Shafer Elec. & Constr. v. Mantia, 96 A.3d 989 (Pa. Supreme Court, 2014)

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

Summary:

The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, 73 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 517.1-517.18 9 (the “Act”), does not bar a contractor from recovery under a theory of quantum meruit in the absence of a valid and enforceable home improvement contract as defined by the Act.  “Quantum meruit” is essentially a claim for unjust enrichment, which implies a contract and requires the defendant to pay to the plaintiff the value of the benefit conferred.

Facts:

Homeowners hired a registered West Virginia contractor to build a two-car garage addition onto their house. The initial proposal by the contractor was extremely detailed with regard to the work to be completed.  An addendum to the initial proposal further elaborated upon the details.  The proposals, however, did not comply with several requirements of Section 517.7 of the Act. For example, the contract did not contain approximate start and completion dates as provided by subsection (a)(6), nor did it inform the homeowners of the toll-free, consumer protection hotline number pursuant to subsection (a)(12).

Highlights:

  • The plain, unambiguous language of Section 517.7(g) does not prohibit a cause of action in quantum meruit.
  • It is well-settled at common law that a party shall not be barred from bringing an action based in quantum meruit when one sounding in breach of express contract is not available.
  • While the Pennsylvania General Assembly, in its role as the policy-making branch of government, may in “particular sets of circumstances” modify the structure of the common law, there is no indication that the legislature has done so in the Act. Indeed, the Act is silent as to actions in quasi-contract, such as unjust enrichment and quantum meruit.
  • If it found an action in quantum meruit could not lie, the Court would effectively enable homeowners to refuse payment of perfect construction work solely because a contractor did not comply with the Section 517.7(a) requirements; i.e., would allow them to prevail even if the work was perfect and they simply did not want to pay. The Court did not want to engender this result.