APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND DIVISION. NO. 60CV-12-5991. HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER CHARLES PIAZZA, JUDGE.
Wallace, Martin, Duke & Russell PLLC, by: Dale B. Duke, for appellant.
Stuart Law Firm, P.A., by: Ginger M. Stuart, for appellee.
KENNETH S. HIXSON,
Judge. HARRISON and WOOD, JJ., agree.
KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge
Appellant James Washington d/b/a Washington Repair Service (" Washington" ) appeals the October 31, 2013 judgment entered against him and in favor of appellee Kingridge Enterprises, Inc. (" Kingridge" ), following a bench trial on competing breach-of-contract claims. Washington appeals the trial court's findings that Kingridge prevailed on breach of contract and that Kingridge was entitled to a $5500 attorney-fee award. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
As part of a renovation project, Kingridge hired Washington to install heating-ventilation-and-air-conditioning (HVAC) units and duct work in a commercial building located on Broadway Street in Little Rock. The parties executed a written contract in October 2012, in which Washington agreed to provide all material, labor, and permits, and to complete the job in a timely and workmanlike fashion for a contract price of $17,500. The contract was not completed on time or in accordance with the written terms. In December 2012, Kingridge filed suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court for breach of contract and replevin of certain materials purchased by Kingridge but in the possession of Washington. In February 2013, Washington counterclaimed for breach of contract for Kingridge's failure to pay for the labor he invested on the job. Although Washington resisted the replevin claim, in March 2013, the trial court ordered Washington to return the HVAC equipment purchased by Kingridge. In April 2013, Washington filed another breach-of-contract claim alleging that Kingridge failed to pay the entire contract price of $17,500.
After the September 2013 bench trial, the trial judge concluded that Kingridge sustained $2262 in damages, offset by Washington's entitlement to $1000 for unpaid labor. The result was a net judgment
in Kingridge's favor of $1262. The trial court awarded Kingridge $215 in costs and $5500 in attorney fees. Washington appeals, arguing that the trial court erred (1) by not finding that Kingridge waived any breach by continuing to accept Washington's work after the initial alleged breaches; (2) by not finding that Kingridge was guilty of the first material breach of contract; and (3) by awarding attorney fees to Kingridge instead of Washington, or alternatively, by improperly awarding attorney fees that were not reasonable or supported by the evidence.
In review of a bench trial, we determine whether the trial court's findings were clearly erroneous or clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. Bowen v. Gardner, 2013 Ark.App. 52, 425 S.W.3d 875. Disputed facts and determinations of credibility of the witnesses are within the province of the fact-finder. Id. A trial court's conclusions of law, however, are reviewed de novo and are given no deference on appeal. Id. A prevailing party in a breach-of-contract action is permitted to seek attorney fees. See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-22-308 (Repl. 1999). The standard of review for an attorney-fee award is abuse of discretion. Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co. v. Krouse, 2010 Ark.App. 493, 375 S.W.3d 763.
To place these arguments in context, we examine the evidence presented at trial in greater detail. Kingridge was renovating a commercial building. Washington submitted a bid to install new four-ton and five-ton package HVAC units with duct work, and to repair old duct work, for $17,500. Kingridge accepted the bid, and the parties entered into a detailed four-page-typed contract on October 23, 2012. The contract provided in part that Washington had reviewed Kingridge's city-approved architectural plans and specifications, and Washington agreed to " furnish all material, equipment and perform all labor necessary to complete" the HVAC " modifications, relocation(s) and installations per the Plans." The contract attached, as exhibits, Washington's one-page proposal bid, as well as Kingridge's architectural plans and specifications. In the contract, the parties agreed that " time is of the essence" and that the work was to be " substantially completed on or before" November 26, 2012. The agreed price was to be paid in percentage installments (35%, 40%, and 25%) triggered by defined periods of satisfactory progress on the job. ...