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Durkin v. MTown Construction, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 13, 2018

PATRICK DURKIN
v.
MTOWN CONSTRUCTION, LLC

          Assigned on Briefs February 2, 2018

         Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-004623-16 Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge

         This appeal involves a homeowner's lawsuit against a construction company for breach of contract and negligence. After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment for the homeowner for $135, 383.93 and denied a counterclaim filed by the construction company for the balance of the contract price. The construction company appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in its calculation of damages and in denying the counterclaim. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, and Remanded

          Christopher M. Myatt, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, MTown Construction, LLC.

          Lewis Clayton Culpepper, III, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Patrick Durkin.

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE

         I. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Patrick Durkin purchased a home in a historic neighborhood in Memphis in 2015. In 2016, Mr. Durkin entered into a written contract with MTown Construction, LLC, for the replacement of his roof. The work began on August 25, 2016. After workers removed about three quarters of the existing shingles, rain began falling. The rain quickly developed into a thunderstorm and "a complete downpour." MTown workers attempted to cover the exposed roof with tarps, but the tarps contained holes and did not adequately protect the home. Rain entered the attic and then began seeping into the living area. Mr. Durkin used pots, pans, boxes, drawers, and trash cans in an attempt to contain the water from the numerous leaks. However, rain entered every room in Mr. Durkin's home. Water filled the light fixtures and poured out of ventilation registers in the ceilings. Water continued flooding the home for over an hour.

         As the MTown workers took cover from the rain on Mr. Durkin's porch, Mr. Durkin called his contact at MTown to report the situation. MTown's owner, Michael Inglasbe, and two other individuals arrived shortly thereafter and surveyed the damage. Eventually, someone brought new tarps for the roof, but the damage was done by that point. MTown's crews completed the roof work over the next two days but did nothing to address the water intrusion affecting the inside of the home. During that time, the plaster ceilings inside the home began to collapse and fall to the floor.

         Three days after the flooding occurred, MTown's owner, Mr. Ingalsbe, finally returned Mr. Durkin's phone calls and returned to the home. Mr. Ingalsbe indicated that he had fans, moisture meters, and dehumidifiers and that his crews would soon begin "dropping ceilings." Mr. Inglasbe said he would send a storage pod to the property and instructed Mr. Durkin to move all of his belongings into the pod prior to the reconstruction work. In the days that followed, Mr. Inglasbe and Mr. Durkin discussed proposals for the work, and Mr. Durkin moved out of the home. However, after Mr. Ingalsbe's crew returned and saw the damage, Mr. Inglasbe contacted Mr. Durkin and told him that he had decided to proceed through his insurance company because his crew believed the home was "a complete demo."

         MTown's insurer sent a claims representative to inspect the damage on September 11, 2016, two weeks after the rain event. He prepared an estimate of damages totaling $24, 678.84. Mr. Durkin believed this was woefully insufficient and consulted with general contractors to obtain independent estimates. A general contractor and project manager from Capital Construction concluded that $33, 455.53 in additional work needed to be performed besides that listed in the estimate from the claims representative. Mr. Durkin also obtained an estimate from ServiceMaster by Cornerstone, a remediation company, for $60, 791.75 in environmental remediation work that was deemed necessary due to the mildew and hazardous waste concerns in the home. Mr. Durkin also discovered numerous problems with the roof that MTown ultimately installed, including nails piercing the HVAC system in the attic, exposed nails in the soffits around the porch, and rotten wood that was not removed prior to the installation of the roof. Mr. Durkin obtained an estimate of $7, 000 to repair the problems with the roof that MTown installed.

         On November 14, 2016, Mr. Durkin filed this lawsuit against MTown, asserting breach of contract and negligence. He sought to recover damages for construction and remediation costs that would be necessary to address the water damage and repair of the defective roof, displacement costs due to the home being uninhabitable, and other incidental damages. MTown filed an answer and a counterclaim, in which it sought to recover the unpaid contract price for the roof under theories of breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

         A two-day bench trial was held in May 2017. The trial court heard testimony from the claims representative who provided the original estimate to Mr. Durkin, the project manager from Capital Construction who prepared the additional estimate, the licensed general contractor from Capital Construction, the operations manager from ServiceMaster by Cornerstore, and Mr. Durkin. MTown also presented testimony from an expert in the field of meteorology, who testified about the sudden nature of the thunderstorm. After two additional post-trial hearings, the trial court ultimately entered an order ruling in favor of Mr. Durkin. The trial court found that MTown was liable under both theories of liability - breach of contract and negligence. The court found that MTown was not prepared with appropriate supplies in the event of rain and that Mr. Durkin did what he could to mitigate his damages, relying in part on the representation of MTown's owner that he would address the situation. The trial court awarded Mr. Durkin a sum for displacement costs and storage fees he incurred for the pod, in addition to $7, 000 for the repairs necessary to fix the roof that MTown installed. On appeal, MTown does not challenge the findings of liability or the trial court's damage awards on these matters.

         Regarding the water damage, the trial court acknowledged that Mr. Durkin had presented evidence regarding the cost to repair the damage, but the trial court elected to award damages based on the diminished value of the home instead. Using a method that we will explain in more detail below, the trial court ultimately concluded that the diminution in the value of the home was $118, 500, and it awarded that sum to Mr. Durkin rather than the cost to repair the damage. The trial court denied MTown's counterclaims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, reasoning that MTown was the first to breach the contract and that it caused additional damages necessitating further repairs. MTown timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II.ISSUES ...


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