Nolan v. Whitney (1882)

Nolan v. Whitney
Court of Appeals of New York, 1882
88 N.Y. 648

Facts: Nolan (P) entered into an agreement to perform masonry work for Whitney (D).  Per the agreement, he was to be paid $11,700 in installments for the erection of two buildings.  The last installment of $2,700 was to be paid subject to the satisfaction of the architect (M.J. Morrill) evidenced by his certificate.  All installments were paid to the plaintiff with the exception of the last.  Nolan filed suit to collect the final payment.  The defendant claimed that Nolan had not fully performed according to the terms and requirements of the agreement, and that he had not obtained the architect’s certificate.  At trial, both sides presented evidence that supported their contentions.  The referee found in favor of Nolen and awarded him the final payment less $200 which was required to repair some minor plastering defects.

Issue: May a party, acting in good faith, substantially completing a contract and, not withstanding slight or trivial defects in performance, recover for their work?

Holding: Yes.

Decision/Analysis: The referee was correct in finding that the architect was bound to give Nolan the certificate since the work had been substantially performed.  The architect’s withholding of the certificate was unreasonable, making its issuance unnecessary.  Judgment affirmed.

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