Summary of Relevant Facts in a Chronological Order
The house that caused the conflicts belongs to the plaintiff. He asked the defendant to re-paint it for him. During their contract negotiations, the plaintiff agreed to pay the defendant $ 5000 to do “a first-class job” on the house. The contract excluded the garage from the defendant’s job description. The plaintiff pointed to the concrete steps and said, “They also need a coat of paint.”
The conflict that led to this suit started when the plaintiff stated that “a first-class job” means three coats but the defendant insisted that two coats were enough. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant was supposed to paint the steps after painting the house. However, the defendant rejected the idea because it was not in the contract.
Relevant Legal Rules, Doctrines, and Laws
Custom refers to the common practice in a particular field (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). During the interpretation of cases, courts always depend on common practices in various fields. Customs always help judges whenever contracts do not provide solutions to the conflicts that arise from the omission of some important information (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). In this case, the court should establish the number of coats that painters use on buildings when they want them to be “first-class”.
In the case of TEG Paradigm Environmental International versus the United States, the court ruled that abatement should include removing asbestos from pores and cracks (Sweet & Schneier, 2013).
Judges imply terms when the parties omit some issues when drafting their contracts. They may omit them because they consider them trivial (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). In this case, the parties did not write in the contract whether the defendant should include the steps when painting the rest of the house or not. The owner thought it would not be necessary.
The Parol Evidence Rule
This rule requires judges to use oral agreements when contracts are not complete (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). Completeness refers to the inclusion of all the necessary details in the contract. If the parties confirmed in writing that the contract was complete, then oral agreements should not affect the contract. However, if they did not confirm the completeness of their contract, the judge should use oral submissions when making the judgment (Sweet & Schneier, 2013).
In the case of Godfrey, Basset & Kuykendall, Architects, Ltd. versus Huntington & Supply Company, the judge ruled that the close relationship between the parties could lead them to orally agree on some issues (Sweet & Schneier, 2013).
The Extrinsic Evidence Rule
This rule allows judges to use the circumstances under which an individual uses a term in their interpretations (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). It requires judges to understand the meaning of terms in different contexts.
Possible Outcomes of the Case in Court
The judgment of this case depends on the parol evidence rule, implied terms, extrinsic evidence rule, and custom. According to the doctrine of custom, the judge should inquire from painting experts about the number of coats that produce quality paintings (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). The contract required the defendant to do “a first-class job”. If the judge finds out that three coats give the best results, he or she will sustain the charges. However, if he/she finds out that the two coats are enough, he/she will rule in favor of the defendant.
Both the parol evidence rule and the implied terms doctrine indicate that the defendant breached the contract (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). The contract was not complete because it omitted some details. In such circumstances, the parol evidence rule qualifies oral agreements as binding terms of the contract. The judge can also use the doctrine of implied terms to declare the defendant guilty of breaching the contract (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). She did not object when the plaintiff asked her to paint the steps.
Should the Judge Look at Evidence Outside the Writing?
Yes, the judge should look at evidence outside the writing to help clarify the meaning of “first-class painting”. The contract omitted important information, which the judge could require in the interpretation of the terms. The extrinsic evidence rule allows judges to use surrounding facts and circumstances in their interpretation (Sweet & Schneier, 2013, p. 489).
The plaintiff asked the defendant to paint the steps. However, the defendant did not include this part in the contract. The judge will use the parol evidence and the implied terms doctrines in analyzing this evidence (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). The court should also ask painting experts about the number of coats that produce the best results. What the experts say should also serve as evidence (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). Jowitt, Inc. vs. the United States shows the use of trade practice in the interpretation of cases. The court of appeal held that trade usage is relevant in the interpretation of ambiguous terminologies (Sweet & Schneier, 2013, p. 486).
The judge will use the reasonableness rule, which will reveal the most reasonable interpretation of the terms (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). He or she will have to interpret the clause “the maximum size shall pass a 2-inch U.S. standard sieve” to get the most reasonable meaning. This statement gives the maximum size for zone 3 in all circumstances. In Medlin Construction Group, Ltd. vs. the United States, the court ruled that the contractor’s interpretation was the only reasonable interpretation because it preserved both options (Sweet & Schneier, 2013). In this case, the contractor‘s interpretation is not reasonable.
Sweet, J. & Schneier, M. (2013). Legal aspects of architecture, engineering, and the construction process, 9th Ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.