Sullivan v. Bullock Case Brief

Summary of Sullivan v. Bullock
Ct of App Idaho [1993]

Excuse – Prevention

Relevant Facts: Sullivan hired Bullock to remodel her kitchen, hallway, utility room, bathroom and sewing room. The written contract set out the major aspects but lacked detail. No design sketches were agreed upon, communications were less that adequate concerning the final product. The work was not begun, or completed on time. Pl assented to the delays. The work performed was sometimes below the industry standard, not as Pl requested, and was not performed to her satisfaction. Df incurred off K costs for bringing the electrical and plumbing to code. Pl moved back in while the remodeling continued. She stated on a certain day, in her absence, that no workmen be present w/i the home. One workman entered through a window anyway. Pl told the Df to remove his crew from the premises.

Legal Issue(s): Whether it was the homeowner or the contractor who breached a written contract to remodel several rooms in a home?

Court’s Holding: Contractor, but excused.

Procedure: Jury returned Special verdict; Pl filed JNOV-Denied. Pl appealed, Denial affirmed, damages reversed and remanded.

Law or Rule(s): Where the Pl’s performance requires the cooperation of the Df, the Df, by necessary implication, promises to give this cooperation and if Df fails to do so, Df is immediately liable although Df’s only express promise is to pay money at a future day.

Court Rationale: There is generally in a K subject to either an express or implied condition an implied promise not to prevent or hinder performance of the condition. Such preventionif the condition could otherwise have been performed, is an immediate breach of K. In a construction K, the duty to cooperate encompasses allowing access to the premises to enable the contractor to perform the work. Non-performance under the contract is excused if the other party prevented the performance. To excuse a party’s nonperformance the conduct of the party preventing performance must be wrongful and in excess of their legal rights. The act of prevention must have been unreasonable and outside the contemplation of the parties as expressed in the K. When Pl denied access she acted in a manner that was outside the contemplation of the K or the parties when they executed the K.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Non performance of the contract is a breach and damages should be awarded to the Pl as a matter of law.

Defendant’s Argument: The work was satisfactory, any unsatisfactory work could have been fixed, but Pl prohibited Df from finishing the project or fixing the defects.

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