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Contract – Real Property – Improvements – Refusal to Pay – Attorney’s Fees

Holding: Although the defendant-homeowner contends that the trial court should not have awarded attorney’s fees to the plaintiff-contractor because defendant did not unreasonably refuse to resolve the matter, defendant does not contest the trial court’s findings that (1) plaintiff demanded payment for the improvements it made to defendant’s house; (2) defendant refused; (3) plaintiff timely placed its lien on the property; (4) the case was placed on the calendar for trial five times; (5) “Defendant refused to acknowledge” the improvements made to his property; (6) plaintiff had “to undergo additional and unnecessary discovery” due to defendant’s identification of an expert witness who never actually testified; and (7) defendant refused plaintiff’s offer to settle for $22,000 on the valid debt of $19,335. These findings support the conclusion that defendant unreasonably refused to resolve the case.

We affirm the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss, denial of defendant’s summary judgment motion, and judgment in favor of plaintiff, including the award of attorney’s fees.

Defendant next argues that the trial court failed to determine the reasonableness of the attorney’s fees. Defendant points out that the total cost owed on the contract was around $20,000, but the attorney fees totaled almost $80,000. But defendant has only himself to blame for the amount of plaintiff’s attorney fees.

Defendant ignored plaintiff’s invoices; ignored the lien on his home; and “refused to acknowledge” that the work had even been performed, despite admitting that he authorized the improvements and had no issue with the quality. Defendant caused extensive delays and refused plaintiff’s offer to settle the entire case for $22,000.

Defendant’s own actions caused plaintiff to incur attorney’s fees much higher than he should have had to for this simple action, an action it should not have had to bring given that defendant had no reasonable basis for failing to pay. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in deeming the attorney fees reasonable.


SMS Construction, Inc. v. Wittels (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-024-18, 12 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) (Hunter Murphy, J., concurring in the result only without separate opinion) Appealed from Dare County Superior Court (Wayland Sermons Jr., Jerry Tillett & Milton Fitch, JJ.) David Powers for plaintiff; David Dixon for defendant. N.C. App. Unpub.


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