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Magee v. BEA Constr. Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 5, 2015

ROBERT MAGEE and ZORAIDA MAGEE, Plaintiffs, Appellees,
v.
BEA CONSTRUCTION CORP., Defendant, Appellant

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Marcos E. López, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

Yuri J. Valenzuela-Flores on brief for appellant.

Rolando A. Silva, Armando A. Cardona, and Consultores Legales Asociados, CSP on brief for appellees.

Before Torruella, Selya and Dyk,[*] Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 89

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This diversity case involves an old-fashioned contract dispute between property owners and a construction firm. Defendant-appellant BEA Construction Corp. (BEA) failed to dissuade a jury from finding that it was on the wrong side of the dispute and now challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. Since this challenge comes too late and offers too little in the way of substance, we affirm.

We highlight the pertinent events, resolving any factual conflicts in favor of the jury verdict. See La Amiga del Pueblo, Inc. v. Robles, 937 F.2d 689, 690 (1st Cir. 1991). The plaintiffs, Robert Magee and his wife Zoraida, are citizens of New Jersey. Having retired, they wished to build a vacation home in Vieques, Puerto Rico. To that end, they entered into an oral contract with BEA in December of 2008 for the assembly of a prefabricated house on a lot that they owned. The plaintiffs gave BEA an $80,000 down payment on the understanding that the project would be completed within 16 months. Work commenced shortly thereafter.

Roughly a year later, the parties' relationship began to sour. At that time, the plaintiffs requested that the project be put on hold to accommodate Mr. Magee's failing health. BEA agreed to stop work and to reimburse the unspent portion ($74,406) of the down payment. But words are not always matched by deeds, and the plaintiffs received only $1000.

The parties subsequently entered into a second oral agreement for the assembly of a smaller and cheaper home. This new project was to be completed within four months and the plaintiffs were to receive credit against the contract price for any monies owed to them with respect to the original project. BEA began receiving materials in May of 2011 but -- by July of 2012 -- it had managed to do nothing more than dig a square hole and place rebar columns in the ground.

The plaintiffs were disgruntled and, on September 7, 2012, repaired to the federal district court. Citing diversity of citizenship and the existence of a controversy in the requisite amount, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), they alleged that BEA had breached sundry contractual obligations while failing to complete construction of their home as agreed. In addition to their principal claim, the plaintiffs also asserted breach of contract claims against two BEA officials (C. William Dey and Abigail González). BEA counterclaimed, contending that it was the plaintiffs who had defaulted on the contractual arrangements.

Following extensive pretrial skirmishing (none of which is relevant here), the case went to trial in April of 2014.[1] After the plaintiffs rested, the individual defendants (but not BEA) moved for the entry of judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). The court granted the individual defendants' motions, accepting their arguments that the evidence afforded no basis either for piercing the corporate veil or for otherwise holding them personally liable. The trial proceeded against BEA alone. On April 11, the jury returned a verdict wholly favorable to the plaintiffs: it found BEA to have defaulted on its contractual obligations, awarded $150,000 in damages, and rejected the

Page 90

counterclaim. BEA did not file any post-trial motions, but it did file a ...


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