Law School Case Brief
Sullivan v. Bullock - 124 Idaho 738, 864 P.2d 184 (Ct. App. 1993)
The doctrine of prevention is an equitable doctrine designed to excuse non-performance by the nonbreaching party. It is intended to provide a mechanism by which the party desiring to perform may establish that the other party has breached the contract before its completion, and may seek recompense for that breach.
Plaintiff Cora Sullivan hired defendant Dallas Bullock, doing business as New Home Development, to remodel her kitchen, hallway, utility room, bathroom and sewing room, for a total price of $6,780. For a period while construction was progressing, Sullivan did not live at the home. Eventually, however, she moved in while the remodeling continued. At one time, Sullivan told Bullock that she would not be at home on a certain day and, feeling protective of her personal belongings, she did not want the workman there while she was gone. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to Bullock, one of the workman entered the home through a window to complete some work while Sullivan was gone. This so upset Sullivan that she angrily confronted Bullock and told him that neither he nor his workman were to ever set foot in her house again. Further requests by Bullock and others to enter the home and continue the project were refused by Sullivan. Bullock submitted a “final” bill to Sullivan for $2,956.40, purportedly for work completed, but also representing the contract balance for the completed project. Thereafter, Sullivan filed a complaint in the district court, asserting that Bullock's workmanship was grossly defective and that he had been unresponsive to requests to improve his product. The jury returned a special verdict finding that although Bullock had not substantially performed under the contract, he had been prevented from doing so by Sullivan. The jury awarded $2,956.40 in damages to Bullock, essentially the balance of the contract price. Sullivan filed a motion for judgment n.o.v. or for a new trial, which was denied. Sullivan appealed.
- Did plaintiff homeowner prevent defendant contractor from substantially performing his obligation under the contract?
- Was the award of damages in the amount of $2,956.40 in favor of defendant proper?
The Court held that the finding that Bullock had not substantially performed under the contract, but was unreasonably prevented from doing so by Sullivan, was supported by the evidence. However, the Court averred that the award of damages in the full amount of the contract price was erroneous. The evidence did not support the portion of the damages awarded for work that was not originally contemplated by the parties.
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