Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday's Weird But True Legal Cases - Vol XLVI

Tonight's weird (but true) legal case asks the question when is an interior decorator an architect?

The above question was the legal issue which determined the controversy in Marshall-Schule Associates v. Goldman, 137 Misc.2d 1024, 523 N.Y.S.2d 16 (Civ. Ct. N.Y. Cty. 1987). In Goldman, a firm which claimed that it was engaged to perform "interior design services" sued a property owner to recover for services rendered in connection with home improvement work. The property owner counterclaimed seeking to recover its $10,000 deposit on the contract.

In New York, the state legislature provides for the licensing and regulation of many professions (usually through the New York State Department of Education). Among those professions is the field of architecture, which the Court in Goldman defined as:

rendering or offering to render services which require the application of the art, science, and aesthetics of design and construction of buildings, groups of buildings, including their components and appurtenances and the spaces around them wherein the safeguarding of life, health, property, and public welfare is concerned. Such services include, but are not limited to consultation, evaluation, planning, the provision of preliminary studies, designs, construction documents, construction management, and the administration of construction contracts.

In suing to recover for payment for the services rendered, the plaintiff asserted that it was involved in the field of interior design which it defined as "being 'concerned with design, lay-outs, arrangements and choices of colors, fabrics, furniture accessories and other decorations.'”

In rendering its decision, the Court looked to the letter of agreement between the parties which established that the work would include:

floor plans, elevations, architectural drawings, along with furniture layouts, color schemes, fabric selections, wallcoverings, curtain and window designs, floor coverings.... The first phase of work will be designs for all of the architectural work to be done-new kitchen, two new bathrooms (including electrical and plumbing), the redesign of closets, the addition of any cabinetry (bookcases, etc.), and any changes in walls and openings; for all of which we will supply a general contractor which we will supervise. The second phase will be the decoration-furniture and as above

Based on this work description, it should not be surprising that the Court ruled that the work was within the definition of architecture. The court noted:

the language in the “letter of agreement” and the various services performed (e.g., over forty architectural-type drawings) and to be performed (e.g., re-arrangement of doors and closets, supervision of a general contractor), describe activities and services normally rendered by an architect. A licensed architect was here required. In agreeing to perform such activities and provide such services without aid of a licensed architect, plaintiff violated Sections 7301 and 7302 of the Education Law(Section 7302: “only a person licensed or otherwise authorized to practice under this article shall practice architecture or use the title ‘architect’ ”).

As a result, the Court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint seeking payment for the work performed and then granted judgment on the counterclaim, requiring the plaintiff to return the $10,000 retainer. The Court took one additional extraordinary step and directed that:

Copies of the proposed order and the actual order when signed are also to be served upon the office of the District Attorney, New York County and the Attorney General of the State of New York so that such public officials may take such action as is required and which they, in their official discretion, believe warranted to insure that there be future compliance with Education Law 7301 and 7302 by plaintiff.

If you have seen this post being carried on another site such as JBlog, please feel free to click here to find other articles on the kosherbeers blogsite. Hey its free and you can push my counter numbers up!

No comments: