Lauren McLaughlin, Esq.
Briglia McLaughlin, PLLC – Vienna , VA
The Latin phrase “quantum meruit” means “as much as he deserves” and is a legal theory relied upon by those seeking to make another party liable for services rendered in the absence of a contract. Through this quasi-contract theory, the aggrieved party seeks to be made whole for the benefits conferred upon that party. In order to be successful on a quantum meruit count, the plaintiff must show: (1) that a benefit was conferred upon the defendant through plaintiff’s acts or services; (2) that the defendant knew there was a reasonable expectation on the plaintiff’s part that it would be paid for those services; and (3) the reasonable value of its services. In a case from New York , an appellate division court did not follow the typical legal elements of a quantum meruit count. Instead, the court allowed a contractor to proceed with a lawsuit against an architect, in the absence of a contract, even though the contractor’s services were rendered on a project for the owner, who was not a party to the lawsuit.
In Pulver Roofing Company, Inc. v. SBLM Architects, P.C., a roofing company (Pulver) was engaged by a school district (Owner) in New York to install a roof on a school. Under its contract with the Owner, Pulver was required to install a roof in accordance with plans provided by the architect (SBLM Architects). The Owner rejected the roof and the parties entered into a settlement agreement that allowed the roofer to perform remedial work. After Pulver performed the work, it brought a lawsuit against SBLM Architects alleging that the architect had ordered additional work outside the scope of the settlement agreement but did not pay Pulver for the extra work.
The architect moved to dismiss the quantum meruit claim and the trial court granted the motion on the grounds that Pulver, in performing extra work on the Project, necessarily conferred a benefit on the project owner, not the architect. On appeal, the court determined that Pulver had sufficiently stated a cause of action for quantum meruit and let the suit go forward. The appeals court relied on allegations in the complaint that SBLM Architects promised Pulver it would be paid for its work. The court made no distinction as to whether SBLM Architects promised Pulver that the Owner would pay it for the work, as one might expect. Clearly, the architect would not typically finance extra work on the owner’s project by paying the roofer. Astonishingly, the court noted that even though the extra work was indeed for the benefit of the Owner, Pulver was not required to establish that the defendant actually received the benefit; merely that the work was done at defendant’s behest.
The decision can fairly be characterized as an aberration from how courts typically handle quantum meruit counts. Rarely are contractors entitled to go forward with suits against architects under a quasi-contractual theory. According to this court, the contractor’s only legal burden going forward is to establish: (1) that it performed work at the architect’s request pursuant to a promise it would be paid; and (2) the reasonable value of its work.