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Zimmerman v. Harrisburg Fudd I

October 19, 2009


Appeal from the Order entered October 13, 2008 In the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Civil Division at No. 2005-CV-4222.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cleland, J.



¶ 1 We are asked to decide whether a contractor who has obtained a judgment against an owner under the Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act may recover post-judgment interest and penalties, as well as attorney's fees and expenses incurred to collect the money owed. We hold he can.

¶ 2 Appellant Robert W. Zimmerman (Zimmerman) appeals the order denying his motion to recover from Appellee Harrisburg Fudd I, LLC (Fudd) the statutory interest, penalty, and attorney fees and expenses available to building contractors when project owners have violated the prompt payment provisions of the Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CASPA).*fn1 For reasons that follow, we vacate the order and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

¶ 3 In April 2005, Zimmerman entered into a contract with Fudd for the installation of floor and wall improvements for a new restaurant Fudd was building. Following completion of the job, Zimmerman submitted his invoice for $10,108.70 on June 25, 2005. In October 2005, because Fudd had failed to pay him, Zimmerman, invoking CASPA, initiated a breach-of-contract action. On September 19, 2006, the day scheduled for hearing before a board of arbitrators, the parties agreed to the board's entry of a stipulated award in favor of Zimmerman for $21,673.99, consisting of the $10,108.70 contract claim plus $11,565.29 of statutory interest, penalty, and attorney fees warranted by CASPA. Report and Award of Arbitrators, 9/19/06, at 1.*fn2 On November 2, 2006, Zimmerman entered the arbitration award as a judgment.*fn3

¶ 4 In December 2006, Zimmerman executed on his judgment by garnisheeing Fudd's bank account with Citizens Bank. Fudd filed a claim for exemption from execution, which, on March 12, 2007, the trial court denied. On the same day, Fudd filed an Emergency Motion to Stay Execution, again arguing the bank account qualified for an exemption. On March 13, Zimmerman entered judgment against Citizens Bank on its answer to interrogatories. On March 26, the trial court denied the Emergency Motion without opinion. Trial Court Order, 3/26/07. In its subsequent Pa.R.C.P. 1925 opinion the trial court explained the bank account was neither exempt under Pa.R.C.P. 3123.1 (Claim for Exemption or Immunity of Property. Prompt Hearing) nor exempt as subject to a perfected Uniform Commercial Code security interest held by a secured creditor of Fudd's. Trial Court Memorandum Opinion, 6/27/07, at 3-5. In addition, it held Fudd lacked standing to assert the secured creditor's lien priority rights, if any, to the bank account. Id. at 3-4.

¶ 5 On April 3, Fudd appealed the denial of its Emergency Motion. On April 6, Citizens Bank paid Zimmerman. One year later, on April 28, 2008, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's order on the two exemption issues but did not address the standing issue.*fn4 No. 588 MDA 2007, supra at 4-6.

¶ 6 Two months later, on June 25, 2008, pursuant to CASPA, Zimmerman filed a motion with the trial court to recover from Fudd statutory interest from September 20, 2006 (the day after the arbitration award) to the date of the April 6, 2007 Citizens Bank payment, penalty for the same period, and attorney fees and expenses incurred in the post-award proceedings described above. His claim consisted of $663.80 of interest at the statutory rate of 1% per month, $663.80 of penalty at the same rate, $17,774 in attorney fees, and $1,214.25 in expenses. On October 13, 2008, without hearing, findings or opinion, the trial court denied Zimmerman's motion. On November 10, 2008, Zimmerman filed the appeal now before us.

¶ 7 Our standard of review is "whether the trial court palpably abused its discretion." The Pietrini Corporation v. Agate Construction Co., Inc., 901 A.2d 1050, 1053 (Pa. Super. 2006).

¶ 8 This case is governed by CASPA, a comprehensive statute enacted in 1994 to cure abuses within the building industry involving payments due from owners to contractors, contractors to subcontractors, and subcontractors to other subcontractors. "The underlying purpose of [CASPA] is to protect contractors and subcontractors... [and] to encourage fair dealing among parties to a construction contract." Ruthrauff, Inc. v. Ravin, Inc., 914 A.2d 880, 890 (Pa. Super. 2006). The statute provides rules and deadlines to ensure prompt payments, to discourage unreasonable withholding of payments, and to address the matter of progress payments and retainages. Under circumstances prescribed in the statute, interest, penalty, attorney fees and litigation expenses may be imposed on an owner, contractor or subcontractor who fails to make payment to a contractor or subcontractor in compliance with the statute.*fn5

¶ 9 Our standard in interpreting a statute is well established:

[W]hen determining the meaning of a statute, a court must construe the words of that statute according to their plain meaning. 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1903(a); Ludmer v. Nernberg, 699 A.2d 764, 765 (Pa. Super. 1997). When the words of a statute are [clear and free from all ambiguity], they are not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing the spirit of the statute. 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1921(a); Commonwealth v. Heberling, 451 Pa. Super. 119, 678 A.2d 794, 795 (1996). It is only when the statute is unclear that the court may embark upon the task of ascertaining the intent of the legislature. Id. Absent a definition, statutes are presumed to employ words in their popular and plain everyday sense, and popular meanings of such words must prevail. Centolanza v. Lehigh Valley Dairies, Inc., 540 Pa. 398, 406, 658 A.2d 336, 340 (1995); Commonwealth v. Kelley, 569 Pa. 179, 801 A.2d 551, 555 (2002).

Ruthrauff, Inc. 914 A.2d at 889-890 (quoting Nippes v. Lucas, 815 A.2d 648, 650 (Pa. Super. 2003) (bracketed words in original). "Moreover, issues involving statutory interpretation present questions of law for which our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary." Id. at 890 (citation omitted).

¶ 10 The CASPA provisions relevant to the present case are §§ 505 and 512. Section 505 addresses an owner's obligation ...

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