Lower Court’s Decision to Grant Summary Judgment for Subcontractor in Breach of Contract Action Reversed
Recently, the Florida District Court of Appeals, Fourth District, reversed a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment to a subcontractor in a breach of contract action. In that case, Prime Investors & Developers v. Meridian Companies, the subcontractor was hired to install cabinets and countertops in a Miami-Dade County hotel. The District Court of Appeals found that the case presented a “textbook example” of one in which the summary judgment standard was not met. In this context of this construction case, and, in fact, in all litigation, it is important to understand what summary judgment is, and what the applicable standard requires.
What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?
Summary judgment is a judgment that can be granted during a case, before a trial, that decides the case (or particular issues in the case) in favor of one of the parties. A dictionary definition of summary judgment explains that this type of judgment can be granted if there is no issue of material fact and the party who is seeking summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure, which generally govern the way in which civil litigation proceeds in Florida courts, set forth the same basic summary judgment requirement as the dictionary definition. Specifically, Rule 1.510 of the Florida rules of Civil Procedure states that summary judgment should be granted when the pleadings and evidence show that there is no genuine of any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In Prime Investors & Developers v. Meridian Companies, the court discussed this standard.
What Happened in Prime Investors & Developers v. Meridian Companies?
In this case, it was the contractor who originally sued the subcontractor for breach of contract, claiming that the quality of the subcontractor’s work and materials were deficient. The subcontractor then filed its own breach of contract claims against the contractor, as well as a claim against the hotel developer for enforcement of its construction lien.
After some discovery (which might have included depositions, for example) had been conducted, the subcontractor filed the summary judgment motion. According to this motion:
- based on changes made to the subcontract, the timing of the subcontractor’s work was not tied to the overall project timing
- the contractor agreed to the subcontractor’s use of certain cost-saving materials
- the materials installed by the subcontractor conformed to “shop drawings” that were approved by the contractor
- any defective installations were matters for the “punch list’ (but the contractor did not provide a “punch list”).
The contractor and the developer submitted a response to the summary judgment motion. According to this response, which was supported by an affidavit submitted by the contractor’s COO:
- no changes were made to the timing provisions of the subcontract
- the subcontractor’s performance was linked to the overall project schedule
- the subcontractor’s performance under the subcontract was late, which led to a delay in completing the overall project
- the material used by the subcontractor did not meet the contractor or developer’s standards
- the subcontractor did not fix problems caused by its materials and installation.
The District Court of Appeals held that based on the obvious issues, or disputes, of material fact, it was unclear why the lower court would have granted summary judgment to the subcontractor. The appeals court also explained that it would have been incorrect, on this motion, for the lower court, in making its decision, to have weighed the evidence.
Do You Want to Know More?
If you have questions about summary judgment motions in construction cases, when they should be filed and what it takes to win them, the expert team at Sweeney Law can help. Contact us if you would like to speak to an experienced Fort Lauderdale construction lawyer.