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Pinches v. Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Pinches (Plaintiff) sought to recover for work and material furnished building a church edifice for the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Defendants) where the building varied from the contract specifications in several ways.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    .  In a special contract case where defects can be remedied at a reasonable expense, it is proper to deduct from the contract price the cost of completing to specification.  However, where specifications can only be met by incurring major expense or rebuilding the entire building, the proper measure of damages is the diminution in value of the building by reason of the breach. 

    Facts.

                Plaintiff completed construction and Defendants entered full possession and occupancy of the building, but complained that the ceiling height was lower than specified, the windows shorter and narrower, and the seats were narrower than specified under the contract.  The Plaintiff acted in good faith in doing the work and furnishing the materials, however; and the building was reasonably adapted to the needs and wants of the Defendants. 

    The Defendants’ offered evidence to prove the amount it would have cost to make the building conform to the contract specifications, claiming they were entitled to the sum as damages.  The lower court excluded the evidence, and the Defendants assigned error.

    Issue.

    Was it error to exclude evidence of the cost of conforming the building to the contract specifications?

    Held.

    There was no error. 

    The court below properly deducted from the contract price the amount of the diminution in the value of the building by reason of the Plaintiff’s deviation from the contract. 
    The structure built by the Plaintiff was reasonably adapted to the Defendants’ needs, Defendants were in fact using and occupying the building, and it could not be made to conform to the special contract without an expenditure that would have deprived Plaintiff of any compensation for his labor.

    Dissent.

    None.

    Concurrence.

    None.

    Discussion.

    The Defendant sought damages which were supported by earlier authority in England and the United States holding that no recovery could be had for labor or materials under a special contract without full performance.  Recognizing the hardship the former rule placed upon contractors who inadvertently violated their contracts and the inequitable advantage it gave those who retained the benefit of the labor and materials, the new rule allowed compensation for services rendered and materials furnished under a special contract, in good faith but not in entire conformity.  


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