SLR Plumbing & Sewer, Inc. v. Turk

Decision Date22 October 2001
Docket NumberNo. 71A03-0105-CV-157.,71A03-0105-CV-157.
Citation757 N.E.2d 193
PartiesSLR PLUMBING & SEWER, INC., Appellant-Plaintiff, v. Ashraq A. TURK and Rizan R. Turk, Appellees-Defendants.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

William L. Labre, Edwardsburg, MI, Attorney for Appellant.

Timothy J. Abeska, Barnes & Thornburg, South Bend, IN, Attorney for Appellee.

OPINION

SHARPNACK, Chief Judge.

SLR Plumbing and Sewer, Inc. ("Subcontractor") appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Ashraq and Rizan Turk (collectively "Owners") and the trial court's grant of attorney fees to Owners.1 Subcontractor raises four issues, which we consolidate and restate as:

1. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant Subcontractor leave to amend its complaint against Owners to include a specific reference to the personal responsibility provision of the Mechanic's Lien statutes, Ind. Code § 32-8-3-9;2 2. Whether the trial court erred in granting Owners' motion for summary judgment based upon the court's refusal to apply Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9 and the doctrine of quantum meruit; and

3. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees to Owners pursuant to Ind.Code § 34-52-1-1.

We affirm in part and reverse in part.

The relevant facts follow. On April 4, 1997, Owners entered into a construction agreement with D.C. Hay Company, Inc. ("General Contractor") for the construction of a new home. General Contractor and Subcontractor entered into a contract for plumbing services on the construction of Owners' home. During the course of construction, Owners made changes to the plumbing specifications. Owners indicated these changes to either General Contractor or the plumbing supply store who, in turn, indicated the changes to Subcontractor.3

On April 10, 1998, Subcontractor's attorney sent Owners a letter which stated, in pertinent part:

RE: NOTICE OF FURNISHING OF LABOR and MATERIALS and NOTICE OF INTENTION TO CLAIM MECHANICS LIEN
Dear [Owners]:
Please be advised that [Subcontractor] has ... furnished labor and materials on your home ... and intends to claim a Mechanics Lien upon the premises.
The total amount now due to [Subcontractor], and not paid by the General Contractor, is $12,760.30. This amount may, however, be different from the final amount which you owe in the event of any future change orders.
The amount now due, or which may hereafter become due, should be paid directly to [Subcontractor]....

Appellant's Appendix at 58 (emphasis in original). Despite its attempt to give Owners notice of intent to claim a mechanic's lien, Subcontractor failed to record a mechanic's lien against Owners' real estate.

After receiving Subcontractor's letter, Owners told General Contractor that Subcontractor intended to assert a claim for payment, and thus, a final closing would not occur until all Subcontractors were paid. General Contractor informed Owners that subcontractor was not entitled to full payment. Subsequently, at the final closing on July 15, 1998, Owners tendered a final payment of $181,620.55 to General Contractor in return for a Contractor's Affidavit and Lien Waiver. The Contractor's Affidavit provided, in relevant part: "That all bills for labor, material and sub-contractors are/or will be fully paid and discharged from the construction draw contemporaneous herewith, for the improvements completed to date." Appellant's Appendix at 103 (emphasis in original). Owners never agreed to compensate Subcontractor directly.

On December 30, 1998, Subcontractor filed a complaint against Owners alleging a cause of action in quantum meruit.4 In response, Owners filed a motion for summary judgment. At the hearing on Owners' motion for summary judgment, Subcontractor orally moved for summary judgment pursuant to Ind. Trial Rule 56(B),5 or in the alternative, for leave to amend its complaint to include a specific reference to Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Owners, denied Subcontractor's cross-motion for summary judgment, and awarded attorney fees to Owners pursuant to Ind.Code § 34-52-1-1. The trial court also implicitly denied Subcontractor's oral motion to amend its complaint.

I.

The first issue is whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant Subcontractor leave to amend its complaint against Owners to include a specific reference to Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9. Indiana Trial Rule 15 governs the amendment of pleadings and provides, in pertinent part: "a party may amend his pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be given when justice so requires." The trial court retains broad discretion in granting or denying amendments to pleadings, and we will reverse only upon a showing of abuse of that discretion. Ind. Trial Rule 15. An abuse of discretion has occurred if the trial court's decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court, or if the court has misinterpreted the law. McCullough v. Archbold Ladder Co., 605 N.E.2d 175, 180 (Ind. 1993).

