636—Ed.]

The work involved taking out part of the back wall of the house and building an 18´ × 25´ addition behind the living room, with a full cellar under the addition. The contractor was to excavate the earth from the original foundation, excavate the adjacent area to be occupied by the addition, lay a cellar floor and foundation walls in the excavated area to support the addition, and build the addition above the new cellar area. In order to provide access to the new cellar, the contractor was to break a doorway through the original foundation of the main house adjacent to the addition.

There were problems from the beginning of the construction work. Ronan hired a backhoe operator named Jones to do the excavation work, as he had told Schulansky he would. When Jones excavated the earth from the original foundation with his backhoe, he discovered that the lower part of the foundation was simply loose rubble. Evidently, in colonial days it was fairly common to simply pile large rocks around the perimeter of the house site and build brick and mortar foundations on top of the rocks. These rubble foundations apparently last remarkably well as long as they are undisturbed, but are less stable if exposed, as was necessary here to construct the cellar for the new addition.

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