Carlson v. Blumenstein, 103,274

CourtCourt of Appeals of Oregon
Citation635 P.2d 380,54 Or.App. 380
Docket NumberNo. 103,274,103,274
PartiesDonald B. CARLSON and Agnes Carlson, husband and wife, Respondents, v. Robert BLUMENSTEIN, Jr., and Robert B. Blumenstein, dba Mill City Builders, Appellants. ; CA 18864.
Decision Date26 October 1981

Kathleen Evans, Certified Law Student, Salem, argued the cause for appellants. On the briefs were Dale L. Crandall and Crothers & Crandall, Salem.

Arnie Rothlisberger, Stayton, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Duncan, Tiger & Rothlisberger, Stayton.

Before GILLETTE, P. J., and ROBERTS and YOUNG, JJ. GILLETTE, Presiding Judge.

This is an action for breach of contract. Defendants had contracted to build a new residence for plaintiffs in Salem. Plaintiffs claimed damages for defects in the house, caused by defendants' alleged failure to construct it in a good and workmanlike manner, and sought reimbursement for sums plaintiffs spent on its construction. Defendants counterclaimed for the amount due on the contract, the reasonable value of extra work performed on the Salem house and the reasonable value of work performed on plaintiffs' other house in Mill City, Oregon.

The trial court found for each party on some, but not all, of their claims. It awarded prejudgment interest to plaintiffs, but not to defendants, making plaintiffs the prevailing parties; they were awarded attorney fees and costs. On appeal, defendants contend that the trial court erred in awarding prejudgment interest to plaintiffs, in not awarding interest to defendants, in selecting plaintiffs as the prevailing parties and in allowing recovery for sums plaintiffs voluntarily paid. We reverse and remand.

In their complaint, plaintiffs sought $25,790 to repair defects caused by defendants' failure to construct the house in a good and workmanlike manner; that amount was later amended to $9,300. There was no prayer for prejudgment interest on this sum. Plaintiffs alleged that they had also expended $4,736.44 on labor, materials and payments to complete the house construction. They acknowledged owing $2,677.18 on the construction contract. They sought the difference incorrectly stated as $1,059.26 with interest at six percent from July 1, 1976. In their counterclaim, defendants requested $2,708.88, with interest from July 1, 1976, as the unpaid contract amount due, before adjustments for sums owed plaintiffs, $2,707.88 plus interest from July 1, 1976, for the reasonable value of extra work performed on the house, and $220.60 plus interest from August 1, 1976, for the reasonable value of work performed on plaintiffs' Mill City house.

Before trial, defendants had tendered full performance of the contract or, in the alternative, $3,000 in full settlement of plaintiffs' claims. After trial to the court, the trial judge found that plaintiffs were entitled to $3,260 for the cost to repair specific defects in the house and $4,131.59 as reimbursement for items they had paid for but which were defendants' responsibility under the construction contract. The court found that plaintiffs owed defendants $3,677.18 1 on the contract price, $766.76 for extra work performed during the construction of the house, and $220.60 as the reasonable value for work done on plaintiffs' Mill City home. On these findings, the court awarded judgment for plaintiffs against defendants for $2,727.04. The court also awarded prejudgment interest on this amount, making the total award over $3,000. Finally, the court found that, because plaintiffs prevailed on their claim for damages for breach of contract and for credits due, they were the prevailing parties and entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to the contract. Plaintiffs were awarded $2,000 in attorney fees and $165.70 for costs and disbursements.

Defendants contend that plaintiffs are not entitled to prejudgment interest on the damages awarded for defects in the construction, because the amount due was not readily ascertainable and because no request for interest on that sum was made in the pleadings. Defendants claim further that they are entitled to interest on the sums owed by plaintiffs to them. They argue that these adjustments in prejudgment interest would alter the amount recovered by plaintiffs to less than $3,000 so that defendants, not plaintiffs, would be the prevailing parties.

Plaintiffs argue that defendants are not entitled to prejudgment interest on those sums recovered in quantum meruit, relying on In re McKinney's Estate, 175 Or. 28, 149 P.2d 980, 151 P.2d 459 (1944). In that case, the plaintiff filed a claim for the reasonable value of services rendered by plaintiff in the care and maintenance of an ailing sister. The court held that "until the amount of the claim was established by the judgment of the circuit court no interest thereon was allowable." 175 Or. at 40, 149 P.2d 980, 151 P.2d 459. The court stated:

"Inasmuch as the claimant's demand is based on an implied promise to pay the reasonable value of services, there was no understanding between the claimant and the decedent as to the value of the services. Nor was there any agreement as to when compensation therefor should be paid. No demand was ever made upon the decedent for payment. The services performed were of such a nature that their value was not ascertainable by computation or by reference to well-known standards of value. The amount, character and value of the services could only be established by evidence." 175 Or. at 39, 149 P.2d 980, 151 P.2d 459.

In a recent case, City of Portland v. Hoffman Construction Company, 286 Or. 789, 805, 596 P.2d 1305 (1979), the court allowed recovery of prejudgment interest on a quantum meruit recovery for services rendered. In Hoffman, quantum meruit recovery was sought for a specific sum after contracts between the parties had been breached. The court held that payment for the services was due when the services were rendered and, thus, interest was due from that date. 286 Or. at 505, 596 P.2d 1305. See also, Hill v. Wilson, 123 Or. 193, 199, 261 P. 422 (1927).

Contrary to plaintiffs' contention, there is no absolute prohibition against the award of prejudgment interest in quantum meruit cases. The touchstone is whether the amount sought is "either ascertained or readily ascertainable by simple computation, or by reference to generally recognized standards such as market price * * *," and the time from which interest runs is easily ascertained. Public Market Co. v. Portland, 171 Or. 522, 625, 130 P.2d 624, 138 P.2d 916 (1943); Krieg v. Union Pacific Land Res. Corp., 269 Or. 221, 234, 525 P.2d 48 (1974); Isler v. Shuck, 38...

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