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Watkins v. Howard

August 19, 1999

JOHN WATKINS, APPELLANT,
v.
TULANE HOWARD, APPELLEE.



Before Steadman, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Evelyn E. Queen, Trial Judge)

Argued September 28, 199

This appeal arises out of a home improvement contract dispute. On the day of trial, the trial court granted summary judgment to appellee, Tulane Howard, the homeowner, and dismissed the complaint of appellant, John Watkins, the home improvement contractor. The Judge ruled that Watkins violated 16 DCMR § 800.1 (1997) by entering into a home improvement contract requiring progress payments without a license, and, therefore, that the contract was unenforceable. We reverse and remand because there is a factual dispute as to whether the contract as executed required progress payments, and whether Watkins accepted progress payments without a license.

I.

On July 7, 1994, Watkins, a building contractor, entered into an agreement with Howard, a homeowner, to perform construction work totaling $55,000 at Howard's home at 4501 Davenport Street, N.W. At the time Watkins entered into this agreement, he did not have a home improvement contractor's license. On August 24, 1994, Watkins obtained the required license and started work thereafter. *fn1 During the course of the contract, Watkins received four payments from Howard totaling $44,800:

November 5, 1994: $11,000

December 10, 1994: $11,000

February 10, 1995: $11,000

May 12, 1995: $11,800

On July 28, 1995, Watkins received a letter from Howard's attorney instructing him to complete work on the contract by September 1995. Watkins received a second letter from Howard's attorney on August 7, 1995, notifying him that his services were no longer needed. Subsequently, Howard changed the locks on the Davenport Street premises preventing Watkins from completing work under the contract.

Watkins brought a breach of contract action against Howard seeking to recover $20,000 he claimed was still owed for materials purchased and work completed under the contract. Howard responded with a counterclaim for the $44,800 already paid to Watkins, arguing that the contract was void and unenforceable because Watkins did not have a license on the date the contract was executed and failed to maintain a valid license throughout the contract period.

On April 28, 1997, the scheduled date of trial, the trial court held a hearing on Howard's pending motion for reconsideration of his motion for summary judgment. The trial court concluded the hearing by granting summary judgment in favor of Howard stating that there was no genuine issue of material fact in dispute since Watkins did not have a license on the date he entered into a contract requiring progress payments prior to completion of the contract work. *fn2 The court explained:

"[T]here was no license . . . on the date of the execution of the contract and the contract that you are suing on of July 1994 . . . contain[s] terms for partial payments . . . [Therefore] I'm going to grant summary ...


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