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Woodruff Construction, LLC v. Christensen

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 1, 2019

WOODRUFF CONSTRUCTION, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STEVEN P. CHRISTENSEN, Individually and D/B/A CHRISTENSEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dickinson County, David A. Lester, Judge.

         Woodruff Construction, LLC appeals the judgment entered following trial on the parties' breach-of-contract claims.

          Ernest Kersten, Fort Dodge, and Jerry L. Schnurr III of Schnurr Law Firm, P.C., Fort Dodge, for appellant.

          Richard Meyer of Fillenwarth & Fillenwarth, Estherville, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         Woodruff Construction, LLC (Woodruff) appeals the district court order entering judgment in favor of Steven P. Christensen and Christensen Construction Company (Christensen) on its breach-of-contract counterclaim. Woodruff challenges the district court's finding that Woodruff breached its contract with Christensen. Woodruff also challenges the court's damage award.

         Polaris Industries contracted with Christensen to construct an addition onto its manufacturing plant in Spirit Lake. Christensen subcontracted with Woodruff to complete a portion of the work. The parties signed a written agreement that states Woodruff was to complete a counterfort wall[1] by no later than December 2, 2013, and a retaining wall by no later than December 19. Woodruff did not complete work on the counterfort wall until January 20, and it never completed the retaining wall.

         In August 2015, Woodruff filed a petition claiming Christensen breached the contract by failing to pay for the completed work. In May 2016, Christensen filed an amended answer and counterclaim alleging Woodruff was negligent and that it breached the contract in failing to complete construction properly and timely pursuant to the plans and specifications. A two-day bench trial was held in January and February 2017. The matter was deemed submitted for final ruling after briefing was completed in March 2017. In January 2018, the district court entered a written ruling finding that both parties had breached the contract. The court determined the amount of Woodruff's damages to be $84, 132.86 and the amount of Christensen's damages to be $78, 813.

         On appeal, Woodruff contends there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that it breached its contract with Christensen. To succeed on a claim of breach of contract, a party must show:

(1) the existence of a contract; (2) the terms and conditions of the contract; (3) that it has performed all the terms and conditions required under the contract; (4) the defendant's breach of the contract in some particular way; and (5) that plaintiff has suffered damages as a result of the breach.

Iowa Arboretum, Inc. v. Iowa 4-H Found., 886 N.W.2d 695, 706 (Iowa 2016) (citation omitted). Because this action was tried at law, our review is for correction of errors at law. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. We are bound by the district court's fact findings if supported by substantial evidence. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(a).

         The district court found each party had proved the first four elements of a breach-of-contract claim. With regard to Woodruff's claim, the court found that Woodruff completed construction of the counterfort wall, "albeit late and not according to the specifications set forth in the contract." It noted that Christensen and Polaris had accepted Woodruff's work because the addition was completed, and therefore, it concluded that Christensen's refusal to pay for the completed work constituted a breach of the contract. With regard to Christensen's counterclaim, the court found that Woodruff "did not come close to meeting" the deadline for completing the counterfort wall specified in the contract and never constructed the retaining wall. It further observed that

Woodruff did not comply with the specifications set forth in the contract including the type of forms used, the length of each section of wall that was poured, the providing of a rebar free area and a voidin the forms, and putting trash and debris from their work into a dumpster at the site. All of the foregoing, the court concludes, ...

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