Pleading Matters when Enforcing a Construction Contract

Census Bureau map of Charlottesville, Virginia

Census Bureau map of Charlottesville, Virginia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On more than one occasion here at Construction Law Musings, I have discussed the necessity of a good construction contract.  Of course, even the best contracts require proper pleading in court if you want to enforce them.

The Western District of Virginia federal court recently reminded us that a properly plead complaint is necessary to enforcement of a contract.  In Metra Industries Inc. v. Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority Inc. the Court looked at the complaint of the general contractor relating to non-payment by the Owner (among other alleged breaches) relating to construction near Charlottesville, VA.

The Sewer Authority filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the general allegations relating to the fulfillment of conditions precedent did not satisfy the pleading standards for a breach of contract action.  The federal court disagreed, stating that the pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(c) applies and that the general allegation that all conditions precedent have been met was enough.

The Court then stated that, while the pleading survived the Motion to Dismiss, it was possible that such non-particularized allegations could be dismissed on summary judgment.

The interesting part of this, aside from the fact that it relates to a construction project here in my home state of Virginia, is that the Court applied the federal as opposed to the state pleading standard when it would likely apply state law while sitting in diversity.  The Court also mentioned summary judgment, something that is almost never granted under Virginia law, but is easier to use in Federal Court.

While I don’t know what a Virginia state court would have done with such a general pleading, I do know that the Plaintiff in this action walked a fine line with such generalities.  Luckily for Metra, the Court used the very liberal pleading standard found in the Federal Rules.  In any event, the assistance of an experienced construction attorney can and will help with both the choice of which Court (state or federal) in which to file your claim and with the proper drafting of a Complaint that will survive a motion to dismiss.

Do you construction attorneys out there have any ideas on what may have happened in the Virginia state court?  Let me know.

As always, I welcome your comments.  Also, please subscribe to keep up with this and other Construction Law Musings.

 

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About Musings

I am a construction lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, a LEED AP, and have been nominated by my peers to Virginia's Legal Elite in Construction Law on multiple occasions. I provide advice and assistance with mechanic's liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.

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