In this case, despite the trial court's implicit denial of Subcontractor's oral motion to amend its complaint, the trial court did in fact analyze whether Subcontractor's letter sufficiently complied with Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9. In the findings of fact and conclusions thereon portion of its order granting summary judgment, the trial court found that the letter did nothing more than provide Owners with notice that Subcontractor intended to file a mechanic's lien on Owners' real estate. Consequently, the trial court ruled that Subcontractor's letter "did not give notice of `personal responsibility' to [Owners] under Ind.Code 32-8-3-9." Appellant's Appendix at 12. Because the trial court examined the validity of Subcontractor's claim for relief under Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9, any error that allegedly occurred as a result of the trial court's tacit denial of Subcontractor's motion for leave to amend the complaint was harmless and "sufficiently minor so as not to affect the substantial rights" of Subcontractor. Ind. Appellate Rule 66(A) (2001) (formerly Ind. Appellate Rule 15(E)).6 Accordingly, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Subcontractor's motion to amend the complaint. See, e.g., Parke v. First Nat'l Bank of Elkhart, 571 N.E.2d 1317, 1321 (Ind.Ct.App.1991)reh'g denied, trans. denied.

II.

The second issue is whether the trial court erred in granting Owners' motion for summary judgment based upon the court's refusal to apply Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9 and the doctrine of quantum meruit. Initially, we observe that a trial court's specific findings of fact and conclusions thereon are not required in the summary judgment context, and although they offer valuable insight into the trial court's rationale for its judgment and facilitate our review, they are not binding on us. Rice v. Strunk, 670 N.E.2d 1280, 1283 (Ind. 1996). A trial court's grant of summary judgment is "clothed with a presumption of validity." Rosi v. Business Furniture Corp., 615 N.E.2d 431, 434 (Ind.1993). On review of a trial court's decision to grant or deny summary judgment, we apply the same standard as the trial court: we must decide whether there is a genuine issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Carie v. PSI Energy, Inc., 715 N.E.2d 853, 855 (Ind.1999). We may consider only those portions of the pleadings, depositions, and any other matters specifically designated to the trial court by the moving party for purposes of the motion for summary judgment. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C), (H). Any doubt as to the existence of an issue of material fact, or an inference to be drawn from the facts, must be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party. Cowe v. Forum Group, Inc., 575 N.E.2d 630, 633 (Ind.1991). Although the nonmovant has the burden of demonstrating that the grant of summary judgment was erroneous, we carefully assess the trial court's decision to ensure that the nonmovant was not improperly denied his day in court. Colonial Penn Ins. Co. v. Guzorek, 690 N.E.2d 664, 667 (Ind.1997).

A.

Subcontractor first argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Subcontractor's letter, dated April 10, 1998, satisfied the notice requirements of Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9. Generally, one who claims a statutory right must bring himself within the provisions of the statute. Blade Corp. v. American Drywall, Inc., 400 N.E.2d 1183, 1187 (Ind.Ct.App.1980). Specifically, to invoke the protection of Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9, Subcontractor bears the burden of proving that its letter sufficiently complied with the notification requirements of the statute. Id.

Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9 provides, in pertinent part:

Any subcontractor ... may give to the owner ... notice in writing particularly setting forth the amount of his claim and services rendered, for which his employer or lessee is indebted to him, and that he holds the owner responsible for the same; and the owner shall be liable for such claim, but not to exceed the amount which may be due, and may thereafter become due, from him to the employer or lessee, which may be recovered in an action whenever an amount equal to such claim ... shall be due from such owner to the employer or lessee.

This personal liability provision is designed to protect a subcontractor "from the consequences of the [general] contractor's absconding or going broke or otherwise defaulting" by providing to the subcontractor a means of shifting from himself to the owner the burden of the general contractor's financial difficulties. McCorry v. G. Cowser Constr., Inc., 636 N.E.2d 1273, 1278 (Ind.Ct.App.1994),adopted on transfer 644 N.E.2d 550 (Ind.1994). Thus, the purpose of Ind.Code § 32-8-3-9 is to "prevent the inequity of an owner enjoying the fruits of a subcontractor's labor and materials without paying for them." Id. at 1279. Moreover, Ind.Code...

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