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Articles Tagged with Termination for Convenience; Contract

Earlier, we reported on a Commercial Division case, Minelli Construction Corp. v. WDF Inc., et al., N.Y. Co. Index No. 105989/2011, in which a trial court upheld the commonly found clause in construction contracts which allows a party who terminates a contractor or sub-contractor for cause to automatically convert the termination into one for convenience if proper cause for the termination is not later found by a Court. (“Contractual Termination Conversion Clause Upheld,” 4/22/15.) We noted that the plaintiff had appealed from the ruling, which struck its lost profits claim from the case, and stated that we would update the post after the appeal was heard and decided. That day has come.

On December 15, 2015, a First Department panel unanimously upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment dismissing the lost profits cause of action. 2015 WL 8687654, 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 09205. The First Department held that both clauses relied upon by the defendant, the termination for convenience clause and the termination conversion clause, were enforceable. Moreover, the First Department noted that termination for convenience clause, when exercised, was enforceable “without regard to [plaintiff’s] good faith, or lack thereof”. Thus, whether or not the defendant engaged in bad faith in terminating the plaintiff from the project for cause, the existence of the conversion clause in the contract meant that plaintiff could not recover lost profits for a wrongful termination of the contract. Rather, pursuant to the clear and unambiguous terms agreed to by the parties, if a termination for cause was found not to be valid, the termination would automatically convert to a termination for convenience and the terminated party would be limited solely to seeking payment for work already performed.

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It is a general proposition of New York law (and elsewhere) that contracts should be enforced as they are written. That basic proposition served as the deciding factor in a recent decision which filled in some gaps in case law regarding contractual termination conversion clauses.

In Minelli Construction Corp. v. WDF Inc., et al., N.Y. Co. Index No. 105989/2011, a trial court recently upheld the commonly found clause in construction contracts which allows a party who terminates a contractor or sub-contractor for cause to automatically convert the termination into one for convenience if proper cause for the termination is not later found by a Court. The difference in the nature of the termination is significant. New York law provides that a wrongfully terminated party may pursue a large range of damages, including lost profits for unperformed work, while a party terminated for convenience is typically limited to being paid for work already performed. Thus, if a conversion clause is held not to apply, a finding of a wrongful termination will open the door to damage claims which the owner or general contractor may not have anticipated.

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