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Harrington v. Trotman

November 12, 2009

ALICE HARRINGTON, APPELLANT,
v.
BRAEDEN TROTMAN, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-6058-04) (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge).

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

Submitted June 30, 2008

Before RUIZ and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

Alice Harrington appeals the trial court's judgment in favor of Braeden Trotman's claim for damages. Trotman entered into a contract with Ms. Harrington under which she would do renovation work on a house that Trotman owned. Their relationship did not end amicably, and Trotman sued Harrington, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, and fraud.

After a bench trial, the trial court denied all of Trotman's claims except the equitable claim for unjust enrichment.*fn2 The trial court found that Trotman "has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that [Harrington] has received more money from [Trotman] than the value of the work [Harrington] performed. And that it would be inequitable to allow [Harrington] to keep the excess payment." Appellant claims that the trial court's finding was clearly erroneous because it was based on "fraudulent testimony and unproved documents."

We agree that the award of damages for unjust enrichment must be reversed, because it was error as a matter of law to award damages on a theory of unjust enrichment when the parties had entered into a contract and it was appellee, not appellant, who was determined to have breached the contract.*fn3

I. Statement of Facts

The trial court made the following findings of fact, which we find to be supported by the record:

It is undisputed that the two parties entered into a written contract on July 7th, 2003, under which the defendant Ms. Harrington was to -- was to perform an extensive renovation of the row house at 312 Seaton Place, Northwest [sic],... that was in the process of being purchased by the plaintiff Bradeon [sic] Trotman.

It's undisputed that the agreement defined the scope of work with a reference or actually more than one reference to a set of blueprints that unfortunately are not in evidence. But certainly were referred to extensively during the testimony.

It's also undisputed that the agreement indicated that the work was to begin by July 1st, 2003, and be completed by August 30th, 2003. Although the agreement did not specify that time was of the essence as part of the contract.

The agreement it is undisputed also stated that [Harrington] was to be paid a total of $88,000.00. Although the agreement also said that certain costs would vary, depending upon the finishes ultimately selected and on other possible surprises that -- that may come up or might come up during the demolition work or other aspects of the project.

It also is undisputed on this record that [Harrington] did not begin to work on the project until approximately August 15th, 2003, because [Trotman] did not close on the house until at least July 29th, 2003, or possibly later. Thereby making it impossible for [Harrington] to begin work back on July 1st, 2003, as initially contemplated in the written contract.

It also is undisputed that [Harrington] performed most of the demolition work called for by the contract. Plus some amount of HVAC work. Some amount of framing. The installation of two windows. And that she purchased certain fixtures for the house, including a Jacuzzi, three sinks, an oven and a front door. The evidence showed without dispute that [Harrinton] was paid a deposit of ...


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