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Law School Case Brief

Buccini v. Paterno Const. Co. - 253 N.Y. 256, 170 N.E. 910 (1930)

Rule:

Into every contract of personal service the law reads "the implied condition" that sickness or death shall be an excuse for non-performance. The parties may say by their contract what compensation shall be made in the event of that excuse. The award will then conform to the expression of their will. They may leave the subject open, to be governed by the law itself. The award will then conform to the principles of liability in quasi-contract and to the considerations of equity and justice by which that liability is governed. In either event, the controversy is one that has its origin in the contract and in the performance of the work thereunder, just as much as if the work had been completed under a contract silent as to price, and the controversy had relation to the reasonable value. 

Facts:

Alberto Buccini made a contract with defendant Paterno Construction Company ("Paterno") to decorate the ballroom, banquet hall and swimming pool in a dwelling described as "Paterno's Castle." The character of the decorations called for the exercise of artistic skill, and the contract had a provision that all the decorative figured work was to be done by Buccini personally and that only the plain work could be delegated to mechanics. The contract also provided that "All questions that may arise under this contract and in the performance of the work thereunder shall be submitted to arbitration at the choice of either of the parties." Buccini died while the work was in progress. The contract being personal, the effect of his death was to terminate the duty of going forward with performance, but to leave Buccini liable for benefits received. When the value of the benefits was disputed by the Paterno, plaintiff Flora M.G. Buccini, as executrix of Buccini's estate, made demand in New York state court that the controversy be submitted to arbitration. Her petition was granted by the trial court, but on appeal, the appellate court determined that the trial court erred in directing the parties to proceed to arbitration. The executrix appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court properly compel the parties to proceed to arbitration?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals of New York reversed the appellate court's decision and affirmed the trial court's decision. The court held that in determining the value of a personal services contract, the question to be determined was not the value of the work considered by itself and unrelated to the contract. Rather, the question to be determined was the benefit to the owner in advancement of the ends to be promoted by the contract. The executrix stood in the place of Buccini, the decedent, because the parties to a contract bound their personal representatives. Thus, because the contract required that any dispute under the contract was to be submitted to arbitration at the choice of either party to the contract, the trial court correctly ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration.

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