ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. Defendant John Wunder Co., entered into a contract with Plaintiff S.J. Groves & Sons Company, to remove sand and gravel from Plaintiff’s premises and leave the property “at a uniform grade, substantially the same as the grade now existing at the roadway.” Defendant paid Plaintiff $105,000 but willfully failed to leave the property at a uniform grade.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The proper measure of damages is the reasonable cost of performing the part of the contract that the defendant willfully failed to complete.
Issue. Is Plaintiff entitled to damages equal to the reasonable cost to him of doing the work called for by the contract rather than the difference between the value of the land at the time of contract and the value the land would have had Defendant fully performed?
Held. Yes. In certain cases, there is a measure of inequity in forcing a breaching party to tear down a nearly completed structure to remedy a breach. See e.g. Jacob & Youngs v. Kent, 230 N.Y. 239, 129 N.E. 889, 23 A.L.R. 1429 (1921). Recall that Jacob & Youngs v. Kent is the case where the homebuilder inadvertently failed to install only Reading pipe in the house. The homeowner demanded that the pipe be replaced with the Reading pipe he asked for, but the Court of Appeals of New York refused to impose such a harsh and oppressive result on the homebuilder. One rationale for this result is that tearing down a completed structure would create unnecessary waste. However, absent such “economic waste,” the damages awarded must equal the cost of remedying the defect. Otherwise, a breaching party could strategically breach a contract to save money without having to pay out significant damages. This strategy seems to be what Defendant has done here. Hence, Defendant is not permitted to escap
e his obligations and is therefore liable to Plaintiff for the cost of leaving the property at a uniform grade.
Dissent. The willfulness of the breach should not affect the measure of damages. The calculation of damages should be the diminished value of the property resulting from the breach unless the evidence shows that the completed product was to satisfy the personal tastes of a plaintiff.
Discussion. Where the breach is willful, damages equal the cost of performing the contract, not the difference between the value of the property at the time of contracting and the value the property would have had if the defendant fully performed.