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Z & L LUMBER COMPANY ATLASBURG v. THOMAS NORDQUIST (05/15/85)

May 15, 1985

Z & L LUMBER COMPANY OF ATLASBURG, A CORPORATION
v.
THOMAS NORDQUIST, DONALD BOTT AND DONALD SAMUELS, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A VENTURE ENTERPRISES, A PARTNERSHIP, APPELLANTS, V. FRANK TAYLOR, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND PEOPLES HOME SAVINGS AND LOAN, A CORPORATION.



COUNSEL

Robert W. Deer, Washington, for appellants.

Cathy D. Campbell, Beaver Falls, for appellee.

Before Spaeth, President Judge, and Rowley and Wieand, JJ.

Author: Wieand

WIEAND, Judge:

In July, 1981, Venture Enterprises, a partnership,*fn1 contracted to build a long home for Frank Taylor at a price of $34,924.45. To obtain materials for the job, Venture obtained a line of credit with Z & L Lumber Co. (Z & L), a building supply company. Before construction had been completed, Z & L commenced an action against Venture to recover a balance which Venture refused to pay. Venture joined Taylor as an additional defendant. It also joined Peoples Home Savings and Loan Association, which had agreed to advance the construction money. After Z & L's claim had been settled, the action continued for the purpose of adjudicating claims asserted against each other by Venture and Taylor.*fn2

The case was tried non-jury before Honorable Robert E. Kunselman, who rendered a verdict in favor of Taylor in the amount of $7,282.78. The court en banc subsequently modified the amount of the verdict by adding $5,246.00, which had been omitted by the trial judge, but otherwise affirmed the findings of the trial judge. Judgment was entered in favor Taylor and against Venture for $12,528.78.

On appeal, Venture argues that the trial court erred in finding that Venture was contractually obligated to supply all labor and material except electrically and plumbing fixtures and carpeting. The written contract provided, inter alia, that "[Venture} agrees to provide all the materials as specified and to perform all the labor shown on the working drawings and described in the specifications. . . ." The working drawings and specifications consisted of a series of ten documents appearing in a construction manual. The first six documents were drawing indicating construction of the foundation and exterior of the home. They specified the types and sizes of materials to be used. The seventh and eighth sketches, entitled "elevations," portrayed the completed home according to its front and side views. The home as depicted in these renderings contained, inter alia, doors and windows, including frames, a garage door, and shingles. The ninth drawing portrayed the proper construction of the roof, and delineated the types and sizes of lumber needed to complete that portion of the home. The final document specified the quantity, type, and size of the logs that would be necessary to complete the entire home. The remainder of the construction manual provided generalized instructions on how to perform the more intricate tasks involved in constructing a log home. Thomas Nordquist, one of the Venture partners, enumerated the responsibilities of the parties in a letter to the construction lender. He said that Venture was responsible for a log kit f.o.b. delivered, the doors, and windows, and "the interior framing and second floor framing and roof framing including interior knotty pine walls and ceiling of 1 X 8 U-Notch Tongue and Groove." Frank Taylor's responsibility, according to Norquist's letter, included supplying carpeting, plumbing fixtures in the bath and kitchen, lighting fixtures, electric wiring for the first an second floor, and labor for all of the above. Based on this evidence, the trial court found that Venture was liable for costs of labor and materials except for electrical wiring and fixtures, plumbing fixtures and carpeting.

The findings of a trial court, approved by a court en banc, are entitled to the same weight as a jury's verdict and will not be disturbed on appeal if supported by adequate evidence. Albert v. Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co., 431 Pa. 600, 610, 246 A.2d 840, 845 (1968); Estate of Rudy, 329 Pa. Super. 458, 465, 478, A.2d 879, 882 (1984); Reed v. Wolyniec, 323 Pa. Super. 550, 556, 471 A.2d 80, 84 (1983). An appellant challenging a trial court's findings bears the heavy burden of demonstrating that the trial judge committed a manifest error or a clear mistake. 16 Std.Pa.Prac.2d § 91:121 (1980). An appellate court, however, is not bound by the trial court's conclusions of law derived from the underlying facts. Lawner v. Engelbach, 433 Pa. 311, 315, 249 A.2d 295, 297 (1969); Linnet v. Hitchcock, 324 Pa. Super. 209, 212-213, 471 A.2d 537, 539 (1984); Interest of Miller, 301 Pa. Super. 511, 515-516, 448 A.2d 25, 27 (1982).

Our review of the record discloses evidentiary support for the findings of the trial court. Appellant argues, however, that the letter written by Thomas Nordquist was extrinsic to the written contract and should not have been considered by the court. The trial court explained that the "specification" were ambiguous and that the Nordquist letter would be considered in assisting it to interpret the written contract. We find no error in this ruling.

The fundamental objective of contract construction is to ascertain the intention of the parties. Ludwig Honold Mfg. Co. v. Fletcher, 405 F.2d 1123, 1131 (3d Cir. 1969); Robert F. Felte, Inc. v. White, 451 Pa. 137, 143, 302 A.2d 347, 351 (1973); Metzger v. Clifford Realty Corp., 327 Pa. Super. 379, 385, 476 A.2d 1, 5 (1984); 8 P.L.E. Contracts § 144 (1971). When the terms of the contract are clearly expressed, the intention of the parties must be determined from the language used. East Crossroads Center, Inc. v. Mellon-Stuart Co., 416 Pa. 229, 230, 205 A.2d 423, 428 (1963); 8 P.L.E. Contracts § 161 (1971). However, "[w]here the language of the written contract is ambiguous, extrinsic or parol evidence may be considered to determine the intent of the parties." =Metzger v. Clifford Realty Corp., supra, 327 Pa. Super. at 385, 476 A.2d at 5. See: Herr Estate, 400 Pa. 90, 94, 161 A.2d 32, 34 (1960); 8 P.L.E. Contracts § 161 (1971).

The standard for determining the existence of an ambiguity was stated in =Metzger v. Clifford Realty Corp., supra, as follows:

A contract will be found to be ambiguous:

     if, and only if, it is reasonably or fairly susceptible of different constructions and is capable of being understood in more senses than on e and is obscure in meaning through indefiniteness of expression or has a double meaning. A contract is not ambiguous if the court can determine its meaning without any guide other than a knowledge of the simple facts on which, from the nature of language in general, its meaning depends, ...


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