Thursday, January 28, 2010

Collins/Snoops Associates, Inc. v. CJF, LLC (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed: January 27, 2010.
Opinion by Judge Timothy Meredith.

Held: In a rare manifestation of the principle of equipoise, the Court held that where plaintiff and defendant file breach of contract claims against each other, neither party will prevail if the breach is not proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

Facts: A contractor engaged a subcontractor to perform certain renovations on school buildings. In the middle of the renovations, the contractor terminated the subcontractor for allegedly failing to make sufficient progress. Subsequently, the owner terminated the contractor because the owner was not satisfied with its progress.

The subcontractor sued the contractor for breach of contract, claiming damages in the amount of work and materials provided. The contractor counterclaimed for breach of contract, claiming damages flowing from the subcontractor’s alleged failure to perform.

After a bench trial on the merits, the trial court denied relief to both parties. With respect to the subcontractor’s claim, the court held that subcontractor failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the contractor wrongfully withheld payment. Regarding the contractor’s claim, the court held that the contractor failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the subcontractor failed to perform.

Analysis: The Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court did not err in denying relief to both parties. Both breach of contract claims essentially turned on whether the subcontractor properly performed. Because the trial court found the evidence to be in equipoise, neither party prevailed on its claim. The result, while unusual, involved a standard application of principles of burden of persuasion to each claim.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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