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COA refuses to side with ‘combative’ contractor

May 23, 2019

An Indianapolis home-improvement contractor who threatened a homeowner who hired him then stormed off the jobsite after police had to be called lost his appeal Thursday of judgment in the homeowner’s favor.

Michael Massey hired A House Mechanics, Inc., to do some roofing, gutter and siding work on buildings he owned and gave the firm a $12,000 down payment — roughly two-thirds of the total for the agreed repairs. But after noticing some shoddy work, Massey complained to company president Richard Hathaway.

“Hathaway denied that there were any problems and refused to make repairs,” Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John Baker wrote. “Massey asked to see Hathaway’s insurance policy and bond information; Hathaway refused, said he was done working on that job, and stated he intended to take the building materials and leave. Massey responded that Hathaway could not take the materials because Massey had already made a $12,000 down payment. Hathaway then threatened to harm Massey physically and take his family’s home.”

After Massey told Hathaway to leave, the contractor called police. Officers tried to convince him to finish the job, but Hathaway refused, at which point they told him to leave. “On his way out, Hathaway told Massey to call the City Inspector, commenting that ‘when it passes the inspection, I will take your house,’” Baker wrote.

But that didn’t work out for the contractor. Days later, the city issued a notice of multiple violations related to the construction and issued a stop-work order because AHM failed to notify the Bureau of Construction Services or post a contractor form at the work site.

Massey’s attorney contacted AHM the next day, demanding a refund of the $12,000 deposit. Three days later, “AHM responded by sending Massey an invoice for $6,197.94, which AHM claimed was the remaining amount owed by Massey after applying the down payment,” Baker wrote. After another three days, AHM recorded a mechanic’s lien on Massey’s property. The contractor followed up a couple of months later by filing a suit asserting breach of contract and attempting to foreclose on the mechanic’s lien.

Massey countersued and won summary judgment in Marion Superior Court, which found, among other things, that the contractor’s work “added no value or improvement to Massey’s property and in fact damaged or reduced the value of Massey’s property,” and that the mechanic’s lien was invalid and should be vacated. The ordered AHM to pay Massey $12,000.

The COA found the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment for Massey or in repudiating the mechanic’s lien in A House Mechanics, Inc. v. Michael Massey, 18A-PL-2814.

The panel noted Massey submitted affidavits of a contractor, Perry Allen, and the owner of a roofing business, Paul Palmer, who attested to numerous defects in the work done by AHM, and that the contractor offered no evidence to the contrary.

Baker said the panel would not read the contract between the parties in a way that would permit an absurd result. The panel in a footnote also dismissed AHM’s argument that Massey first breached the contract by asking Hathaway to leave the jobsite.

“In the end, we are left with evidence designated by Massey that conclusively establishes that AHM’s work was rife with building code violations,” Baker wrote. “The evidence also shows that Hathaway refused to continue working on Massey’s property, refused Massey’s repeated offers to fix the defects and finish the job, threatened Massey, and became so combative that police officers directed him to leave the property.”

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