Contractor Disputes, Breach of Contract

Although most breach of contract actions generally share the same basic elements, different issues can arise depending on the type of contract. For instance, a “standard” contract between two individuals will not be subject to the Uniform Commercial Code, as would a contract for the sale of goods between merchants. Contract agreements relating to construction also have some special rules, particularly as it relates to who breaches the contract.
With contractor agreements, many disputes arise from alleged poor workmanship, incorrect materials being used and/or accusations that someone has walked off the job or prevented work from being completed. Regarding the last item, if a contractor is prevented from completing the work on a construction project by the actions of the owners, the owners have breached the contract. Erney v. Freeman, 84 S.W.3d 529, 534 (Mo. Ct. App. 2002). If the work has been partially completed at the time of the owners’ actions, the contractor may be legally excused from the remaining contractual obligations and may cease work on the project. The contractor may then be able to sue for breach of an express contract or unjust enrichment for the value of the labor and materials provided. Statler Mfg., Inc. v. Brown, 691 S.W.2d 445, 448-48 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985).
With this framework in mind, it is necessary to determine which party (if any) breached by considering whether the contractor’s failure to complete the project, or the contractor’s ceasing of the work, was due to actions of the owners or due to the actions of the contractor walking away from the project.
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