District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Richard D.
McKelvie No. 110917777
D. Stubbs and Barnard N. Madsen, Attorneys for Appellant.
Jeffrey T. Colemere and Brady T. Gibbs, Attorneys for
Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory
K. Orme and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.
This case involves a contract for electrical services between
a company and a homeowner and a mechanic's lien to secure
payment for those services. What began as a dispute over less
than $2, 000 has ballooned into a judgment exceeding $36,
000. Linda Gillman, the homeowner, appeals the district
court's decision in favor of I-D Electric. We affirm in
part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.
On Thursday, March 10, 2011, Gillman approached Chet Hunter
at an electrical wholesale supply store. She asked if he was
an electrician and if he could do some emergency electrical
work at her house in Herriman. Hunter, a journeyman
electrician, told Gillman to arrange an appointment through
his employer I-D Electric (I-D). Later that day, I-D sent
Hunter to Gillman's house to assess the scope of the work
needed. Hunter spent approximately two hours discussing it
with Gillman, who asked him how much the work would cost.
Hunter told her he did not price the materials and therefore
did not know how expensive the job would be. I-D usually used
a "cost-plus"system, under which the cost of
materials and the hourly rate of the labor are calculated
after a job is completed. Alternatively, at the
customer's request, I-D used a bid system, under which it
calculated the cost of the labor and materials in advance,
and the price of the job is fixed at this amount. Gillman did
not request a bid.
Hunter testified there was "a lot of work to be done,
" but Gillman's "priority" was work in the
attic above the garage. Contractors were coming the following
week to install a floor in the garage attic, and Gillman
needed an electrician to move "all of the wires draped
over the trusses in the attic." Because the work
"needed to be done immediately, " I-D rearranged
Hunter's schedule to work on Gillman's project the
very next day.
On Friday, Hunter returned to the Herriman house with two
associates, a residential journeyman and an apprentice. They
arrived before eight thirty that morning, and spent the
entire day working on the projects Gillman had assigned.
Gillman arrived later the same morning and occasionally went
to the garage where the men were working. That afternoon,
Hunter left briefly to buy additional supplies. While he was
gone, the residential journeyman had Gillman sign a work
order prepared by Hunter. The order, as it was initially
presented to Gillman, did not indicate prices, but listed the
materials used, summarized the completed jobs, and, under the
heading "labor hours, " identified each of the
three electricians by first name. The work order also
addressed the interest I-D would charge if the payment became
past due and stated that the "[p]urchaser agrees to pay
all costs and expenses including reasonable attorney's
fees in the event collection becomes necessary." Gillman
signed the work order and had left the house for the day by
the time Hunter returned. The three men finished their work
and left for the evening.
The following Monday morning, Kim Olson, I-D's president,
calculated the cost of the electrical work at $1, 827.61. He
wanted to inform Gillman of this before I-D did additional
work on the house. When Olson called her, Gillman was
"stunned" by the amount. Olson offered to send her
an itemization of the work order and have Hunter discuss the
bill with her. Gillman asked how much the rest of the work
would cost, which Olson interpreted as a request for a bid on
the remaining work. Later that week, Hunter went to the
Herriman house and tried to enter the garage, but the
security access code had been changed and Gillman did not
return his calls.
I-D sent Gillman an itemized invoice on March 24 and called
her several times without reaching her and without receiving
any return calls. Gillman returned the invoice and requested
a labor breakdown and a list of the professional credentials
of the electricians, which I-D provided at the beginning of
The next month, Gillman sent a letter to I-D, which read in
[I]t is my considered judgment that the 25.5 hours charged
for what was accomplished is commensurately unreasonable and
warrants careful reconsideration. As you undertake that
reconsideration, you might want to factor into your
deliberation other salient information: I work in both
construction and the practice of law. I am very familiar with
job sites and courtrooms. I just completed the first $4.47
million phase of a 15-month construction project in December.
The second $1.5 million phase is now underway and will be
finished this summer. This recent construction project
resulted from a multi-million construction defect lawsuit,
out of state. The last five adversaries who lined up on the
other side of a courtroom from me are out a total of more
than $11 million.
I hired another licensed electrician to finish the work in my
house and garage[, ] . . . [which was] substantially more
complicated, representing at least five times more work. I
paid $650 for all of it (labor only).
I am willing to pay a realistic amount for the work that was
done, but no more. Please recalculate it.
letter's heading identified Gillman's return address
as the Salt Lake City condominium in which Gillman lived. She
used that address as a billing address and "in all of
Olson interpreted the letter as an attempt to
"intimidate and bully" him and hired counsel. He
instructed counsel to file a mechanic's lien on
Gillman's property to secure payment of the bill. Counsel
filed the lien, but erroneously listed Gillman's Salt
Lake City billing address instead of the address of the
Herriman house where the electrical work was
I-D sent Gillman a Notice of Mechanic's Lien by certified
mail, but it did not hear back from her. Later, I-D sent
Gillman, also by certified mail, a notice of its intention to
initiate a lien foreclosure action. Gillman testified she was
out of town and did not receive either notice. She testified
that when she learned of the mechanic's lien, she checked
with the county recorder's office but found no record of
I-D filed a complaint in district court in September 2011,
and Gillman testified she did not discover the lien had
listed the wrong address until the middle of October. In
November, she and her counsel collaborated in drafting
another letter, also using Gillman's Salt Lake City
address, which Gillman delivered directly to I-D. The letter
Hasn't this already gone too far? First you file a lien
on my property and I understand that has recently been
followed by a lis pendens. Neither is either reasonable or
justified under the circumstances, and without a legal basis.
Please remove both immediately. There is no point in the
senseless . . . accumulation of any more legal fees. It's
about time to do the right thing.
letter did not notify I-D that its lien erroneously
identified Gillman's Salt Lake City property and not her
I-D was informed of the mistake by its counsel in December
2011, and it immediately released the lis pendens from
Gillman's Salt Lake City property. I-D also recorded an
amended lien with the address of the Herriman house.
I-D's complaint against Gillman alleged causes of action
for breach of contract and lien foreclosure. Gillman filed a
petition to nullify the lien as wrongful. In a partial motion
for summary judgment, the district court dismissed the lien
foreclosure action because the lien, originally listing the
Salt Lake City address but amended with the correct Herriman
address, was amended well outside the statutory deadline for
filing a mechanic's lien. After a bench trial, the court
determined that although the mechanic's lien was
unenforceable, it was not wrongful. The court also determined
the work order was a binding contract, even though it lacked
a specific price term. Finally, the court awarded attorney
fees to I-D under the contract, because the action was an
"effort to collect a valid debt." The court did not
award attorney fees to ...