Don’t Hinder Contract Performance and Then Sue for Breach of Contract

Contract Law Basics and Tips

In my first roundup post of 2011 Eighth Circuit contracts cases, I discussed Weitz v. MH Washington, a breach of contract case that was decided by the Eighth Circuit a year ago. I focused in the post on the role of sloppy contract drafting and sloppy contract performance in the court’s piercing the corporate veil analysis. The court considered other contract law issues, however, including the principle that a party to a contract can’t hinder the other party’s performance and then sue for its failure to perform.

In Weitz, a developer refused to pay its contractor although the contractor had substantially performed its duties under the contract. The developer then asserted that the contractor had breached the contract by allowing subcontractor liens to attach to the property. The court held that the liens were the result of the developer’s own refusal to pay its contractor and that the developer could not wrongfully withhold payment under the contract and then allege breach when the liens were the result of its own actions.

This made me wonder about other circumstances where this principle has been applied by the courts. Here are a few examples from courts in my neck of the woods in Missouri:

  • One of the more interesting cases involved testimony that a contractor was prevented from performing the final walk-through of the project required under the contract by threatening to shoot the contractor’s personnel (Cucchi Construction v. O’Keefe, 973 S.W.2d 520 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998)). The trial court apparently found the testimony unpersuasive, however.
  • The client of a contractor threw stones needed for construction material from an abutment into a river and claimed that the contractor failed to complete the construction (Little v. Mercer, 9 Mo. 218 (1945)).
  • The supplier of a product known as mine foam terminated a contract with its distributor, ostensibly because the distributor failed to meet required sales goals, when the failure to meet the goals was the result of the supplier’s own actions (BMK Corp. v. Clayton Corp., 226 S.W.3d 179 (Mo. Ct. App. 2007)).

Have you come across any interesting cases where a party to a contract hindered the counterparty’s performance and then sued for breach? I’d love to hear about them.

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