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Stevens v. Fanning

MAY 11, 1965.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. JOHN S. PAGE, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


The plaintiff, Raymond Alan Stevens, brought this suit claiming that the sum of $14,535.65 remained due him from the defendant, Edward J. Fanning, under the terms of a written contract, pursuant to which he performed architectural services for Fanning. The case was tried before the court without a jury, and the court entered judgment for the plaintiff in the sum of $2,500. The plaintiff appealed from the judgment.

Fanning, a Chevrolet dealer in Aurora, contacted Stevens in early October, 1962, for the purpose of having Stevens design a building for his dealership. At this point he had only three basic requirements for the building: first, that it contain at least 40,000 square feet; second, that it not cost over $250,000; and third, that the construction proceed with dispatch as his present lease was expiring. Fanning presented Stevens with some preliminary drawings, which he had received from an engineering company specializing in the construction of prefabricated type steel buildings, in order to give Stevens a general idea of the floor plan desired.

On two occasions during the latter part of October, Stevens again met with Fanning and presented a sketch plan and elevation study, after which, Fanning told Stevens he had the job. On November 5, 1962, the parties entered into a written contract, which was a standard A.I.A. form of contract between an Owner and Architect. The contract provided that the building was to be "a multiple purpose building suitable to the needs of the Owner, at an approximate estimated cost of $250,000.00."

The parties disagree as to the subsequent events insofar as they indicate the type of building to be constructed under the contract. Fanning testified that Stevens agreed that he would design a prestressed concrete building of the required size, which would cost no more than $250,000. While he was not certain as to when this agreement was reached, he knew that it was prior to the time they attended the first meeting at which they sought financing, in the latter part of November, 1962. Stevens testified that he never agreed to design such building for $250,000, but that a prestressed concrete building was at all times an alternate proposal to a steel frame building; and that he advised Fanning that the prestressed concrete building would cost more than $250,000, but the additional cost could perhaps, be justified by insurance premium savings.

Stevens received the bids on the building and presented them to Fanning on December 18, 1962. The bids were based upon both steel frame and prestressed concrete types of construction. Those bids based on steel frame construction, totaled less than $250,000, but the bids based upon prestressed concrete construction, totaled $317,000. On December 21, 1962, Fanning terminated the contract stating that Stevens had failed to design a 40,000 square foot building in prestressed concrete at a cost of $250,000, as promised.

Stevens then filed this suit contending that he had performed the contract as required until the time of Fanning's abandonment. The contract provided that in event the owner abandoned the work, the architect was entitled to a certain percentage of the total contract price, depending on the stage to which the architect's work had progressed. Stevens alleged that he had completed the stages of work through the receipt of bids, and that under the terms of the contract he was entitled to 80% of the contract price, or $15,535.65, less $1,000 previously paid to him. Fanning contended that he did not abandon the contract under its terms permitting abandonment upon the payment of certain sums to the architect, but rather terminated the contract because of the failure of Stevens to perform as required thereunder.

Stevens here contends that he did not have an obligation to design a building to be constructed for a maximum of $250,000, in that the contract provided:

"Witnesseth, that whereas the Owner intends to erect a multiple purpose building suitable to the needs of Owner, at an approximate estimated cost of $250,000.00 . . .


"6. Since the Architect has no control over the cost of labor and materials, or competitive bidding, he does not guarantee the accuracy of any statements or estimates of probable construction cost."

He argues that the figure of $250,000 is but "an approximate estimate" of which he made no guarantee.

[1-3] The $250,000 figure did not, however, arise in a vacuum. This figure, and its accompanying phrase, was inserted in the contract as a result of the negotiations and conversations of the parties. The fundamental question in determining the meaning of a contract is always the intent of the parties. This intent is to be gathered by giving to the contract a fair and reasonable interpretation, from the language of the entire contract, considered in the light of the circumstances under which it was made. Gay v. S.N. Nielsen Co., 18 Ill. App.2d 368, 374, 375, 152 N.E.2d 468 (2d Dist 1958). A contract should be enforced according to the sense which the parties mutually understood it at the time it was made, with greater deference to be given to their clear intent than to any particular words which they may have used to express it. Keefer Coal Co. v. United Elec. Coal Cos., 291 Ill. App. 477, 10 N.E.2d 210 (3rd Dist. 1937).

Stevens made no objection at the trial to the testimony of Fanning that from the time of their first contact, he, Fanning, at all times had said that the cost of the building could not exceed $250,000. This was the limitation of his budget. Indeed, it appears from Stevens' own testimony that, at all times, he knew and understood that he had a $250,000 limitation within which to work. In view of the unanimity of the testimony of the parties relative to their understanding of the cost limitation and the objects and purposes they had in mind when executing the contract, we believe that by the insertion of the clause in the contract that the building was to be of "an approximate estimated cost of ...

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