Coppola Construction Inc. v. Hoffman Enterprises L.P.
Filing of a "manifestly excessive" mechanic's lien may constitute an abuse of process and a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Hoffman Enterprises hired Coppola Construction to construct a new facility in Simsbury, Conn., in order to add a new Nissan dealership to Hoffman's Honda and Toyota dealerships. Construction required the partial excavation of a hillside and construction of swales, drainage channels and retaining walls, as well as sewers, drains and a large detention pond to handle runoff. Hoffman Enterprises agreed to pay $400,000 for the initial work. Change orders were signed, and Hoffman paid $780,950 for work performed by November 2009. Allegedly, Robert Saunders, a construction manager, failed to submit invoices to Hoffman Enterprises. Hoffman, when it eventually received the invoices, believed that they were inflated. Hoffman terminated Coppola's involvement in the construction project. Coppola sued, alleging it breached the contract. Ruling on change orders, which included extra work on the retaining walls and drainage, overtime for equipment operators and payments for rental equipment, the court awarded Coppola Construction $534,157. The court also awarded $28,556 on Coppola's unjust enrichment count for stone used as a base for new parking. The court also found that Hoffman did not engage in unfair or deceptive trade practices. The court granted judgment to Coppola in the amount of $562,713. Ruling on counterclaims, "the plaintiff's manipulation of the relevant data concerning its overtime use of labor and equipment" to process stone, wrote the court, "was so multifaceted and overblown as to prove that it intended to overcharge the defendant." Hoffman also established "systematic overcharging" of more than double actual costs to backfill, behind the new retaining walls. The court found that the plaintiff intentionally overcharged Hoffman $463,000. Hoffman proved that the plaintiff's filing of a "manifestly excessive" $1.4 million mechanic's lien, to pressure Hoffman to pay more money than it owed, constituted an abuse of process and breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The court reserved its decision on damages. The court awarded the defendant $344,544 on its counterclaims for setoffs for payments to subcontractors.