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Summary judgment affirmed for Dearborn County in suit over services for jail project

September 6, 2017

An Indiana trial court properly granted judgment in favor of Dearborn County on breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, finding there was no enforceable contract on which to base those claims.

When Dearborn County decided to undertake a jail improvement project in 2010, it entered into a contract with RQAW Corp. for architectural services, including a pre-design study. According to the contract, RQAW was tasked with providing the county with recommendations after completing the pre-design study in exchange for a $90,000 payment.

The contract also provided detailed descriptions of RQAW’s obligations under each phase of the project, though it did not detail the scope of the work or specific costs for the phases that would come after the pre-design study. The contract also noted the county could terminate it at any time as long as RQAW was given seven days’ notice and certain termination expenses were paid.

After the pre-design study was complete, the county paid RQAW $90,000 for its work and recommendations, but ultimately chose another architectural firm to complete the project. The county then sent RQAW a letter on July 19, 2012, stating the contract would be deemed closed in July 26, 2012.

RQAW responded with a lawsuit, claiming unjust enrichment and breach of contract for failure to pay the termination expenses. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment as to the breach of contract claims, while the county filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the unjust enrichment claim.

The Ohio Circuit Court granted both of the county’s motions but denied RQAW’s, leading to the appeal in RQAW Corporation v. Dearborn County, Indiana, 58A01-1704-PL-745. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the judgments in favor of the county, with Judge Cale Bradford writing that the contract lacked essential terms with regard to all phases after the pre-design study.

Specifically, Bradford wrote the contract did not include the scope of work to be completed in those phases or the cost of the work, but instead indicated those terms would be determined at a later date. Without those terms, it is impossible to determine whether a future breach of contract occurred, he wrote, so there can be no enforceable contract.

Similarly, RQAW didn’t argue on appeal that it provided services related to the pre-design study for which it was not paid, so it “’cannot in any way succeed under the operative facts and allegations made therein’” on its unjust enrichment claim, Bradford wrote.

 

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