Rescission of Contract Inappropriate Where Breach Did Not Defeat the Purpose of the Parties’ Agreement

In Argutto v. J.P. Hunter Co., Inc., Case No. 623638/2018 (Sup. Ct. Suffolk County, Sep. 22, 2022), the court denied a motion for summary judgment seeking rescission of a contract where the defendant’s breach, though consequential, was not so fundamental as to defeat the purpose of the contract.

Plaintiff had retained defendant contractor to repair the roof of his home. The work required portions of the existing roof to be removed. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant contractor failed to make the worksite weather-tight at the end of each day, causing the home to suffer flood damage during a rainstorm. The homeowner sued the contractor for negligence and breach of contract, seeking rescission of the contract among other remedies.

Plaintiff moved for summary judgment as to liability.  The court held, among other things, that plaintiff was not entitled to rescission of the contract, reasoning that rescission is an inappropriate remedy for breaches that are “slight, casual, or technical” in nature. Id. at *3. Instead, rescission is reserved for breaches that are “material and willful, or, if not willful, so substantial and fundamental as to strongly tend to defeat the object of the parties in making the contract.” Id. Defendant’s failure to make the worksite weather-tight, while significant in its consequences, was neither willful nor so substantial a breach as to defeat the purpose of the contract. In so holding, the court noted that even after the flood damage occurred, the defendant continued to perform until the project was finished. Id. at *3-*4.

Argutto is a valuable reminder that courts do not lightly set aside validly entered contracts.

If you have questions about remedies for breach of a contract, please contact Michael Rakower or Travis Mock.

Argutto (Archival)

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