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Hankin v. Board of Education of Hamilton Township

Decided: October 14, 1957.


Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Freund, J.A.D.


The question for determination presented on this appeal is whether the amount awarded by the trial court, sitting without a jury, as compensation under quantum meruit , to the plaintiffs as architects for the preparation of plans, specifications and estimated costs of construction of certain school additions and a proposed new high school for the defendant board of education, was reasonable. Defendant's main contentions on this appeal are that the amount claimed is unreasonable in that it includes compensation for services which were unnecessary under the circumstances, and hence ultra vires and not within the power of the board of education to contract for, and that it is based upon a fixed percentage of estimated costs of buildings which were never completed. Defendant also urges several other points relating to the inadmissibility of evidence and the allowance of interest.

Primarily, the defendant contends that the award for any services performed after June 30, 1955 was erroneous. To evaluate the merits of this contention a chronology of the pertinent facts is necessary.

Plaintiffs, by resolution, were appointed architects for the defendant board of education on April 23, 1954. In September 1954 they were directed to prepare preliminary sketches for the construction of two elementary schools (Sayen and Steinert Schools). Subsequently, the voters of the township approved the expenditures as estimated to cover the preliminary plans, and plaintiffs were directed by resolution to proceed with the drawings for these two schools. By letter of January 3, 1955, approved by the board, the plaintiffs agreed on the compensation to be paid them for new

work at "6% of the total work contracted for in the building upon which the architectural service has been rendered." Payment was to be made in the following manner: "1 1/2% of an arbitrarily agreed upon amount" when preliminary sketches had been approved by the board of education and submitted to the State Inspector of School Buildings and 4 1/2% of the contracted cost of the buildings to be paid upon the signing of construction contracts. The mentioned 4 1/2% included the 1 1/2% first mentioned, so that the remaining 1 1/2% was to be paid as construction progressed until completion.

It is evident that the "arbitrarily agreed upon amount" was the estimated construction cost of the two buildings. The letter further stated that the agreement was for architectural services "upon new school construction within your Township."

In February 1955 defendant paid the plaintiffs the 1 1/2% of the estimated costs, and in May 1955 the remainder of the 4 1/2% for their work on the Sayen and Steinert Schools. The instant action is not to recover payment for work performed on these two projects.

Pursuant to three resolutions adopted on May 11, 1955, plaintiffs were "instructed to draw plans and specifications" for additions to the Yardville Heights and Kisthardt Schools and "to prepare sketches and an estimated cost for the construction of a 1500 student capacity Senior High School." In March 1955, prior to the formal resolutions of May 11, 1955, plaintiffs had commenced the architectural work on the three projects. There was no resolution or letter or agreement as to the fees to be paid for services on these three projects.

The contemplated cost for the three projects would exceed the defendant's bonding limitations, so it was necessary to submit the plans and specifications to the State Commissioner of Education and the Local Government Board for approval prior to submission of the project to the voters. N.J.S.A. 18:5-86. The preliminary plans, cost estimates and reports were approved by the board of education on June 29, 1955,

for presentation to the State Commissioner of Education and the Local Government Board. At the request of the defendant, the State Commissioner of Education held a meeting on June 30, 1955 for the purpose of hearing the arguments concerning the need of additional school facilities, the plans and cost estimates. A voice recording was made of the meeting, at which it was stated that all those present, including members of the board of education, were in accord with the proposed school plans. Certain refinements of the plans and building arrangements were suggested and a supplemental report of a projected educational program was requested. Both state agencies approved the plans, although final endorsements were not given until September 7, 1955 and October 27, 1955, respectively.

Subsequent to the meeting of June 30, 1955, plaintiffs continued working on the projects, revising the original plans, assisted in preparing a supplemental educational report by the superintendent of schools, attended hearings before the Local Government Board, and prepared schematic sketches, posters and models which were used by the defendant, its members and a citizens advisory committee in presenting the plan to the voters.

The referendum which proposed the construction of additional school facilities at a total cost of $3,800,000 was rejected by the voters on November 15, 1955.

The plaintiffs presented their bill for services in the sum of $46,875, predicated upon 1 1/2% of the estimated building cost of the three projects, which defendant refused to pay. The present action was brought in quantum meruit to recover the reasonable value of plaintiffs' services. The trial court, without a jury, after a review of the proofs entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs for $46,000, with interest from December 2, 1955, the date of defendant's first refusal to pay the bill rendered.

Plaintiffs claim that they had no intention of rendering their services on a contingent basis, that all of their services were necessary to establish an accurate estimate of the costs so that ...

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