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Unity School District v. Vaughn Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

November 19, 2019

Unity School District, Plaintiff
v.
Vaughn Associates, Inc., and Scott Vaughn, Defendants
v.
School Administrative Unit #6, Excel Mechanical, Inc., Superior Walls of Hudson Valley, Inc., and Town of Unity, Third-Party Defendants

          George T. Dilworth, Esq.

          Demetrio F. Aspiras, III, Esq.

          Melissa A. Hewey, Esq.

          Kenneth B. Walton, Esq.

          Lindsey D. Smith, Esq.

          Kristin Hartman, Esq.

          Michael P. Sams, Esq.

          Daniel H. Conroy, Esq.

          Matthew V. Burrows, Esq.

          Samantha D. Elliott, Esq.

          Andrew B. Livernois, Esq.

          ORDER

          Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge.

         In 2010, the Unity School District hired Vaughn Associates and Scott Vaughn (collectively, “Vaughn”) to design and oversee construction of a new elementary school in Unity, New Hampshire. The project did not proceed as the School District had envisioned. Construction was beset with delays and forced work stoppages (by, for example, the state fire marshal) and costs ballooned from the $4.7 million that Vaughn had promised to more than $9 million. Eventually, Vaughn's contracts with the School District were terminated and the School District sued Vaughn for damages. Those claims were settled and, in April of 2017, the School District's suit against Vaughn was dismissed, by agreement of the parties. See Stipulation of Dismissal (document no. 100).

         What remain are Vaughn's third-party claims against two subcontractors on the project: Excel Mechanical, Inc., and Superior Walls of the Hudson Valley, Inc. Pending before the court is Excel Mechanical's motion for summary judgment, in which Excel asserts that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to each of the three state law claims Vaughn advances against it. Vaughn objects.

         For the reasons discussed, Excel's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         Standard of Review

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is “obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.” Block Island Fishing, Inc. v. Rogers, 844 F.3d 358, 360 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In this context, a factual dispute “is ‘genuine' if the evidence of record permits a rational factfinder to resolve it in favor of either party, and ‘material' if its existence or nonexistence has the potential to change the outcome of the suit.” Rando v. Leonard, 826 F.3d 553, 556 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). Consequently, “[a]s to issues on which the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, that party may not simply rely on the absence of evidence but, rather, must point to definite and competent evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Perez v. Lorraine Enters., 769 F.3d 23, 29-30 (1st Cir. 2014). In other words, “a laundry list of possibilities and hypotheticals” and “[s]peculation about mere possibilities, without more, is not enough to stave off summary judgment.” Tobin v. Fed. Express Corp., 775 F.3d 448, 451-52 (1st Cir. 2014). See generally Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         Background

         The factual background of this case has been set forth in prior orders of the court. See, e.g., Order on Third-Party Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (document no. 42); Order on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (document no. 55). It need not be recounted again in detail. It is sufficient to note the following. In 2010, the Unity School District entered into two contracts with Vaughn to design and oversee construction of a new elementary school. Construction began in late 2011. Then, in August of 2012, the Unity School District hired Excel Mechanical to perform rough and finish plumbing services. On the same date, the School District entered into a separate contract with William Knight, d/b/a LSE (“LSE”), to perform HVAC and mechanical work on the project. LSE, in turn, entered into a subcontract with Excel to provide “design drawings with engineer's stamp for both plumbing and mechanical.”

         The upshot of all of this is the following: Vaughn had two contracts with the Unity School District. It did not, however, have any contractual relationship with Excel; Excel's contracts were with the School District itself, and with LSE. Moreover, Excel's contractual obligation to provide mechanical drawings stamped by a licensed engineer - the critical element of Vaughn's claims - ran to LSE, not Vaughn. See AIA Standard Agreement between Contractor and Subcontractor (document no. 139-7) at Article 8, and “Notes and Clarifications” to Contract (document no. 139-8) at 3.

         In its third-party complaint, Vaughn alleges that it sustained compensable damages when it relied, both reasonably and to its detriment, upon allegedly false and material misstatements made by Excel concerning the presence of an in-house mechanical engineer. Specifically, Vaughn alleges:

Excel represented to VAI [Vaughn] that it had a mechanical engineer who could complete the mechanical components of ...

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