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Flower City Painting Contractors Inc. v. Gumina Construction Co.

decided: January 9, 1979.


Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, Harold P. Burke, Judge, dismissing a breach of contract action on the ground of plaintiff's prior repudiation. The Court of Appeals held that no contract had ever been formed.

Before Oakes, Gurfein and Meskill, Circuit Judges.

Author: Gurfein

This is an action for breach of contract, entertained in the District Court for the Western District of New York (Hon. Harold P. Burke, Judge) by virtue of the diversity of citizenship of the parties.*fn1 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332. Plaintiff-appellant, Flower City Painting Contractors, Inc. ("Flower") is a newly formed painting contracting firm in Rochester, New York, owned and managed by black minority personnel. Defendant-appellee, Gumina Construction Company ("Gumina") is an Ohio company with its principal place of business in Lorain, Ohio.

Gumina entered into a prime contract with the FIGHT Village Housing Development Fund Company, Inc., for the construction of a garden type apartment project called "FIGHT Village," on March 12, 1973. The project was federally funded and developed under the auspices of the Federal Housing Authority of the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Pursuant to Executive Order No. 11246, which prohibits employment discrimination by Government contractors, HUD regulations and the terms of the prime contract required the prime contractor to undertake an affirmative action program that included efforts to recruit and hire minority subcontractors. HUD Contract Compliance Handbook 8000.6 at 27 (1972). Compliance was a condition of the contract.

Part of Gumina's affirmative action obligation was satisfied by its award of a subcontract for painting in the FIGHT Village to Flower on April 16, 1973. As indicated by the cost breakdown summary sheet attached to the prime contract, the total anticipated cost of painting and decorating the Entire FIGHT project was to be $101,000. This estimation of cost was significant, since an excess of cost in one aspect could have caused a cost overrun that would cut into the prime contractor's profits. The subcontract executed with Flower provided that Flower was to be paid $98,499.84 for its work, a sum that was roughly only $2500 less than the maximum allotted for painting and decorating the entire project.

The terms of the Gumina-Flower subcontract included the language of Flower's original bid on the subcontract which was incorporated In haec verba as Schedule A of the subcontract. That Schedule reads as follows:

1. One bedroom units [*] 335.00 per unit [*] 17,420.00

2. Two bedroom units [*] 371.00 per unit [*] 28,196.00

3. Three bedroom units [*] 428.00 per unit [*] 29,960.00

4. Four bedroom units [*] 477.58 per unit [*] 22,923.84

A Total of: [*] 98,499.84

Please note: price given reflects no bonding requirement and a non-union job operation.

The subcontract also incorporated by reference the prime contract, drawings, addenda, and specifications, as well as modifications subsequently issued. Indeed, Schedule A made specific reference to the contract specifications and plans in defining the scope of the subcontractor's work. The subcontract further provided that the subcontractor would "faithfully observe all requirements and conditions set forth by plans and specifications on file at the F.H.A. Office in Buffalo, N.Y. . . .," and that these documents were to be "available for inspection by the Subcontractor upon his request."

On March 18, 1974, nearly one year after Flower entered into the subcontract, it asserted in a letter to Gumina that the contract required Flower to paint interior walls of the individual apartment units only and that Flower was not obligated to paint exteriors or common buildings.*fn2 On March 25, 1974, Flower received from Gumina a copy of Article II of the subcontract with additional explanatory language typed in as a reminder of obligations which Gumina insisted that Flower had under its subcontract. This notation stated: "It is further understood that this contract includes all exterior work, (encompasses all work, within specs and drawings) except exterior siding. The community building is also a part of this contract." On March 29, 1974, the president of Flower submitted to Gumina an itemization of additional costs for this "exterior work," claiming that it was not required to do the painting of apartment laundry rooms, storage rooms, and hallways, as well as of exterior doors, trim and certain common buildings.*fn3 On April 4, 1974 (the letter was erroneously dated March 4), Gumina responded to Flower's ...

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